I first started this blog in the summer of 2012. My aim then was exactly the same as it is today; to shout about London's amazing food, cool bars, thought-provoking art and random eccentricities from her lofty rooftops, to light a path and entice both newcomers and world-weary locals along it with me. In December of that year, I blogged a newcomer to the noodle scene in Soho, a rockin' ramen bar called Bone Daddies. We've both moved on a bit since then.
Ex-Zuma and Nobu chef Ross Shonhan seems to be a bit of a trailblazer. Bone Daddies was soon regularly bursting at the seams (reading back through the blog it did make me smile - those were the days when a 'no-reservation' policy was actually worth mentioning!) and the following summer saw the arrival of Flesh & Buns, the original steamed bao 'beer and buns' joint, in the style of an Izakaya - a kind of casual restaurant/local bar hybrid that is a common and popular post-work pitstop in Japan. I probably don't need to tell you that the concept was a hit.
Shackfuyu opened early in 2015 serving Western-inspired Japanese dishes. By the end of the year it had turned into the Pinocchio of pop-ups and become a real-life permanent bricks-and-mortar restaurant, alongside an ever-growing brood of Bone Daddies: Kensington, Bermondsey, Old Street and now James Street. There's even a little sibling on the way, planned for the new NOVA development in Victoria later this year. So, full circle, I find myself once again queueing on a bitingly cold London evening (so cold, in fact, that the staff came out with shots of warm sake to keep us going - much appreciated, thank you!) to see what's new.
First impressions: it's bigger than the original (James Street has an additional downstairs dining area) with a lower-volume version of their classic rock soundtrack and consequently has a slightly more grown-up feel. It's as if the experience has been dialled down just a notch from the full-on Soho version: roomier, lighter, quieter. This may not last, of course, as this was only day two of opening (and I confess I love the unapologetic in-your-face energy of the Soho bar) but it's good to have the choice.
The industrial-chic interior has a couple of seats at the bar (which has a small but perfectly-formed sake and whisky selection) and communal wooden tables with stools. If the madness of a first-come, first-served soft launch is anything to go by, the front of house staff will cope admirably with anything you can throw at them (props to the lovely Noemie and Julius, who got the whole thing bang on).
So, on to the food. We had starved ourselves in preparation (the sacrifices I make for you, dear reader) and so hit the bar snacks hard. First to arrive was the wild soft-shell crab with green chilli ginger sauce, and a dish of smashed cucumber. My initially cautious companion was converted by the tempura-style crab and the well-balanced spicy dip.
As we were seated at the bar, it seemed impolite not to order a cocktail or two to go with. We went for a Gini Hendrix (long and refreshing, with yuzu sake, gin, cucumber and oolong syrup) and a moreish lychee and pomegranate martini. A plate of the sweet and spicy edamame went down well; wonderfully messy to eat (you get a little wipe each with the bowl for empties) and more interesting than the usual salt or chilli options.
We then went for a prawn nama harumaki - a fresh spring roll (similar to the Vietnamese version but with pickles as well as the fresh vegetables) and a wasabi mayo dip. I really liked this; it was super-fresh, as it absolutely has to be for this to work, and the individual flavours all came through well.
I could happily have worked my way through the rest of the snacks menu (sweet spicy pig bones! Korean chicken wings!) but we wanted to try the offerings from the James Street site's new toy - a robata grill. Robata means 'fireside cooking' in Japanese and is a barbecue-style cooking method similar to an Argentinian asado, where food is placed at different heights over different sections of the grill to control heat and timings.
First was the chicken yakitori with shichimi pepper, well-flavoured and with just the right amount of crispy char-grill on the edges. If I sound as if I am damning this with faint praise, it's only because it arrived with the ox cheek kushiyaki (i.e. grilled skewer), which is like turning up to a party with Scarlett Johansson. This was my stand-out dish of the day, really showcasing the intense smoky flavour imparted by the grill. Padron peppers and kimchee butter were inspired companions and the soft, tender meat was utterly delicious.
We also tried the pork belly kushiyaki, which was my companion's favourite and really good in both texture and flavour; the fierce heat of the robata suits pork well, producing both juicy meat and crispy skin. If I hadn't already had the ox cheek I would probably be raving about this too.
It's kind of obligatory to order ramen at a classic ramen bar, so we did. It was everything we have come to expect from Bone Daddies: warming, soothing, tasty, with perfect Clarence Court eggs and a rich, creamy broth - 'a warm hug in a bowl' as my companion put it - and reassuringly, just as good as I remember. I notice that the 'cock scratchings' which caused such social media mirth nearly five years ago are now trademarked. How times change.
It occurs to me that I have only ever visited Bone Daddies in the depths of winter, when a big bowl of hot, comforting spicy noodles is a welcome escape from the icy streets. As I wandered off home, I found myself planning a summer trip for snacks, skewers and an ice-cold Asahi beer.