Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Mino Kitchen, Holborn

I have a lot of time for any restaurant that cooks the majority of its food over charcoal. There's something primal about the way marinated meat reacts to the fierce heat and smoke of solid fuel that I find irresistible, whether it's lamb chops cooked in a tandoor or some tender cubes of chicken from a proper ocakbasi. Of course, such cooking requires skill, and patience, and a great big expensive extractor fan, so it's probably not surprising that you're more likely to see gas-fired grills in your local kebab shop and Indian takeaway than proper coals. But when charcoal-grilled food is good, it can turn humdrum raw materials into something quite special, adding wonderful textures and flavours while keeping the inside flesh moist. At least, that's the idea.

The Japanese, in their wonderfully organised and obsessive way, not only have a name for restaurants that specialise in charcoal-grilled food (yakitori) but also for places that specialise even further in skewered meat cooked over charcoal - kushiyaki. Mino Kitchen is ostensibly a kushiyaki restaurant, but also sells sushi, perhaps to cover all bases in case they get some demanding business lunchers. I wasn't here for sushi though - I ordered the "Nana kushi set" of skewers and, because none of the non-alcoholic options on the drinks menu really appealed, a glass of tap water.

Here they are then, in all their skewered glory. An odd looking bunch, I'm sure you'll agree; some of them tasted pretty odd too. There was an eringi mushroom, sliced vertically into one long rather rude looking appendage and incredibly difficult to eat. I tried biting off chunks but it was too chewy, and ended up swallowing the damn thing whole, like a pelican swallowing a sardine. It tasted like a big, chewy mushroom. Shiitake were more manageable but no more interesting - they tasted mainly of the sweet marinade that everything is brushed with on the grill. King prawns were disastrously overcooked into a mushy paste and wouldn't shell properly - not very nice . Weirdest of all though was sunagimo, described as 'chicken gizzards' on the menu yet having the strangest texture - they were bizarrely crunchy all the way through, not just charred from the grill but literally crunchy like celery, even though I'm sure they were indeed parts of a chicken. Chicken meatballs and beef meatballs were fine, nicely crispy outside but rather mealy and offputting inside.

It may sound like I had a fairly awful lunch but really it was only the king prawns that were completely inedible. Most of the rest of it was decent enough and made a distracting if not particularly large meal, and it was interesting sat at the bar watching the chefs put it all together. The only other major issue I had was with the price - these miniscule skewers (a starter portion really) of hardly premium ingredients were £12.50 and it was only thanks to an additional £2.60 small bowl of steamed rice (shovelled in using the wonkiest chopsticks I've ever used) that I managed to avoid leaving with a still empty stomach. But then, this is Holborn, and given the competition (or rather, lack of it) in the area I imagine they will probably do quite well. It may not be the greatest kushiyaki joint in London, but at least it's not another branch of Pret. Small mercies, and all that.


Mino Kitchen on Urbanspoon


catty said...

Hehe! I love the wonky chopsticks! Anyway, that does sound pricey for lunch, and really how hard is it to do prawns? Better off serving them slightly undercooked than overcooked.

Rob said...

Have you tried the Korean place right next door to Holborn station? Asadal is the name, and I was very impressed. The dish I had you have to pretty much cook it at your table. Good fun.

Ollie said...

Shame as it sounds like it was doing something different. Love the image of the pelican.

sarynkay said...

Agree with Rob re Asadal, good option when in the holborn area. Shame really about Mino Kitchen, seems a tad expensive!

Matt said...

So, let me get this straight (or not, as the case may be).
There was a mushroom shaped, for want of a better word, like a willy.
And you swallowed it whole.

I do hope someone got a photo.

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

I recognise that building! I went in there for lunch on my first day in my previous job ten years ago. It was with a blind colleague and her dog kept farting under the table. The memory had prevented me ever going in again.

thewanderingfoody said...

have you ever been to Grill in Stockholm? every item on their menu has something that is grilled, even desserts... and they have a special charcoal grill menu.. it was really yummy!

Anonymous said...

I went there for dinner last Friday. I guess they have corrected some of the mistakes you mentioned. I had one of the fix menus, with sushi assortment(very good), grilled chicken (average), grilled shiitake (good) and grilled salmon (excellent). I had mochi for dessert (delicious). The price seemed to me more than reasonable, given the city and street. The service was nice, although rather silent. The only 'but' were, yes, the crooked chopsticks -thanks for the photo!-, which I asked to change for a pair of wooden ones and problem solved. And, interestingly enough, most of clients were Japanese.