HAKATA is a relatively new addition to Bermondsey Street, opening last May and situated at the end furthest from London Bridge. The basement bar recreates a typical Japanese Izakaya: a bar that serves food, best likened to tapas — a good comparison would be Notting Hill’s UKAI. The downstairs bar serves everything on the restaurant menu except ramen, which my pal was disappointed by but it made complete sense when you account for the fact it defines itself as a cocktail bar rather than a restaurant. If you are keen for ramen, you’re very welcome to take a seat upstairs, where the table and chairs make it less likely you’ll spill it in your lap.

‘What do you like in a cocktail?’ was the first question posed to us by Bar Manager Ginger, which was very welcome when you sometimes find yourself looking at a cocktail menu and wondering where to start. He got my preference of not too fruity, not too sweet and usually something like a negroni and kept the recommendations coming throughout the evening, starting with a zesty vodka-based Gojilla, followed by a Yuzi Mojito and a deliciously bitter Satsuma Spritz. Ginger favours natural ingredients for the cocktails, meaning the spirits are free from unnecessary additives or preservatives — a brilliant touch that gave the Campari-style bitter in the Satsuma Spritz much bolder fruit and herb flavours. You’ll get beers, wines and spirits too but I’d certainly recommend a cocktail or two.

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HAKATA is good for grazing or ordering loads of different plates and making it into an informal dinner. Food arrives quickly and we kicked things off with flavour-packed vegetable gyoza served with a sweet soy sauce. Spicy edamame were another good vegan appetiser, which left us with sticky soy-covered fingers; fortunately, finger bowls were on-hand. Sticky soy garlic ribs were another excuse to get messy and work through a pile of napkins — delicious but easily trumped by the hot and spicy gochugaru ones. Chicken karaage (always a favourite) was lightly coated and the meat was succulent; it perhaps would have appreciated a spicy sauce rather than the mayonnaise it was served with. Chashu pork was mouth-wateringly sticky and sweet, sharply cut through with a pickled gherkin and served on a light a fluffy bun.

For top-notch cocktails that deliver a mix of classic and inventive flavours, HAKATA hits the mark, in particular for its natural ingredient approach. The cosy basement bar works well for a relaxed date night with a good range of popular tapas-style Japanese dishes to enjoy.

Find out more on HAKATA.co.uk

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