Machiya is the little sister restaurant of Kanada-Ya, the ramen bar famed for its tonkotsu ramen. There are two branches of Kanada-Ya – the original on St Giles High Street, the other virtually next door to Machiya itself on Panton Street. The concept at Machiya is something like a gastro izakaya – a Japanese pub with homemade tapas-sized plates of food for sharing. That said, Machiya looks nothing like the typical izakaya joints found in Japan which are typically quaint, dimly lit, and worn around the edges. Here, with its clean cut and brightly lit natural wood and metal interior, Machiya has much more of a clinical modern feel to it. Downstairs is a bar which offers a list of cocktail delights.
Machiya’s menu is a mix of some izakaya classics and Japanese cafe staples like tonkatsu, kare-raisu, and zaru-soba. At Machiya, the chicken yakitori (£4.50) proved to be two skewers of deliciously moist and slightly crisped flesh. The chicken was well seasoned and did not need any gimmicky sauces, sometimes deployed in restaurants to hide a poor quality base ingredient.
Tsukune (£4), chicken mince skewers, were also fabulous. The chicken mince here was light and fluffy and had been generously spliced with shredded vegetables and grilled to achieve an incredibly appetising golden-brown colour. Just like in Japan, it came with a raw egg yolk and a tare dip for added flavour.
Tonkatsu (£9), a turbo-sized pork schnitzel, was another successful plate of food, achieved mostly thanks to the excellent panko crumb’s light crackling-like texture.
Omuraisu (£7.50), Japanese for “omelette and rice”, might be considered a mundane breakfast grub elsewhere. At Machiya this was elevated to chicken-based poetry. The omelette was just right, harmoniously combining the outer crispiness resulting from the pan-frying and the inner juiciness of the slightly runny egg. The accompanying rice too, could have been a dish in its own right: Japanese koshihikari steamed in chicken stock. The side of hand-made ketchup was a little tad on the salty side, but as a combined dish, the flavour of the omelette, the rice and the ketchup was delicious, warm and satisfying. This was the ultimate plate of comfort food.
The pièce de résistance was the wagyu-katsu (£19). The superb quality of the beef, combined with the delectable panko crumbs, combined with the excellent execution lead us to go for seconds. As if that were not enough, the wagyu came with some scrumptious wasabi mayonnaise and a ridiculously tasty home-made brown sauce which worked excellently with the meat.
Every silver lining comes in a cloud. So the una-jyu (£17), broiled eel on a bed of rice, despite being listed and priced as a main was more rather small in size. But most importantly it did not have that particular quality that usually makes this dish a worthwhile luxury item. It is hard to say what was amiss with it. It was decent enough but neither memorable nor moreish.
Hell-bent on trying to fulfil our professional duty as reviewers and cover as much ground, we went on to order a salmon steak (£8.50) and miso soup (£2) and that is how we ran into a real anti-climax. Here, the farmed salmon offered little by way of taste. As for the miso soup, this was murky and lacked clarity of flavour.
Our dinner took a steep upward turn with the dessert. The genmaicha mille crepe (£5) made of many layers of crepe strongly flavoured with the earthy mix of green tea and roasted brown rice was light, fluffy and easy on the palate, and the yuzu soufflé cake (£5), not technically but a souffle a fluffy creamy dessert, delivered a confident citrus note enveloped in indulgent creaminess. However the matcha fondant had been microwaved and was not as oozy and lava-like as we would have liked.
We shared a few drinks between us. The sparkling sake (50ml; £5), exquisitely fragrant, fizzy and with just the right amount of sweetness, had the potential to rival Bailey’s in getting ladies voluntarily drunk with its easy drinking quality.
The soba-cha (£2.7) made from toasted buckwheat was both flavourful and a great palate-cleanser. No matcha was spared in the matcha latte (£3.8) with highly satisfying results.
Overall, Machiya had that “I will be back” quality, save for the few bits that fell off the mark. Delicious, steady cooking with a bit of flair was the best way to describe the food. The staff were extremely attentive and friendly and were very helpful in guiding diners through the menu. We only wish the menu was slightly more extensive.
1) The Wagyu katsu.
2) The omuraisu.
3) The chicken yakitori and chicken tsukune.
4) The genmaicha mille crepe and yuzu souffle cake.
1) The salmon.
2) The miso soup.
3) It’s a very casual venue. This wasn’t a dislike for me per se, but might not suit all.
Food rating: 4/5
Service rating: 3.5/5
Price: About £25 to £40 a head, excludes drinks and service.