This is not just any old pub in Portobello. The large corner site is a lively bar with a world-class drinks list, a performance space and an astonishingly good Japanese restaurant tucked away at the rear. (‘Ukai’ refers to the traditional Japanese method of fishing with cormorants.) It’s a magnet for locals and tourists drawn by the cheerful atmosphere, live music at weekends and top-notch cooking.
Chef Alessandro Verros polished his skills at Nobu and Roka and brings a distinctive mix of modern and authentic Japanese cooking overlaid with ultra-fashionable Peruvian touches. There’s a large menu ranging from small-snack ‘japas’ (geddit?) such as vegetable gyoza, rock shrimp tempura and salmon and mango tartare. There are steamed buns with pork belly and cabbage, and a lavish lobster tail tempura with yuzu mayonnaise. There’s an ambitious range of sashimi, nigiri and temaki in combos including dragon roll with eel and avocado.
Sit at tables around the walls or the high counter opposite the robata grill and watch the chefs prepare scallops with orange and tobiko, or spicy lamb chops to die for. It’s all delicious, especially with a Fire Blossom cocktail (pisco, saké, fruits and chilli is a beautiful balance) created by an expert bar team. This is a very classy operation.