Alan Yau has opened a cut-price Chinese in Soho. But you should see his brother Gary's place round the corner...

Aaya, 66-70 Brewer Street, London W1, tel: 020 7319 3888

Yikes. Tonight's first finger of sushi just cost the same as my entire lunch. That's a bit scary. It's even weirder when I realise that my tea-smoked chicken with noodle lunch was at Alan Yau's new Cha Cha Moon (cost: £3.50) and this single yellowtail nigiri (cost: £3.50) is at his brother Gary Yau's new restaurant Aaya.

So we have two brothers a few streets away from each other in Soho; one doing cheap Chinese, the other not-so-cheap Japanese. But what am I doing here when I have been doing so well with my self-imposed dining budget of £80 for two? Well, I'm here because Aaya is irresistible. The first time I saw it from the street, I was bowled over by the massive oak door, the fresh orchids in the window, the low-line Italian furniture, the long, light-filled cocktail bar, the shimmering, rippling wall, the staff wandering around in off-the-shoulder dresses or flowing martial-arts harem pants. I stopped in, not to see what sort of food such a celebration of modern design would serve, but to see if they would deign to serve food at all.

I love the regeneration of Soho, what with Quo Vadis, Café Boheme et al getting nipped and tucked, but it's all restoration and nostalgia rather than soaring into the future. British restaurateurs, on the whole, seem very scared of the word modern.

So now I'm dead curious to see whether I can afford enough to eat to keep my body functioning. The sushi here is sublime, but prices go as high as £5 a piece for fatty tuna and sea urchin, so that's out. But maki inside-out rolls are surprisingly good value, with a prawn tempura roll delivering five generous rounds for £6. The rice is blood-warm and lightly vinegared, and the sweet, crisp-coated prawn is benchmark tempura.

Aaya does delicate more easily than it does robust. As a starter, king crab legs (£7.50) are slashed open and topped with a glistening jelly of lemon soy. Flavours tingle like sherbert, both briny and sweet. A classic agedashi dofu (£6.50) is lifted by the creamy nature of the deep-fried tofu and the dried bonito flakes that wave eerily in the heat. It is all classy stuff, but I still need a little more food value.

Waiters are generally helpful and eager, but with few helpful descriptions on the menu, and price being no indication of portion size, ordering can be a bit of a lottery. Does everyone know what constitutes toban yaki, buri daikon and oshinko, and shiso maki – or could you do with a hint?

Kakuni (slow-braised belly pork, £8) and good old chicken teriyaki (£7.50) fill the bill; one a likeable, styled-up Japanese stew with big cubes of wobbly, almost spreadable pork sitting in meaty juices along with vegetables, and the other an artistic array of tender chicken pieces, asparagus, chilli peppers, okra and mushroom scattered over a hoba leaf and splashed with sticky teriyaki sauce. Steamed rice (£2) turns them both into a real meal deal.

But phooey, the wines I want to drink are all over £40, so I have to go Patagonian with a berry/cherry 2007 Valle Perdido pinot noir (£24). Its cachet is at least heightened by the exquisitely fragile Japanese glasses, as fine as light bulbs.

Downstairs is a 10-metre sushi bar and more dining, but at this stage the lively Soho clientele play and stay on the glam ground-floor bar. They are almost universally tall, handsome, well-spoken, beautifully dressed and rolling-in-it bishonen (a Japanese popular culture reference, don't you know, meaning beautiful young men). I say almost universally, because they let me in. But at least I am tall.

With a head chef and three others hand-picked from Kyoto, and a sushi chef direct from Tokyo, Aaya is aiming at London's top bracket of Japanese, undercutting them on price so that I can (just) afford to eat there. But even if I couldn't, I would ask if I could just sit there and admire it.

16/20

Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets

Aaya, 66-70 Brewer Street, London W1, tel: 020 7319 3888. Lunch and dinner daily. Around £80 for two, including wine and service

Second helpings: More Japanese joys

Nanakusa

441 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, tel: 0141 332 6303

David Wan's cool, minimalist, modern grill has a 100-strong menu that runs from sashimi and sushi to yakitori, teriyaki and soup noodles

Mantra

6 The Colonnade, Verulam Road, St Albans, Herts, tel: 01727 811 115

Contemporary Asian cooking combined with Japanese classics for everything from tempura, sushi and ramen to scallops in butter sauce and wagyu steak

Saki

4 West Smithfield, London EC1, tel: 020 7489 7033

Now the fuss over its paperless loos has died down, let's focus on what Saki does best – modern cooking, from crunchy chicken to Iberico pork with miso sauce

Terry's credit-crunch challenge #7: For three months, our critic is eating only at restaurants where the bill does not exceed £80 for two

Read Terry Durack's new column at independent.co.uk/eat

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
film
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Investigo: Senior Finance Analyst - Global Leisure Business

    £45000 - £52000 per annum + bonus+bens : Investigo: My client, a global leader...

    Investigo: Financial reporting Accountant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: One of the fastest growing g...

    Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luton – £25k

    25,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luto...

    Day In a Page

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?