Jin Kichi: Japanese Izakaya in Hampstead
Jin Kichi Restaurant, Hampstead

Jin Kichi: Japanese Izakaya in Hampstead

Mysterious Jin Kichi

I first heard about Jin Kichi a few years ago from my friend. He lives not far from the restaurant and frequented it for some time. He praised the place immensely and mentioned that it’s always full. In his opinion, it’s the best izakaya in London. Since then I had really wanted to visit it.

However, to my shame, I didn’t remember the name and stumbled upon it one day by chance. Now, after being there three times already I have realised that at least twice I managed to get in Jin Kichi due to sheer luck, which I associate with my wife. She’s the lucky one, I’m usually less fortunate, which I compensate with stubbornness and planning.

Discovery

Last summer my wife and I happened to walk around Hampstead on a weekend and became a bit peckish around lunch time. So what do people do, when they are hungry? Pull out their phones and fire up Google Maps of course! I did just that and noticed a Japanese restaurant nearby. After a quick counsel, we set on this option. At that particular moment, I still hadn’t realised that it was the very restaurant, a friend of mine was so affectionate about.

After a quick walk through shady (in a good sense) Hampstead Heath and busy streets of Hampstead village we reached our destination. Actually, I already started to suspect that Jin Kichi was the place my friend referred as always full. My suspicions were confirmed when we asked for a table for two. I guess the nice owner of Jin Kichi was a bit sad that he couldn’t accommodate us. But I felt that we were not the first ones whom he had to turn away on that sunny Saturday.

Jin Kichi
A bit of disappointment

I was naturally a bit disappointed and about giving up. But not my wife. She said that probably my friend could help us if he would go for lunch there. And you will never believe that! We made a few steps towards the Hampstead Station and ran into my friend, who was indeed going for lunch there with his wife and their son! He checked with the owner and said that they had a table big enough to squeeze in two more people. What a stroke of luck!

Second time lucky (and third time too)

The second time I decided to book the place as they say to avoid a disappointment. Again, I was a bit lucky as it was a Friday night. But they had space for four people but only for 1.5 hours, which I thought was enough. It was not. But we were allowed to stay slightly longer to finish our dinner. The fact that the head waitress spotted that my daughter speaks Japanese played some role in her benevolent gesture.

We were fortunate for the third time again. We were in the area and Jin Kichi was an obvious choice for lunch. Knowing my luck I let my wife enquire about a table for two. First, it didn’t look particularly promising as there was a queue. But then the people before us left for some reason and we were seated downstairs for a scrumptious lunch.

Typical Izakaya in London

Jin Kichi
Atmospheric ikebana

So what is Jin Kichi? As far as I understood from what my friend told me and being a frequent customer he got to know the owners well, they came to London probably 20-30 years ago to get jobs at Japanese restaurants. After looking around they realised that they could do a better in catering for Japanese food lovers than the existing establishments and set up a traditional Japanese izakaya in London..

Izakaya (居酒屋) is a sort of Japanese pub. Jin Kichi’s menu consists of small dishes and appetisers, sashimi, a wide choice of sushi, yakitori (grilled food, usually on skewers), tempura and other deep-fried varieties and a selection of hot main dishes including rice and noodles. They also do bento (Japanese lunch sets) during the day.

On the drinking side, Jin Kichi has a good choice of sake (which warmed my heart straight away) as well as umeshu and yuzusake, shochu and a selection of beers, wines, spirits and soft drinks including green tea.

Menu discoveries

Jin Kichi’s quite extensive menu starts with small appetisers and small dishes including ubiquitous edamame, tofu and vegetables dishes, seaweeds, pickles and salads. I only tried Waka Kyu, marinated cucumbers and seaweed, which were delicate and nice. There are a few dishes there, which I would like to try next time like Uzaku, grilled eel and marinated cucumber or Maguro Natto, fermented sticky soybeans (natto) with raw tuna marinated with Wasabi and soy sauce, as they look very appetising.

Jin Kichi Mixed Nigiri
Mixed Nigiri

Sashimi and sushi

The restaurant has a very big sashimi and sushi section on the menu. My wife ordered a Mixed Nigiri set and it looked really scrumptious. Besides sashimi and nigiri, Jin Kichi has roll and hand roll sushi.

Yakitori: izakaya main food

Yakitori is definitely Jin Kichi’s strong side. The restaurant has 16 types of yakitori or as they formally call them kushuyaki (串焼) on the menu. You can order individually or if you can’t bother choosing, there are two sets you can pick. Set A is a nice combination of pork, chicken, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms and king prawn, while Set B is pretty much all chicken just different parts.

I personally really liked tsukune, grilled chicken meatballs with yakitori sauce, they were juicy and full of flavour and torikawa, a guilty pleasure of salted grilled chicken skin. We also had excellent kamonegi, grilled duck skewers, gamey with a nice texture and Shiso Maki, grilled skewer of Shiso leaf and pork rolls with Teriyaki sauce. The yakitori are priced between £1.80 and £3.50 and the sets are £18.60 for the variety one and £15.50 for the chicken one.

Jin Kichi Saba Shio
My favourite dish: Saba Shio

Grilled dishes and tempura

Jin Kichi has an excellent choice of grilled dishes. I ordered Saba Shio (grilled mackerel) and it was very good, smokey and crispy outside and soft and creamy inside. Still, it didn’t top up my favourite Saba Shio from Nambu-Tei at Baker Street. The choice of tempura and other deep-fried dishes at Jin Kichi was excellent. I ordered my favourite agedashi tofu, and it was properly done, crispy outside and soft and creamy inside.

Fried squid tentacles served with lemon (Geso Age)
Fried squid tentacles served with lemon (Geso Age)

We also had mixed tempura of king prawns and vegetables, fried squid tentacles served with lemon (Geso Age), potato croquettes and kushi katsu, deep fried, skewered fillet of pork and onion in breadcrumbs served with Tonkatsu sauce.

Tempura and croquettes were good but not that special, while squid tentacles and especially kushi katsu were just excellent, nicely crispy outside and juicy and full of umami inside.

If you come to Jin Kichi at lunchtime, you can have a nice set lunch, which ranges from £9.80 for a croquette bento to £19.80 for shokado (松花堂), which includes 3 mains but available only on weekdays.

Great place for sake

Jin Kichi Jozen Mizu
A nice tokkuri of Jozen Mizu

Now let’s turn to the main subject of this blog, Japanese sake. Jin Kichi’s sake list is very good and quite extensive for a small izakaya in London. There are 10-12 names on the list, most of which are available in a glass or 150ml or 300ml carafes.

Only expensive sake such as Tosatsuru ginjo or Dassai 23 are available only by bottle, which is understandable. The available brands include Ichinokura, Urakasumi, Tosatsuru, Kikusui, Sakura, Jozen Mizu, Nishinoseki, Nanbu Bijin and Naruto.

In terms of prices, Sakura Junmai Daiginjo, for example, will cost you £49 per bottle or £10.50 for a 150ml, while Dassai 39 – £75 for a bottle or £18 for 150ml. You can also have a 70ml glass of most of sake for £5-7. Jin Kichi also serves Cho Koshu aged sake also by carafe or glass. The trial glass will cost you £11.60 and the 150ml carafe – £25.

Jin Kichi Sakura Junmai Daiginjo
Sakura Junmai Daiginjo

You can also go for a sake flight set of three glasses of Jozen Mizu, Naruto Tai and Cho Koshu for £13.80 if you would like to try different sake. The restaurant also offers shochu, beer and a selection of non-Japanese drinks. They have a very good Japanese craft beer, Ova, which is a bit pricey, £7.20 for a 300ml bottle.

Jin Kichi became my favourite izakaya in London. The food is excellent and the choice extensive. Price-wise, the place is very reasonable. Another very important factor is that you don’t have to order a whole bottle of sake in most of the cases, which makes Jin Kichi a great place to go if you would like to have a glass or two of sake with your meal.

So if you happen to be in Hampstead, stop by Jin Kichi and if they have a table available, have a few yakitori or a bento with some nice sake. I wholeheartedly recommend all three sake I tried there, Sakura, Nanbu Bijin and Jozen Mizu. But you can choose something different and leave a comment here about how you like it. And if you like this blog, please consider subscribing to receive notifications about new posts.

Kampai!

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