Review – Bincho Yakitori
Tourist fodder, fast food and bad hygiene ratings combine to make Preston Street generally a bit of a no-go area for foodies, but now you have very good reason to get down there. Bincho Yakitori, based on a Japanese izakaya – an inexpensive, casual restaurant that doubles as a bar – was inspired by a popular late-night scene where after-work drinkers kick back with cold beer and small plates of food cooked in an open kitchen.
With just 30 covers, Bincho is small. The lighting is low, the design minimalist – plenty of wood and black – yet it’s intimate and cosy. There are seats at the pass, where you can watch chefs working furiously at the grill, clad in black like ninjas. I fell for the place instantly. If you’re wondering where to take someone for a date, I’d urge you to come here.
Much like tapas, the food is made for sharing, brought to your table as it’s cooked, and you eat as much or as little as you like. I’d recommend ordering slowly over several courses from the small but perfectly formed menu; most plates hover around the £4 mark so even a huge meal won’t break the bank.
Yakitori – grilled skewers – are what this place is all about, so we went for deliciously soft chicken livers, melting cubes of pork belly and curls of tender squid. Glazed lamb chops, charred and smoky from the grill, were juicy and sweet, while fried Korean chicken wings (probably the best things I’ve eaten all year) were crisp, sticky, meaty and addictive. Crunchy kimchi and a salad of seaweed and salmon sashimi added a gorgeous, fresh contrast.
Everything is presented extremely simply, letting the key ingredients take centre stage. As Bincho puts it themselves: “we don’t waste our time and your money on unnecessary garnish.”
Non-meat eaters may discount a restaurant when they hear the word ‘grill’, but their options here are outstanding. In fact, one of my favourite dishes was vegan: split, grilled aubergine spread with a paste made from miso, mirin, sake and sugar, then grilled again. Fudgy, smoky and soft, this was incredible. A white chocolate and green tea slice cut through with a layer of citrusy yuzu jelly went perfectly with chilled plum wine. The trio of sake tasters – dry, sweet and cloudy – is also well worth a try for novices.
Bincho’s story is an interesting one. English chef/proprietor David Viney moved to Tokyo to learn more about Japanese fine dining and spent most of his spare time in yakitori joints and izakayas. “I realised these places were a lot more fun than high-end restaurants, and were serving up very similar flavours but without the fuss. I decided to come home and open up a place in London,” he says.
The first Bincho, at the OXO Tower, was critically acclaimed yet didn’t survive, probably due to the location. A popular new branch on Old Compton Street was forced to close after seven years when David’s business partner pulled out. So, how did Bincho find itself in Brighton? “I’ve lived in Lewes since 2010, and my wife has for years been trying to talk me into giving it another go,” he says. “I finally decided to open one closer to home, and this is now my only restaurant. It’s Brighton or bust!”
Bincho is, for me, Japanese food in a nutshell: visually simple, clean and frill-free, yet with myriad complex flavours that never cease to delight. Brighton, we have a responsibility. Let’s not let this one close down, too.
63 Preston Street, Brighton BN1 2HE – 01273 779021
First published in the Brighton & Hove Independent on 31st July 2015