Thursday 11 October 2012

Japanese Food

This is marvellous in so many ways ... the Victorians review a Japanese restaurant ... 

INTERNATIONAL HEALTH EXHIBITION. Last evening the Japanese Restaurant, which is located upstairs in Messrs. Bertram and Roberts's smoking pavilion above the end of the western quadrant, nearest to the Exhibition-road entrance, was formally opened to the public. On the previous day his Grace the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, chairman to the exhibition, and a party of ladies and gentlemen partook of a dinner here on the occasion of what might be termed the formal inauguration of this singular but interesting establishment. It cannot be said that Japanese cooking is quite so much to our tastes as even the Chinese. The rather embarrassing custom of serving the whole menu at once is apt to confuse people accustomed to a procession of dishes following each other in well-regulated, not to say time-honoured, fashion of precedence, soup, fish, entree, fowls, and roast, winding up with sweets and fruit. The Chinese begin by sweets and end with soups, but this is a trifling disarrangement of our customs, and can be tolerated even by the most fastidious. The Japanese bring all up at once, each guest being provided with a charming lacquer tray, and each dish, moreover, being served in a pretty little lacquer saucer with appropriate cover. The menu on Wednesday consisted of sea cucumber and raw turnip salad. Miso soup (miso, a fermented mixture of soy beans, wheat, and salt), broad beans, and aralia pinnatifida. Kuchitori, a side dish of mushrooms, radishes, and tomato mixed. Hachimono, a grilled or roast. Choku, dressed vegetables in vinegar. Han, boiled rice. Wanmori, soup of meat with vegetables. Sunomono, salad. Konomono,vegetables, salted or preserved in miso. Saké, a Japanese wine. The pervading flavour of all these dishes is what the French term aigre-doux - bitter sweet. There is very little taste of the meat or fish left, it all being apparently carefully extracted and concentrated in the soups, which are excellent, but we English are not in the habit of taking two soups at once at the same dinner, as is evidently the Japanese custom. The saké is identified with the Chinese beverage of the same name, and very refreshing, but rather stronger and more intoxicating than most people would imagine. The dinner is served by European waitresses, but under the direction of the Japanese Commissioners, with much elegance. Chop-sticks are given to each guest, supplemented, however, with knives and forks. Paper napkins and charming fans are also presented to the ladies, with the 'kind compliments' of the hosts of this unique restaurant, which far surpasses the Chinese in point of originality. It might be suggested, however, that a good curry or stew of a substantial character—and surely there must be such in the Japanese cuisine—could with advantage be added to the present menu, which to the majority, unaccustomed to the extreme recherché and ultra aestheticiem of the Japanese cookery, proves rather, to say the least, unsatisfactory. Several, on the occasion above alluded to, openly expressed their keen desire for a "stake" and one or two of the guests were still hungry enough to partake of an extra meal elsewhere. The soups are admirable, the pickled salmon also notable, being pungent enough to have pleased Sarah Gamp herself. It remains, however, to be seen whether the average Englishman will ever develop a great relish for raw turnip salad and sea-weed stew. The tea, wherewith the meal is brought to a close, is exquisite. There are no sweet dishes or preserves of any kind, and as fruit is not eaten at dinner in Japan, this important item of most Menus is left out, so also is cheese. The names of the Japanese cooks to whose art is due the fact that we in London can now dine as well according doubtless to Japanese notions as if we were in Yeddo, are Ki-i-ti, son of Ise-gen, and Gen-Suke, chief cook of Ise-gen. It is certainly one of the things to do at the Exhibition to dine a la Japanoise ; and no one ought to omit partaking of at least one dinner in this aerial restaurant, which is perched so high up that it commands a splendid view of the gardens and buildings.

The Morning Post 12 September 1884


  1. Superb! I had no idea that Japanese restaurants existed in London back then. Was it a short-term thing (what we might now call a pop-up), or did the restaurant stick around, I wonder.

  2. It was part of the International Health Exhibition, one of the many Kensington exhibitions which followed from the great exhibition - so yes, very much a 'pop-up'. Not sure to what degree it was connected with or inspired the 'Japanese Village' of the following year.

  3. Wonderful! Although it appears there was no sushi on the menu, the description of the pickled salmon was delightful -- I had almost forgotten Sara Gamp's association with it!

  4. Wow . . . there had been exactly a one-century lapse between this 1884 review and when I first went to Leeds.

    I could not recall any local Japanese restaurants during my three-year undergraduate study in Leeds, let alone sushi bars.

    I heard that today after 30+ years sushi has become one of the UK's national dishes.