Yo! announced it was ditching the conveyor belt from some of its UK sites earlier this year and now it’s launched its first full-service restaurant, focusing on the idea of ‘kyoyu’ – the Japanese term for sharing.
Inspired by the markets and backstreets of Tokyo, Yo! Kitchen draws on the tradition of the izakaya, an informal Japanese style of pub with affordable snacks, usually in the form of yakitori (meat skewers) or other small plates, designed for mixing and matching with mates.
Food Spark highlighted their impact on the market in China and America last year, where chefs adapted Japanese pub grub into inventive food fusion.
Yo! Kitchen’s menu will features 40 new dishes, alongside familiar eats from the chain’s stable such as such as Korean fried chicken and crunchy California rolls. The new 2,400 sqft restaurant is located at Westfield White City and will seat 90 diners. It will be followed by the brand’s first site in Ireland, YO! Kitchen Dundrum, rolling out in October.
Japanese barbecue to gastropub bites
Experimentation is encouraged at Yo! Kitchen, with the menu featuring contemporary spins on Japanese classics such as katsu curry arancini, chopped moromi cucumber with barley miso and sashimi pizza: a tortilla base topped with seared tuna, tomato, coriander, jalapeno, dressed with mayo and a katsu sauce.
Aside from the standard sushi rolls and sashimi, a more exciting addition is the robata-grilled deep-fried sticks menu. Robata, the Japanese-style barbecue, is on the up and has been appearing in UK restaurants from Gordon Ramsay’s new Asian outfit Lucky Cat to chef Scott Hallsworth’s tapas-style Asian offering Freak Scene, not to mention on-the-head newcomer Robata. Even Greek concept Pittabun finishes its slow cooked meats on the its own robata grill.
Diners at Yo! Kitchen can pick from the Japanese corndog with arabiki sausage and tonkatsu sauce or salmon caviar kushikatsu: deep-fried skewers with mayo and ikura (red fish roe).
There are larger plates to satisfy the hungry punters as well, including lamb cutlets with spicy miso and pickle, salmon teriyaki and robata sirloin steak with black pepper sauce and lotus root crisps. Interestingly, the lotus root has been appearing more on menus and even in snacks, while also being named one of the 50 Foods of the Future by the Worldwide Wildlife Fund and Knorr, who jointly published a report encouraging people to diversify their diet.
People can slurp their way through Yo! Kitchen’s five bowl foods, including tonkotsu ramen, katsu curry and vegan king oyster mushroom ramen served with atsu-age (deep-fried tofu), pickles and pak choi.
Desserts that will please the Instagram crowd are the name of the game for puddings. There’s kakigori with strawberries and syrup – a Japanese treat that Food Spark tipped as having the potential to tickle tastemakers last year, as well as hirata doughnuts: deep-fried versions of Japan's answer to the bao bun with soft vanilla ice cream, sweet miso-caramel sauce and pistachio nuts. Trialled by Yo! back in 2017, they're back as a permanent edition at the new concept.
The bar will serve up beer, sake and an array of Japanese-inspired cocktails using seasonal ingredients, like freshly squeezed yuzu gin from the Boutique-y Gin company and craft spirits such from the famous premium Japanese spirit company, Suntory.
“After 22 years and almost 100 Yo! openings across Europe, Australia and the UAE, we are very excited to continue our Japanese food journey with a totally new concept,” said Yo!’s CEO Richard Hodgson. “If you’ve dipped your toe into Japanese food at our Yo! restaurants, Yo! Kitchen is the perfect spot for experimenting and testing your taste buds with new flavours and ingredients inspired by Japan.”