So I went to my first ever izakaya and I'm a convert. What's an izakaya, I hear you cry? Well, it's basically the Japanese equivalent of a gastropub - though you won't be getting a roast with wasabi-spiked gravy or fish & chips in tempura batter here. Izakayas are all about providing helpful fuel on a boozy evening in the form of small plates such as yakitori, and though on this particular occasion Viv and I remained abstemious, the food at Jidori was so good it made us giddy.
Sandwiched between Dalston Kingsland and Shacklewell, Jidori offers the gutsy flavours of the izakaya in a pared-down Scandinavian setting, all Farrow & Ball tones offset by abstract collage pieces on the exposed brick walls. Naturally, the menu places a heavy focus on yakitori, though in the spirit of boozing, there's also a great sake selection and an incredibly tempting cocktail list featuring such exotic flavours such as yuzu, plum liqueur, shiso and ginger syrup (in my revision-befuddled state, I started thinking of an album entitled Oriental Ingredients' Greatest Hits. All in the mind. This is what happens when I force myself to stay sober). Next time I'll be getting at least one.
If you've been reading this blog a while you'll know that small plates are my Kryptonite. They're just the best thing. From tapas to cichetti, I'm a sucker for them - being able to conquer most of the menu appeals to the competitive beast in me, while the experience of tasting and offering opinions on a shared dish is, in my opinion, a great way to get to know your dining companions - even if you've been friends for years. And these particular bite-sized yakitori were exceptionally exciting. Skewered chicken hearts were meaty and flavourful. Aubergine and miso butter, creamy yet subtly smoky. And most exciting of all, the tsukune: piscine balls of chicken and pork given a theatrical DIY spin with a dipping sauce of sweet cured egg yolk and soy and mirin that you mix at the table yourself. Fun and downright delicious.
Gotta have that eggporn, am I right? Don't worry, I disgust myself too. Anyway. This was another special dish: chilled udon with onsen egg and togarashi. I'd been craving these fat noodles as a big udon fan (in fact, it's pretty much all I ate when I visited Japan: the ramen craze that hit our shores over the past few years was as novel to me as the rest of the population). This hit the spot, and the silky, quivering egg on top yielded to Viv's chopstick so easily it horrified me a tiny bit.
The famed katsu curry scotch eggs have done the rounds on social media and I'm not ashamed to admit that they were the major impetus driving me towards far-off East London. My thoughts? I was won over by the scent of the curry and the tantalising liquid gold of the egg yolks inside the scotch eggs but strangely they were the low point of the meal for me. (Though Viv and I still hoovered them up, of course). Perhaps it was because I felt the curry sauce was on the watery side, or because the pure form of the dish, panko-breadcrumbed meat smothered in thick curry sauce on a bed of sticky Japanese rice, is so perfect on its own. While this wasn't quite sensational, better things were on their way and I soon forgot about the scotch eggs. I'm getting hungry just thinking about what came next...
Ginger ice cream with miso caramel, sweet potato crisps and black sesame praline. The miso caramel sauce packed a surprising, satisfying umami punch, while the delightfully soft ginger ice cream provided an artful contrast to the crunchy, salty ribbons of sweet potato on top. This was a real rollercoaster ride for my deprived tastebuds (subjected to weeks of supermarket meal deals before and after) and perhaps it's a crowd-divider: Viv was very much not a fan. Which I wasn't going to contradict her on at all - it meant I had the whole bowl to myself (cue fiendish snickers from my side of the table). I had this meal back in March, and it's still the best sweet dish to have passed my lips so far in 2016.
While I end on a note of excessive praise, I cannot overexaggerate my love for this refined little izakaya out East. I reckon it'd make for a memorable night out in a multitude of situations (whether you're on an intimate, informal date or a rambunctious catch-up with friends over cocktails), the prices are fairly reasonable and I just can't get away from the fact that the dessert blew my mind. Jidori, you'll be seeing me again soon.