By Cat McGovern
When I found out that I would be going to a Japanese restaurant in the heart of Soho for the Denmark vs Japan game, I was rather thrilled, particularly as my friends had all said that Bincho Yakitori is a great place.
I walk in and immediately I can tell that it’s going to be a hectic night. I introduce myself to the manager who promptly advises us to bag a seat downstairs as soon as possible, as they’re expecting a lot of Japanese fans. The boyfriend orders an Asahi, for £4 a pint, and I do a quick scope of the place.
The first element that hits me is the bustling kitchen. Frantic chefs create food right in front of the customers’ eyes. In true Japanese style, there are seats along the kitchen where diners sit and eat. Further back, there’s a more chilled area suitable for small groups, where the lights are dimmed. Past the bar is a section with banquettes and comfy stools. People drinking and eating a few tantalising skewers here.
Bamboo shoots and empty sake bottles signify the downstairs area and I make my way down to find the boyfriend in a small room with a plasma TV at one end and lots of dark wooden chairs. There are tables pushed to the back but the manager mentions that last time a match was on, people were using them to stand on and the room was jammed packed. Yikes, I’m glad the boyfriend has found a seat. He thinks it’s best to sit at the back, so I acquiesce and sip on my wine, which is a godsend after such a humid day. It’s crisp, refreshing and with notes of peach and grass. Downstairs is only for drinking, for those wanting food, order at the upstairs bar and sit at a table in Bincho Yakitori itself, as I plan to do at half time.
It’s only 6.30pm and it’s filling up quickly with Japanese fans wearing the football strip and flags painted on their faces. Tonight is going to be interesting because Japan only need to draw to go through to the knock out stages. We have a look around and notice that the Japanese don’t drink Asahi, they drink Asahi Black (£3.90). The boyfriend looks horrified about not fitting in and immediately orders one to feel more at ease. I, on the other hand, despise beer and have a cocktail instead; an Ichigo Plum (£5.50), a blend of strawberries and plum wine over crushed ice, a delightful concoction.
The room is now full to the rafters and the atmosphere is really quite exciting. It’s jovial, high spirited, and with the occasional “Whoop”. Everyone is ready; let the match begin. Whenever Japan get the ball, the room shouts and screams. 13 minutes in and there have been many near misses from both teams, making the room go mental. This is definitely the place to watch a Japan game. 16 minutes in and GOAL by Honda from a free kick! Everyone claps, cheers and goes insane to shouts of ‘Honda, Honda!’ Amazing is the only word to describe it. 29 minutes in and Kroldrup is carded, so it’s another free kick for Japan. Endo steps up and in it goes. Unbelievable! It looks like it’s going to be Japan’s night.
Half time and I desperately want those tantalising skewers. As time is of the essence, I order The Seven Samurai (£10), the 7 most popular sticks, to give me a taster of what Bincho Yakitori is all about. With chicken, pork belly, salmon, tiger prawn, asparagus, shiitake mushroom and chicken wing, I’m in for a feast. I eat alone as the boyfriend doesn’t want to lose the seats, which is fine as it means more food for me. First is the chicken wing, succulent and really tasty, followed by the sticky chicken with spring onion, equally as succulent. The piece de resistance is the pork belly: soft meat with crunchy coating, simply sublime. The salmon is fresh tasting and very tender. Now I know why my friends were banging on about Bincho Yakitori.
Whilst hurriedly chowing down my skewers, the manager tells me that on Mondays at Bincho Yakitori you can get £1 skewers, deals on sake, and there’s even a DJ. Interestingly, he mentions that Bincho Yakitori is the place where Japanese people take their friends and families when they’re in town. If the Japanese approve, it’s got to be good.
Back to the footie and 78 minutes in there’s a penalty to Denmark. Jon Dahl Tomasson takes it. The keeper saves but Tomasson gets lucky with the rebound: 2-1.
85 minutes gone and the plasma switches off! The Japan fans panic. Boos ring out. What’s happened to the screen?
89 minutes: service resumes to reveal a score of 3-1. The goal is replayed and the place goes bonkers. Okazaki did the honours. The Japan fans are certainly enthusiastic about their team.
Final score: 3-1. Hurrah!
There are a few things I learnt tonight: 1) Japanese fans are crazy, 2) They drink Asahi Black, and 3) Bincho Yakitori is the place to be for the football and for its sensational skewers.