Review: Japanese Canteen, Holborn

Japanese Canteen – visited twice in the last month…will most definitely be back in the New Year!

83 High Holborn
020 7405 4540

By way of introduction, Japanese Canteen kind of does what it says on the tin! It offers freshly cooked Japanese food in a canteen-style restaurant.

So…what more do you need to know?!

There are ten Japanese Canteens in total all over London. Now I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting any of them other than the Holborn branch just yet so I can’t comment on the restaurant business as a whole, but I can tell you a little bit about what to expect from the Holborn branch and why I will keep going back.

The first thing that caught my eye about Japanese Canteen, was not the branding or restaurant decoration (a bit more about that later), but that every morning when I was walking to Law School there would be crates and crates of fresh vegetables being delivered to their store. The website boasts how they cook hot fresh food daily and that ingredients are locally sourced. Though I can’t vouch for where the vegetables come from, they certainly are fresh! Brownie point number 1!

Chicken Katsu Curry!
The menu is also pretty extensive for such a small Canteen! Each shop has its own independent kitchen and therefore the menu may differ depending on which branch you are in. But the Holborn branch in particular can offer everything from freshly made sushi, bento boxes, katsu curry, donburi and more! You could keep going back every week for a year and I genuinely believe you would never get bored.

But it’s not just the variety on offer that impresses. The food is cooked at lightning speed to your order and comes beautifully presented. It’s piping hot because it’s been cooked and bought out to you so quickly and the tastes are amazing! Every component part of the dish seems to jump out at you as clean and fresh, yet they work so well together to form a complete flavour experience. This is what I love about Japanese food. They take just a few favours that they can deliver in a refined way so that they don’t lose any of their own personality when matched with other flavours.

The first time I went, I had their Chicken Chilli Fried Rice. If you aren’t a fan of chilli heat you may want to shy away from this one. But when I was suffering from a cold, this was exactly what I needed. I could taste the chilli, the spring onions, the chicken, ginger and more! It seemed like each flavour had picked one of my taste buds and was doing a little dance!

The portion sizes weren’t bad either! It was really busy when I first went in (it always is at lunch time) so I chose to take it away. By the time I got back to law school the food was still piping hot and had lost none of its pizazz. I don’t know whether they had been extra generous with my portion, or whether my cold had got the better of me, but I actually couldn’t bring myself to finish it! Something I hate doing when something tastes so good.

On my second visit just two weeks later I decided to visit the Canteen a little later on – around 2pm – to try and miss the lunch time rush. It worked! And on the plus side student discount can only be used after 2pm! (More on that later…)

I chose the Chicken Katsu Curry and waited for my order. One thing about it being a Canteen is that although they serve their dishes beautifully if you eat in, you still have to stand and wait at the counter to collect it! Would it really be that hard to get a member of staff to walk those extra five steps to serve at the table? The store is tiny!

Nonetheless, I wanted to see what all of the fuss is about with Katsu curry.

We all know of that large Japenese Canteen Style Restaurant that has a home in every city, and many of my friends will always order Katsu curry when they visit. I have never had such an urge…until now.

I ordered the Katsu Curry and waited…After just a few mins a HUGE bowl of Chicken Katsu Curry and rice was presented before me!!! My cold was still hanging on and I knew I wasn’t going to finish the whole bowl… But I started tucking in (attempting the chopsticks of course) and was amazed at what I had been missing all this time!

For those of you who don’t know, Katsu is chicken breast (or pork) dipped in a mixture of flour, beaten egg and panko breadcrumbs which is then deep fried and served with tonkatsu sauce, a type of thick Japanese Worcestershire sauce, or with a mild Japanese curry. The sauce is really creamy but not too heavy on your stomach which you would expect. Despite the starchy rice and fried chicken I didn’t find myself becoming too full. The curry sauce almost worked as a palette cleanser that meant after every mouthful I just wanted more! With almost the whole bowl finished I gave up… large portions may be great value for money but they’re not great if you have the stomach the size of a child!

So it’s pretty obvious from both of my visits that the food really is pretty damn good. But, nowhere is perfect. On the downside, the décor in the Holborn branch leaves a little to be desired. I like that they have gone for minimalist, clean cut lines, but it just seems a little…drab. The white is fading to cream and the red isn’t quite as bright as it probably once was. On my second visit when I ate in, the tables and benches had the remnants of other peoples lunches still on them and I had to clear my own table. Whether this is just something you have to endure for “canteen” style dining, I’m not quite sure… And last but not least, Most of the items on the menu are around £4.95…a little frustrating considering the minimum spend to use the card machine is £5! It also means that if you are hoping to make the most of student discount, you may want to make sure you have cash on you or you will be adding allsorts to your order to make up the amount – which kind of defeats the point!

All in all I think Japanese Canteen is a great little place to visit for lunch when you want something a bit more exciting that just another Sandwich or Salad! Especially in these cold months, why not treat yourself to some noodles or the Chilli fried rice which is guaranteed to blow the cobwebs away!

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