Yatay review: Chinatown robata restaurant and bar – Time Out London

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In this country, the concept of the izakaya is almost always described as ‘the Japanese take on the pub’, which strikes me as a very little-England POV. It would be better if we just accept that the pub is an institution that most of the world doesn’t really understand or want in their lives and leave it at that. This is the preamble to me explaining that Yatay on Wardour Street (replacing Ichibuns) on the edge of Chinatown is – you guessed it – an izakaya. Meaning, it’s all about drinks and small plates of grilled meat and fish. It’s the place to loosen your tie and beef about your shit salaryman life and how your other half is always giving you grief for spending so much time down the izakaya.  
Let’s start downstairs, though. Downstairs is a slightly louche and dimly lit rock ’n’ roll bar called Zoku, which I only clocked was a different brand from Yatay when I peered into my Shibuya Meltdown – a sake-rich take on a Negroni – and realised that the massive ice cube in it said ‘Zoku’ on it. Zoku’s that kind of a place. A bit wide and flash, a bit uncool, good fun. There’s a wall of LP covers (including ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’ the wrong way round – it wasn’t the ultra-rare one with the upside-down head of Lou floating in space, which I would definitely have tried to steal). It felt like a Western expat opening a bar in Tokyo, then the whole thing being transplanted to Soho. Weird. Still, the Sakazuki Goto with yuzu and egg white was a piquant frothy delight warm with matcha. 
Transferring to Yatay proper, we were perched up at the bar overlooking the open kitchen, home of the crucial robata grill – central to the whole izakaya deal. From it emerged a series of ultra-tasty plates: succulent chicken-thigh skewers, steak with chilli and lime, plus larger dishes like trout with a yakiniku (barbecue) glaze. Among the raw offerings, yellowtail sashimi was well-balanced with the bitter snap of chicory, while Loch Duart Scottish salmon came decorated with umami dabs of salmon caviar and the aniseed twang of pickled fennel. 
There were a couple of duff notes, though. A vegan skewer of cubes of pumpkin with jalapenõs was claggy and flavourless, with the texture of that stuff that flower arrangers use to stick stalks into, while the sweet potato with miso cream cheese was a bit uninspiring. Veggies should pick carefully. Things got back on course, though, with dessert: a miso ricotta dumpling that was boldly unsweet apart from its unctuous black sugar syrup dressing. It was cracking, like a spectacular Japanese take on a tiramisu. As for drinks? Sake fans can also opt in for the manageable 12-item menu and the rest of the wine list features organic bottles and a couple of orange options.
For its location and target audience, Yatay is a fun night out. The format – tapas, essentially – makes for a less structured ‘dinner’ in the West End. Watch it, though: like other places that run on these lines, those innocent little plates can mount into a big ol’ bill. But don’t go mad, and you’ll have a great time. See you down the pub…
The vibe Rock ’n’ roll meets robata in Tokyo.
The food Tasty small plates hot off the grill. 
The drink Louche cocktails like the Shibuya Meltdown and Sakazuki Goto and a well-curated sake menu.
Time Out tip Definitely order the miso ricotta dumpling for pud.
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