35b Panton Street SW1Y 4EA www.japancentre.com

Danielle Woodward tucks into after-work snacks and drinks, Japanese style

Taking inspiration from the informal Japanese pubs called’izakaya‘, London’s only dedicated Japanese food hall, Japan Centre, has launched its own version.

In Japan, izakayas are relaxed, casual places for after-work drinks and savoury bites similar to the Italian’aperitivo’, where food always accompanies an early evening tipple, which I’ve always thought is a much more sensible idea than the traditional British go-down-the-pub-and-drink-till-you-fall-over plan.

We walked into the shop on Panton Street, behind Leicester Square, and went down the stairs to the basement food hall, the’depachika’, where we found ourselves surrounded by numerous shelves of brightly coloured packets filled with all the delicious food and accompaniments you need to enjoy Japanese cuisine.

It’s an assault on the senses in the nicest way; for those curious about Japanese food, it’s a good place to start and for others who know their way around a sushi roll, there’s everything you need here.

We sat on tall stools at sharing tables and looked at the menu, which offers a choice of small savoury dishes, plus an alcoholic drink for just £7.50. The small plates included chicken or pork gyoza, barbecue pork or chicken steamed buns, prawn tempura and chicken karaage sticks with teriyaki sauce.

We tried the prawn and vegetable tempura (including asparagus, aubergine and sweet potato), served with a soy sauce and rice wine dip, plus the barbecue steamed bun. Perfect as a light bite, there are also Japan Centre’s cocktails to accompany it.

I had the Matcha Cool Down – described as a’heady mix of Malibu, Namazake, white cocoa liqueur, soy milk and matcha’, which was as zesty and refreshing as it promised, and my friend opted for the Dirty Lychee,’a smooth, mellow combination of lychee purée and nigori sake with a touch of dark run’ – she said it was really nice, not too sweet and just right. There are also sakes and draft beer to choose from.

As an after-work concept, izakaya is appealing – a few bites and a drink to wind down from the stresses of the day before going out on the town, or heading somewhere else for the full dining experience, maybe at one of Japan Centre’s restaurants, such as Shoryu on Denman Street in Soho, or the steak kitchen Sakagura on Heddon Street, behind Regent Street. A worthy reward for a day of hard work in the office!

The izakaya menu runs from 4.30pm until 8.30pm, Monday to Friday at Japan Centre, 35B Panton Street, SW1Y 4EA