One of my favourite podcasts is Off Menu, where each week comedians Ed Gamble and James Acaster grill a celebrity guest for their dream starter, main course, dessert and side dish. As far as podcast formats go, few are as perfectly suited to my interests – though I do often find myself shaking my head in solemn disapproval at some of the poor choices. If you haven’t already, go and give it a listen – but if you love food like I do, you might want to skip the Joel Dommett episode.
If you’re not a regular listener to the podcast and you’re wondering why I am so readily endorsing it at the start of a review for a restaurant, it’s because Shackfuyu has featured heavily on multiple episodes of Off Menu. So much so that during a recent trip to London I based an entire evening around visiting this place for dinner. Look, no podcast will ever convince me subscribe to The Economist, but my susceptibility to restaurant recommendations is a real weakness.
Part of the Bone Daddies restaurant group, you’ll find Shackfuyu on Old Compton St, Soho, where a step in any direction is likely to bring you through the doors of an eatery. It’s a cosy place, with the restaurant floor only as wide as its facade – with tables lining both walls.
The dining style is friendly and informal. We have our drinks order taken by a cheerful waiter, who lets us know that our dishes will arrive as they are prepared, which is welcome news as both our stomachs are growling.
I think small plates are my favourite way to eat food – I always want to try everything on the table when eating out anyway, so it makes sense to just throw it all in the middle and take it from there. And this sociable dining style is encouraged at Shackfuyu, with an array of treats to share laid out on the first page of their menu (though there is scope for the standard starter/main routine if you are the joyless type).
The first dish to arrive was a side of pickled shiitake mushrooms, sharp and sweet, but rounded out by the mushroom’s mellow flavour. We were so hungry that we dived in and ate most of them before the rest of the meal arrived, which I would not recommend. Turns out that scoffing a pile of cold pickled mushrooms at the start of a meal is a bit weird.
The duck bao bun arrived next, soft and pillowy, with a generous filling of crispy duck dripping with plum soy sauce. There’s something so delightful about the sweet softness of the steamed bao dough, elevated by the sumptuous duck and crisp slices of spring onion. It came served with a heavy handed helping of mayo, which was inoffensive, if a bit unecessary.
Traumatised by my experience with the ceviche at SUSHISAMBA, I’m a bit hesitant to start writing about ceviche again. However, the seabass ceviche at Shackfuyu was perfectly lovely – wickedly sharp and refreshing, with tomatoes, shallots and chillies thrown into the mix for layers of texture and taste. Consider me back in the ceviche game.
My boyfriend is a bit of a fiend for aubergine, which is why I knew we simply had to order the miso aubergine side. Obscured by a handful of rocket, photos of the dish can’t really do justice to the gloriously darkened, miso-coated aubergine hiding underneath. A perfect choice for veggies and carnivores alike!
I used to work at a Thai restaurant in Southampton that makes the best soft shell crab I’ve ever had in my life. No matter where I order it, soft shell crab will never be as good as it is at Mango Portswood. And while (unfortunately) it’s still true after my visit to Shackfuyu, this soft shell crab dish gave it a run for its money. Piled high on the plate, the impressive dish was served simply – with a wedge of lime and Cholula mayonnaise. The satisfying crunch of the batter, sharpened with lime juice, gave way to the tender crabmeat underneath. Stunning.
At this point, we were definitely full and had no need to continue eating, but there was no way I could visit this place without trying its pièce de résistance; a slab of French toast – caramelised on the outside and custardy within – served with matcha soft serve ice cream and dusted with kinako powder.
And honestly? It was incredible.
I just can’t image anyone not liking this dish. From that caramelised crust, to the intense sweetness of the inside, offset by the subtle flavour of the matcha and nuttiness of the kinako. It’s the kind of balance that lots of fancier dishes strive for, and few nail quite so effectively.
I am not a dessert girl at all, so consider this a shining endorsement.
If you’re in the area (or even if you’re not), make your way over to this charming restaurant in the heart of Soho. Come for the dessert, but stay for everything else.
14A Old Compton St