Though lacking the high and shouty profile of some Warsaw restauranteurs, no-one can call into question the impact Linh Nguyen has had on the capital. Credited with game-changing concepts such as Vietnamka, Koreanka, Viet Nem, Pho2 and lord knows what else, she has indelibly shaped the way we understand Asian cuisine.
Moving into the Japanese sphere of things last year with Japonki, this project quickly became one of the biggest raves of 2021. But it did not stop there. Serving a dual role as a deli and sushi stop, Japonki turned out to be a precursor for Japonka, a restaurant opened a month later just up the road.
Angled so as to reflect off the mirror behind the bar, the dominant feature of Japonka is a magenta-colored neon announcing its name. Pushing a look that’s casual but cool, this vibe is underscored by an interior featuring dappled terrazzo flooring, high-gloss shades of midnight black and an intricate cat’s cradle of bold red shelving. As for the playlist, you’ll be listening to everything from NWA to dancey electronica.
Leading the lads in the kitchen is Dawid Uszyński, a chef whose history includes stints in numerous Michelin-starred London eateries as well as five-years at Yashin Ocean House. Servers, meanwhile, are young, English-fluent and seemingly keen about their work.
Our initial server (we faced four different ones over the course of our meal) omitted to mention the concept behind the place, something we only learned while eavesdropping on the Tinder couple sat behind. In essence, it is thus: aiming to showcase the depth and versatility of the Japanese kitchen, for maximum enjoyment of the menu the idea is to pick as many little things to share as possible.
Starting snacks include bowls overflowing with huge, outsized pork scratching as well as a creamy tofu-based hummus, though some won’t resist hitting fast-forward and getting straight to the highlights. Of these, you’re looking at creative takes on sashimi such as, for instance, a ceviche-style sea bass or a tuna carpaccio that you fold with jelly to eat taco-style. Beyond, high-rollers can pick from a small choice of Wagyu options that top out with a grilled A5 cut priced at zl. 420.
Yes, you can spend big here, but more modest budgets will appreciate the robata grill dishes. In our case, that meant teriyaki chicken (zl. 29), though the range extends to glazed baby back ribs (zl. 70) and grilled eel (zl. 55). The star pull, however, are the omakase sushi sets.
Now omakase, if you don’t know, refers to the Japanese tradition of putting your life in the hands of the chef in front. Given carte blanche by the punter, it falls to Uszyński & Co. to create magic based on intuition and product availability – you’ll be surprised and thrilled, and more so when gently reminded by the staff that “food made with the hands should be eaten with the hands”. Put those chopsticks away!
Finishing, of the desserts there are two, and for us that meant a smattering of blueberries concealed under a sour cream ice cream – a subtle, balanced conclusion to a nuanced Japanese adventure.
Capturing ‘the now’, the thinking behind Japonka feels unique to not just Warsaw, but Poland as a whole. But more than just a fad-driven enterprise, this pace-setter looks set to last the course. On the face of it, you suspect it was built with Tik Tokkers in mind, but there’s a depth and class here that’s impervious to fashion.
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