“ Address: Westminster Bridge Road / London / SE1 7PB / England „
What is Aji?
Aji is a Japanese canteen style restaurant, based on the ramen bars found throughout Japan and it serves food similar to Wagamamas.
Aji is located in the County Hall building which is next to the London Eye. It is almost hidden within the building as it's located at the end furthest from the Eye and the entrance is on what I consider to be the quiet side of the building (the busy side has entrances to Namco Station entertainment, the London aquarium and the Dali exhibition). Walking around County Hall, it is very easy to miss this place, but they are making more of an effort to advertise this place and other eateries, with the large banners that adorn the posts lined up along Westminster Bridge Road. I only know about the place because my fiancé used to work in County Hall and would go to Aji for lunch sometimes. I've eaten at Aji about 5-6 times as it's a great place to go for a cheap, quick bite to eat before we either catch our train home from Waterloo, or for when we arrive in London and start a night out.
Like Wagamamas, the décor is very simple with red and black tables and benches. Even though I've never visited Japan (I hope to one day!) the place does instantly feel very Japanese, from the moment you walk through the automatic sliding door, which is quite common in Japan and from my experience of other Japanese restaurants in the UK. You actually walk past the kitchen to get to the seating area, so it's nice to be able to see the chef cooking food and you can check they're not doing anything nasty to it!
The tables and benches are well spaced out and there is a good mixture of small and large tables to cater for different sized groups. There are also stools lined up facing the wall, more suited to the lone diner, but there have always been vacant bigger tables when we've visited so I've never seen anyone sitting there.
It is a very casual place to eat and when you walk in you can just sit down at a vacant table, as usually there is only one waitress on duty as it's not usually very busy.
The menu is printed on laminated place mats and is very similar to Wagamamas, in that it is split up into Side dishes, Main dishes, Noodles and Drinks.
- Side dishes cost roughly between £3-4 and include things like gyoza dumplings and octopus balls (I assume that's octopus shaped into balls and not octopus testicles!)
- Main dishes cost between £6-8 and include noodles in soup or fried noodles and the wonderful Katsu Curry and rice.
- They have a good choice of beers, soft drinks and fresh juices.
When you're ready to order, you stick up your hand and the waitress will come over to take your order. Unlike Wagamamas, she uses 'old school' pen and paper to write down your order and then she enters it into a main computer where it whizzes off to the kitchen.
I've only ever eaten Main dishes here as I found them so filling that I couldn't manage any Side dishes. However, all the food I've eaten here has been excellent and I wouldn't hesitate to try any of the Side dishes in future.
I recommend the Chicken Katsu Curry, which is a fried piece of moist chicken breast, covered in crunchy panko breadcrumbs and is served with a deliciously thick curry sauce, lovely sticky rice and some fresh curly lettuce leaves. It comes in what looks like a small bowl, but that is deceptive as it is a very filling meal! You can also have this curry with large prawns instead of chicken.
On my last visit to Aji I decided to depart from my usual choice of curry and be a bit more adventurous. This time I opted for noodles, which you can choose to have in soup or fried. You also have the choice of ramen or udon noodles, and since I love the latter type I chose those. There was also a choice of Chicken, Prawn, Beef or Vegetables. The menu said the Beef option had chilli in it, which tickled my fancy so I went with that. I was presented with a large bowl a steaming hot udon noodles and thinly sliced beef intermingled with chunky pieces of onion, sliced green beans, cabbage, peppers and red chilli. I loved all the vegetables and there was just the right amount of chilli to make it hot but not too hot! One of the nicest flavours was the tiny pieces of deep fried shallots as they were really sweet and I spent a few minutes picking up every last one with my chopsticks after my bowl was empty of noodles. The beef had a lot of flavour and whilst some pieces were slightly overcooked, the majority were fine and didn't involve extensive chewing. If I compare these noodles to the fried ones at Wagamamas, then I would say these are just as delicious, but the style is slightly different. These are wetter as they use more soy sauce, hence why they were served in a bowl and not a plate like Wagamamas.
We've only ever tried one dessert here, which was a Strawberry Cheesecake, and whilst it wasn't horrible, it wasn't like the cheesecake we're accustomed to as the strawberry topping was a strange pink colour and lacked any strawberry flavour. I'm always hesitant about ordering desserts in Asian type restaurants as they're always a let down and unfortunately Aji didn't break the mould on this occasion.
A quick word about the drinks: my fiancé and I both had soft drinks, which came in cans and the waitress gave us glasses filled with ice and straws and to me these little things are a indication of a good restaurant. The beers come in bottles and are lovely and chilled.
Most people say the sign of a good restaurant is the state of the toilets. Well Aji customers have to use the toilets that are part of County Hall, so you have to walk a few metres to find them. They're not the cleanest facilities in the world, but that is due to other businesses in County Hall that also use them, so they should not be considered a bad reflection on Aji. My fiancé said he once bumped into Pete Waterman in the toilets (as his music studio is in County Hall), but you shouldn't let that put you off visiting Aji!
Staff and service
As I said before, there is usually only one waitress, but they are always very quick, polite and helpful.
She will bring your drinks to your table very quickly and the food is brought to your table as soon as it is cooked, so sometimes dishes come at different times but the wait is never a long one.
I love this place because not many people know about it, so it is never busy and you can always get a table. The food is excellent and the staff are lovely, even wishing us a nice weekend - I can't remember the last time that's happened!
Chicken Katsu Curry £7.95
Spicy Beef Udon £7.95
Can of Sprite and Coke £1.90 each
Strawberry Cheesecake £2.95