Pop-ups. Over recent years they’ve been appearing on the pavements of London as if conjured up by some apron-wearing, whisk-bearing Dumbledore; sprouting on side streets, car parks & market cobblestones, they shower those nearby with all manner of things eye-widening & buzz-generatingly delicious.
One of the more recent ones to emerge, not blinking & sleepy but flinging open its arms & singing a breezy greeting to the bright spring sunlight of Soho, is Shackfuyu. Descendant of the Bone Daddies family (whose soft, cloud like, sticky duck filled buns I’m already well acquainted with), this is a pop-up that, in their words, offers Japanese flavours, global culinary styles, cold beer, strong cocktails & rock’n’roll.
In love yet?
I was, the minute I started hearing about some of the dishes on the small but flawless menu that were inducing gentle hysteria across the napkins, forks & mouths of London’s food obsessed. This absolute need to try a new take on the food of Japan sent J and I down to Old Compton Street one pretty Saturday lunchtime in search of steak, prawns & a green tea dessert whose description alone had me dangerously close to popping with anticipation.
I thank the heavens for J every given day but especially those on which we go out to eat. I casually ask what he thinks looks good on the menu, all the time understanding – as I’m pretty sure he does too – that I know exactly what I want us to try. It’s not that he doesn’t get a say – far from it because I love knowing what sort of food gets other people excited – it’s more that whatever he’d like to try is probably going to end up on top of what I’d like to try. Our tables get crowded, our tummies get full, I can’t deny that I love it and hey, isn’t that what afternoon naps were made for…?
There were 3 dishes that I was bouncing on the edge of my seat to order, dishes that had been reviewed & universally loved; beef picanha with kimchee tare butter, prawn toast masquerading as okonomiyaki (a type of savoury Japanese pancake) and kinako French toast with green tea soft serve ice-cream.
We also added to this order a portion each of yellowtail sashimi tostada with avocado shiso, fried potatoes with Japanese curry sauce and cold, crisp Asahi beers to wash the feast down into our gaping bellies with.
The moment you enter somewhere and your mouth starts watering, you know you’re in safe, capable, food-to-make-you-very-contented hands. The air was heavy with tang and I was uncomfortably close to drooling my hello to the staff. The ambience was chilled & respectful and the happy murmur of eating a gentle accompaniment to the unobtrusive sounds of rock’n’roll. A warm welcome from servers who were utterly charming throughout the meal, ushered us to a seat near the window and an offer to explain anything we were uncertain about was sincere & appreciated.
I love places like this for sharing – you’re not quite sure what some things are or if you’re going to end up loving or loathing them (a little like both the music & hair of Michael Bolton and those who know me are well aware which side of that fence I sit on) so it’s a great chance to order several dishes and share. Steak and fish were hugely evident on the menu with chilli beef, sea bass, yellowtail, mackerel, scallops & prawn jostling for attention but cups of fierce looking Korean wings flew the flag high for poultry whilst veggie lovers were represented through plates like endive, pear & blue cheese salad with miso dressing and aubergine with bubu arare (a type of rice cracker).
The yellowtail sashimi tostada with avocado shiso arrived first, each disc an elegant pop of colour on traditional blue & white Japanese porcelain. Tasting as though it had just skipped right out of the ocean, the freshness & clean flavour of the fish was never lost even as it nestled between creamy avocado, crunchy tostada & a halo of chilli. We could have eaten a platter full of these and never tired of the meatiness of the fish or the subtle hints of the ocean it had been plucked from.
Following swiftly on the fins of this delicate plate was something carby, crunchy & greedily, tin-lickingly good. Say hello to and then cosy on up with the nicest serving of chips with curry sauce you’ve ever had.
Fat cubes of perfectly cooked potato, fluffy on the inside and crispy on the edge, were liberally doused with a warm, spicy sauce that had soaked into some corners leaving them sticky & chewy and left others naked except for their dark golden crust. I’m not lying when I say it was damn hard not to fork up every last crumb of these bad boys and to keep some to go with the steak that was sizzling its way over to our table…
Picanha is also known as the rump or top sirloin cap and is popular in Brazil where they keep the fat on until the meat is cooked so that it retains all the moistness and flavour. Friends, this is one buttery cut of meat that melted in my mouth and fell apart with a coo & a sigh when touched with the knife.
Wallowing in a sauce that I’m pretty sure was the welcome tang on the air that I inhaled upon entering, I could not get this steak into my mouth quick enough and had I the sense to do so, I’d have channelled the inner Northerner who’d been slightly set free with the arrival of the curried potatoes and asked for bread to soak up every last bead of the glossy, bronzed liquid.
The last of the savoury plates to be deposited on our table with the smile of those who know how great the food is and how much you’re loving eating it because they feel exactly the same way, was the ‘prawn toast’. I use the term loosely here because it may be prawn toast in name but in nature, it’s so incredibly graceful & chic on the plate that you feel it must surely be the adopted member of this particular family.
Decadent, elegant, light & salty, this is something else altogether. The titular ‘okonomiyaki’ that the toast is masquerading as, consists of a grilled pancake version of this traditionally Chinese side dish. Plump, squidgy, full of juicy prawn flavour & texture, it comes topped with savoury Worcester-sauce-esque drizzles and bonito, dried fish flakes, which I promise on my steak-lovin’ life is so much more delicious than that description makes it sound. Each mouthful was warm & satisfying and while I risk alienating my shellfish readership here, I’d go so far as to say that any prawn would be happy to find himself atop this version of the toast that’s haunted him and his family for generations.
Kinako french toast with green tea soft serve ice-cream.
Is it breakfast?
Is it dessert?
Really, who cares when it tastes so good you’d happily spoon it up at 3am after a night out or 3pm as a reward for nearly making it through the day. This is a take on french toast that presents it as everything & nothing like you’d imagine it to be. In its perfectly browned, slab-like state, it sits loftily on the plate, neither dwarfed by nor lording itself over the Mr-Whippy-on-speed sized serving of green tea ice-cream that fluffs prettily beside it. It looks like a dream and even better? It has none of the cloying, saccharine sweetness so often associated with it.
It’s fresher and lighter than you’d think possible given its size & stature, with the top heavily dusted with a significant powdering of kinako (roasted soy bean flour) which has a slightly warming, nutty flavour. This unexpectedly sandy texture is even better when paired with a spoonful of glorious limey-appley-grassy green toned soft serve which is smooth, delicate & leafy sweet in flavour. It’s dessert for sure, but it’s thankfully a million miles away from the syrupy, sink-to-the-bottom-of-your-boots wodge of bread you’re thinking of.
Shackfuyu is exactly the kind of pop-up that you hope to find and once you do, that you hope becomes permanent. I felt lucky to live in a city that encourages and excels in new food ideas. The dishes here have style, honesty, passion & innovation and y’know what? If you have any love for trying new food you’ve not had before, or trying again dishes that you’ve had but never with the refined, ambitious characteristics of the Japanese culture stamped all over them, you owe it to yourself to get down here and have the kind of food you’ll remember long after its temporary home either becomes permanent and we cheer or disappears from the streets of London forever and we can only sigh ‘remember when…’.