Whenever there is an opportunity to try something to do with Japan, Charlotte Kan is our go-to person, as she is somewhat of an expert on the country. On this occasion, there was no need to fly to the other side of the world; instead, it was a short taxi ride to sample the offerings at Apothecary in Shoreditch.
As a Japan aficionado, I’m always intrigued and often lured by the promise of an izakaya experience closer to our European shores. However, my curiosity is often tainted with mild scepticism that it could ever live up to the exotism and charm of their Tokyoite equivalent. Then it hit me: a replica it needn’t be – it’s more about the izakaya spirit than the form. And this is just what Apothecary is offering…
Izakaya: a uniquely Japanese concept
First of all: some context. Loosely translated as ‘dine-drink’ places, in the Land of the Rising Sun, izakayas attract urban (over)workers looking for a relaxed, informal and warm setting to replenish their stomachs and their souls after a hard day toiling away at the office.
The European equivalent simply does not exist – part tavern, part saloon, part pub, not too far off the Iberian tapas bar, an izakaya is a lively joint serving alcoholic drinks and small portions of food to knackered and stressed-out workers in dire need to let their hair down before the long commute home or a few hours of hardly restorative sleep in a tiny flat or capsule hotel.
When East meets the East end
Admittedly, Apothecary does not claim to be an izakaya, and what it does is even better: it amalgamates the Japanese concept with a generous sprinkle of now traditional East London hipness.
Housed in an old Victorian warehouse (and former Apothecary, hence the name), the venue is basically a hybrid: a unique blend of cocktail bar and restaurant with sultry lighting, Sapele wood screens and secluded alcoves, industrial-style brick walls and steel pipes, open fireplace and cosy banquettes.
A cosy but understatedly cool space to sample Japanese inspired and convivial small plates and creative cocktails, inspired by the flavours and vibe of modern Tokyo bars but very much anchored in Britain’s eclectic capital, with its hordes of affluent youngsters out on a date or groups of friends reuniting after an efficient day of WFH and/or parading the Pomeranian at the local expresso bar (in that sense London is increasingly looking like Tokyo…).
Saké & Pig’s Ear
Anyways, the cocktails borrow Asian ingredients to spice up classics with a twist, such as in the Zen Garden (Roku gin, green tea, shiso and lime), Found in Translation (Get it? Sake, Lillet Rose, apricot oolong tea cordial and tonic) and Apothecary Highball (Toki Japanese whisky, peach, elderflower, citrus stock and soda).
Also on the well-furnished drinks list: Japanese whiskies, sakés (thankfully served, both hot and cold, in pretty ceramic pitchers), umeshu (plum liqueur), wine (yes, Japanese wine…), Japanese craft beers and local ones.
No kabuki: the theatre is the open kitchen
Now onto the food. Signature dishes include the robata grill, tataki, tempura, sushi rolls and sashimi, as well as Hirata, steamed bun sliders, truffle miso short rib, and blackened salmon. My personal highlights: the grilled cauliflower with black sesame sauce, miso glazed aubergines and yellowtail tiradito – simply to die for. Morish, flavoursome, attentive cooking that was downed with numerous servings of cold Junmai, served by happy, efficient and relaxed staff: the izakaya spirit was definitely felt while the gentle and distant beat of a live DJ set reminded us that we were, after all, in the beating heart of East London.
Launched in 2021, Apothecary is the brainchild of seasoned restaurateurs James Williams, Rohit Chugh and Dominic Lake. Their vision was reportedly to “create an old school independent venue for local residents and workers to enjoy any time of day, any day of the week.” The extensive menu’s reasonable prices are proof enough of their endeavour. The evening felt light, merry, as ‘chillaxed’ as a former British PM in a Cotswolds pub – a delightful London izakaya experience it was.
Apothecary – Where and how?
Address: 36 Charlotte Rd, London EC2A 3PG.
Opening hours are:
Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday: 12:00 – 23:00
Friday & Saturday: 12:00 – 00:00
Sunday: 12:00 – 20:00
You can learn more about Apothecary on their website www.apothecaryeast.co.uk.
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This review was written by Charlotte Kan.