Restaurants; Turning Japanese

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Things may not be going too well economically over in Japan but here one thing is definitely still booming and that's Japanese food.

As one restaurant critic has put it, "budget Japanese eateries are sprouting faster than a mould of aduki beans on moist cotton wool."

This summer, Wagamama, the trendy noodle canteen, opened their third branch, in Wigmore Street in the West End and a fourth is planned for Camden Town next April. And the UK isn't the only place set to get a taste of their specially made ramen and udon: in late November, they are opening their first franchise operation in Dublin.

Over at Selfridges Food Hall in Oxford Street, those conveyor-belt kings YO! Sushi (see Where Shall We Meet, right) have just opened their third restaurant, while a fourth opens in the O2 "gastrodome" on the Finchley Road in Hampstead in November. On top of that they have YO! Below, their Japanese Beer Hall and Sake Cellar, opening in the basement of YO! Sushi in Poland Street, Soho in December.

According to Simon Woodruffe, founder of YO! Sushi, business is really taking off. He says he's been so successful because of the development of youth culture in Japan. "It's only recently that young people in Japan have started to have an influence and we are reflecting that," he says.

But it's not just businessmen like Woodruffe who are picking up on trends in the Far East. In an interesting development, Chinese restaurant operators, the Royal China group have just opened a Japanese restaurant, Satsuma, at the old Ley Ons restaurant in Wardour Street, in the heart of Soho. This may be an indicator that Japanese is now the new Chinese in the UK.

RIDING THE CONVEYOR BELT OF JAPANESE CUISINE

YO! Sushi

Selfridges Food Hall, W1 (0171-292 0990)

52 Poland St, W1 (0171-287 0443)

Fifth Floor, Harvey Nichols, SW1 (0171-235 5000)

This new restaurant (see Where Shall We Meet, right) has a 55- metre conveyor belt which and accommodates up to 45 people. You can now enjoy breakfast at YO! Sushi with dishes such as Lemon Sweet Potatoes, Pancakes and Salted Mackerel Salad! (available from 10am- noon, prices from pounds 1.50) Wagamama 101a Wigmore St, W1 (0171-409 0111)

4 Streatham St, Bloomsbury WC1 (0171-323 9223)

10a Lexington St, W1 (0171-292 0990)

Alongside the new canteen there is also a Wagamama coffee shop for those who want to "start their day the Waga way" from 8am. Satsuma

56, Wardour St, W1 (0171-437 8338)

Satsuma aims to bridge the gap between expensive formal Japanese restaurants and fast-food outlets. The restaurant, which caters for 120 people on two floors, specialises in bento, the assorted meal traditionally served in laquered boxes. They say the quality and authenticity of the food will be guaranteed by Japanese chef Naoki Hoshino.

Bookings aren't accepted and seating is on long benches. A no-smoking policy is "smilingly enforced". (Average price per head pounds 8-12). Suntory

72/73 St James St, SW1 (0171-409 0201)

One of the most popular and also expensive Japanese restaurants in the UK - we're talking bills of pounds 120 for two - although you can eat more cheaply if you opt for a set lunch. You can eat Tepanyaki, where the chef cooks in front of you, or dine in the more formal Japanese room. Benihana

37 Sackville St, W1 (0171-494 2525)

This is the place for food as theatre. Dishes are cooked before your eyes on Hibachi grills by your assigned chef who will play to the gallery and may indulge in a bit of pepperpot juggling. Many regulars request their favourite cook cum entertainer. They also have branches on the Kings Road and Swiss Cottage.

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