Akari, N1 8LZ

Japanese restaurant in Islington, just across the road from Essex Road Station.

The building is a former pub, and it still feels a little like one, with a panelled bar to one side (now with a semi-open kitchen behind), wooden boards underfoot, ornate carvings around the arched mirrors across from the bar, and large windows offering a view onto the traffic of Essex Road. It's therefore appropriate enough that Akari is an izakaya, which is the Japanese version of a pub. Indeed, according to the Pubs Galore comments linked below, it seems to be possible, if unusual, to come in just for a drink.

The small interior is tightly packed with small wooden tables, flanked by mismatched wooden chairs to seat around 50. A smaller bar in an alcove at the back is home to the sushi chefs, with 7 or 8 additional seats arranged around.

The menu features lots of small dishes cooked in the open kitchen, and your food is brought to your table as soon as it's ready, rather than everything arriving at once. They also have a good selection of drinks, including Asahi and Kirin Ichiban on draught, Asahi Black and a couple of other Japanese bottled beers, cocktails, plum wine, and various sakes and shochus.

Kake has visited twice now, most recently in September 2019.

On a visit with several others on a Sunday evening in September 2011, we'd booked in advance, which was probably a good idea given the size of our party as the place filled up quite quickly.

Tofu tosa-age (£5 in Sep 2011) photo was quite a generous portion; four large cubes of tofu coated in starch and bonito flakes, deep-fried and then served in a beautifully savoury thin broth. The coating was perhaps a little too thick; it wasn't too easy to bite through. The broth was really good though.

Small assorted sashimi (£11.60 in Sep 2011) photo was fine, with good fresh fish and a reasonable selection (two tuna, two salmon, yellowtail, seabass, sweet prawn, and scallop). Umeshiso maki (£2.90 in Sep 2011) and avocado maki (£2.90 in Sep 2011) were just as they should have been too, with the avocado neither hard nor mushy.

Given the quality of the rest of the food, it's a shame that the chocolate tofu mousse (£4.60 in Sep 2011) photo was disappointing. Described on the menu as having "a hint of amaretto, pistachio and mint", it was just quite bland, with none of the promised flavours really detectable, and even the chocolate quite subdued.

On a solo Tuesday evening visit in September 2019, there were already three or four other customers when Kake arrived around 5:15pm, and others turned up while I was there; several tables were reserved, too. Music was playing quietly.

Chawanmushi (£4.80 in Sep 2019) photo was nicely soft, smooth, and savoury. There was a good mix of fillings, in the right proportion to the custard, though the prawns were slightly overcooked.

Kaki fry (£7.60 in Sep 2019) photo had a nice crisp coating, drizzled with just the right amount of sweet tonkatsu sauce. The oysters themselves were good too, soft and lightly chewy in the right places. I was pleased that the leaf salad this came with was properly dressed (with a sesame dressing) but surprised by how flavourless the tomato was.

I also had some a la carte sushi photo, which overall I thought was good. The rice was still slightly warm, and seasoned lightly but thoroughly. The fish on the white tuna (escolar) nigiri (£2.90 per piece in Sep 2019) was softer than I've had it elsewhere, but I liked the slightly spicy soy sauce based dip it came with. Scallop nigiri (£2.90 per piece in Sep 2019) was huge, gunkan-style, and far too big to fit in my mouth — it took me three bites to finish it. Yellowtail roll (£4.90 for six pieces in Sep 2019) was good, with just the right proportions of fish, rice, and seaweed.

Kake's verdict: I like it here and would come back.

Stig Brautaset used to visit frequently a few years before this, and adds: I'm a big fan. I love their udon and soba noodles. They're the best I've had anywhere. The duck slices are also fantastic — unbelievably tender and supremely tasty. Try the calpico soft drink. The place isn't cheap, exactly, but it's reasonably priced.

See also:

Last visited by Kake, September 2019. Opening hours taken from the Akari website, September 2019.
OS X co-ord: 532153 OS Y co-ord: 184111 (Latitude: 51.540433 Longitude: -0.095811)
Last edited 2019-09-04 13:01:54 (version 13; diff). List all versions.