Anthea Gerrie samples two of her favourite cuisines, Japanese and Middle Eastern, side by side at Islington’s elegant Jiji restaurant.
There’s such a world of difference between Japanese food – clean, elegant and often raw – and the earthy flavours of the Middle East, where slow cooking is a religion and presentation not a priority, that one approaches Jiji, a restaurant which aims to celebrate both cuisines, with a measure of trepidation. But this elegant Islington eatery, whose Israeli owner has impeccable credentials in purveying Japanese fare, exceeds expectations and throws in a few original creations of its own.
Janina Wolkow is an Israeli living in London who has already proved her chops in Japanese dining with the Sumosan chain of restaurants. Not that unlikely, given that Tel Aviv has been cited the largest world centre of sushi consumption after Tokyo. But wherever you find Israelis, plates of shawarma are never far away, so Jiji restaurant must represent Janina’s nostalgia for the indigenous cuisine of her homeland.
There is, mercifully, no attempt at creating a fusion cuisine in this bright, modern, airy room tucked just behind the Upper Street shopping mall a hop and a skip from The Angel. And as the sushi chefs, working under the direction of executive chef Bubker Belkhit, are classically trained, aficionados should have no worry about authenticity when it comes to the Japanese side of the menu. Which does not exclude a unique twist on their offerings – yellowtail, for example, was dressed with crushed almonds as well as fish roe in a seaweed-wrapped roll (£14.50 for six pieces), and there was a touch of truffle as well as ponzu in the salmon and tartare roll (£11).
Highly desirable tuna belly was perfectly presented as Chu-Toro Nigiri on a bed of sushi rice, (£4 per piece) and wasabi, soy sauce and the all-important palate-cleaning pickled ginger were all part of the presentation for two people to share.
A Picanteria (£14), for which read, pleasingly spicy take on a margarita, was a perfect match for the starters, as was my companion’s heftily priced Ukiyo Yuzu 75 – a twist on a classic 75 blending Japanese gin with sparkling sake (£16). A glass of dry Lebanese white wine was the suggested pairing for the sharing plates – one Japanese (thinly sliced seared tuna with citrus soy sauce, £10.90) – a delicate dish compared with the gutsy flavours of aubergine carpaccio with crispy onions, nuts, and feta (£10.50) from the Middle Eastern side of the menu.
Both dishes were more successful than the baked marrowbone (£9), a new addition to the menu I was dying to taste as an aficionado of this classic French staple. Verdict? A bit undercooked and best left to French chefs, though the garlic aioli on the side was an interesting touch.
Our main courses were both stars – the miso-marinated black cod which Nobu has made a staple of Japanese fine dining (£34), and a plate of shawarma (£22) – unusually, a mix of slow-cooked lamb and beef. It was seasoned with a special spice mix and served with little dishes of yoghurt-tahini sauce, tomato jam and that indispensable Middle Eastern relish, zhug. Jiji-style flatbread baked on the robata grill (£4.90) and served with dipping saucers of labneh and tahini was spectacular, as much a star of the show as the protein assemblies it accompanied.
Other toothsome-sounding offerings include corn on the cob accompanied by zhug butter (£8) and a roasted fig winter salad with onion, radicchio, and goat’s cheese (£8).
Dessert seemed unnecessary, but of course, there was Malabi, that Middle Eastern panna cotta with its pink topping of hibiscus and essence of rose (£8); a Jiji restaurant twist was the addition of coconut cream. It worked well with sparkling, semi-sweet Japanese sake, and sake would be a good choice accompaniment, in this diner’s opinion, to the whole meal.
Tell Me More About Dining At Jiji Restaurant
Jiji,Restaurant, 6G Esther Anne Place, London N1 1WL
T: +44 0207 486 3929