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Japan Centre: a look at the new store

Japan Centre: a look at the new store

Great British Chefs 18 September 2017

We visited Japan Centre’s new flagship shop in the heart of London with Hideki Hiwatashi, executive chef of Japanese restaurant Sake no Hana. Take a look at what’s new and some of Hideki’s top picks.

We all know what Japanese food is about, right? At first glance it’s all raw fish, rice, noodles and broths. But on closer inspection it’s far more than that, with regional specialities, all sorts of wonderful ingredients we’ve never even heard of in the UK and even more fascinating food products. You’d normally have to actually visit Japan if you wanted to get your hands on a lot of the more high-quality, specialist foods that make its cuisine so special, but with Japan Centre opening their biggest ever store in London, that’s all about to change.

The small entrance to the store is deceiving – what looks like a little concession is just the first floor, with a staircase leading downstairs to the main hall. In the centre is the food court, with 100 seats and a dedicated open kitchen preparing Japanese street food and other dishes. To your left there’s a butcher, where you’ll be able to buy meat sliced in specific ways for particular Japanese dishes, as well as a fishmonger that sells fresh sashimi and high-end products like tobiko. Other aisles contain all the Japanese sauces, noodles, sweets and snacks you could ever ask for, and there’s a whole wall of frozen produce to peruse.

There are three specialist areas focusing on some of Japan’s most popular products. The sake ‘room’ has hundreds of different bottles on offer, with plenty of information to help you distinguish one from another. The tea aisle contains all the different blends popular in Japan, as well as all the pots, cups and kit you need to turn drinking a cuppa into a full-blown ceremony. Finally, the miso section aims to spread awareness of this incredible product, with fresh varieties on offer. And that’s all before you get to the fresh produce area, selling Japanese vegetables, mushrooms, tofu and other chilled products.

Of course, we could have looked around the shop ourselves and got a good idea of what was on offer – there’s certainly a huge range to choose from. But to really get an idea of what was there, we asked Hideki Hiwatashi to come along and pick out some of his favourite items. Hideki is the head chef of Sake no Hana, one of the best Japanese restaurants in London, so he certainly knows his taro from his takoyaki. Overall he was very impressed with the set-up – particularly the miso on offer – and saw lots of products that he hadn’t come across before outside of Japan.

‘More and more people want to learn about all aspects of Japanese food,’ he says. ‘The bookshop here is good for that. You can read about kaiseki – the highest form of fine dining in Japan which I learnt a lot about in Kyoto, although it’s quite difficult to cook. There’s also lots of books about ramen, izakaya-style dishes and hanami – which means family-style home cooking.’

Scroll down to get a better idea of what Japan Centre is like, and see the products Hideki picked out.

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