People are going to fall into two camps on this one. I was intrigued, especially by the photo (right) but the die-hard red meat, full-fat brigade will be horrified. So I went along to try it.
London’s first rice burger is being served at the Japan Centre at 14-16 Regent St (actually the Lower Regent St bit). It sells Japanese foodstuffs to the large population of ex-pats working in the capital, plus there’s an eat-in cafe section (and a separate restaurant Toku next door, which does full meals).
So, the rice burger is made from sticky rice, squidged together into two patty shapes, then toasted to hold them together. These are then used to top-and-tail a choice of BBQ pork, chicken, beef or veg, and the whole thing wrapped in a sheet of edible dried seaweed. There are also prawn and salmon versions but these were off the day I went. All are 100% additive-free and a healthy alternative to the bread-bun rival (although bread versions are also on sale). I went for the Veggie Kinpara Gobo (£2.79), described as “sweet and spicy shredded burdock [which is a vegetable, as in Dandelion and Burdock] with carrot”. It’s gluten free and is marinated in a teriaki-type sauce of soy, sugar, mirin etc. I could have gone for the brown rice version, but decided against on a whim. The good news is, I LOVED IT!
I love eating food with my hands, but since steering away from bread and pastry, that pleasure has been mostly denied me. No longer! The burger was warm, flavoursome, filling and delicious, a real treat. Seriously, I’d be happy to eat this every day for lunch if I was working in the area. Now for a drink: I had a bit of trouble deciphering the choices. I was after a juice. The aloe vera juice-drink had a lot of sugar in so I opted for something in a can labelled Muscat Juice (97p/238ml). Now, muscat is a grape but there was a picture of an apple on the front. All the ingredients were in Japanese. The assistant assured me it was juice, not alcohol (they do sell sake and beers) but it tasted very sugary, so I gave up.
I fancied a pudding. There are some unfamiliar choices so I went for the Sesame Dessert (£1.49) made from milk, cream, soy bean powder and egg (and presumably black sesame seeds?). It was grey (see pic) so a bit visually unappealing, but it actually tasted nice, subtley sesame-ish and creamy. What I thought was a blackberry on top turned out to be something else (I am guessing “red bean” which seems to be widely used in Japanese desserts). Anyway, I liked it.
The place was packed at 1.30pm on a Thursday. There’s a massive selection of grab-and-go sushi boxes, noodle bowls etc as well as a sort of triangular hand roll wrapped in nori seaweed, perfect hand food. 70% of customers in the takeaway bit are non Japanese, I am told, but the produce section has more of an ex-pat feel, partly because some of the product labels haven’t been translated yet. There are lots of unidentifiable pink blobs in vacuum packs (I think garlic in a pink marinade), sweets called things like Spunk, and alien tentacles in the deep freeze. There’s also a fishmonger section where they sell zingily fresh, sushi-grade tuna and other fish/seafood etc.
I bumped into a banker friend who sang the Japan Centre’s praises. It was certainly rammed with office workers of all shapes and sizes, ages and ethnic backgrounds when I went. But the service was superbly efficient and quick, with several tills working away busily. I recommend.
The Japan Centre 14-16, Lower Regent St, London W1 (Tel: 020 3405 1152) and Toku Restaurant (Tel: 020 3405 1246) next door