Or, Where to Find the Best, Cheapest, Picnic Food in the Middle of London.

Summer has finally arrived in London! Most of July’s weather has been dark and humid and absolutely devastating what with all the floods and it felt like summer had been skipped over in favour of autumn. We were not going to let the first warm and beautiful weekend of the season pass us by! Our major objective for Saturday was a visit to the Tate Modern to see their highly commended Dali & Film exhibition.

From west London, we took a series of buses that ended at Piccadilly Circus and then crossed the road to the Japan Centre, which has, I believe, the best impromptu picnic supplies in London. Don’t stay upstairs in the restaurant – go down to the basement where there’s a ready supply of donburi (rice bowls) and chicken teriyaki and pumpkin croquettes and edamame at the supermarket and all kinds of sushi at the separate Yoshino Sushi counter. After perusing all that was available, we chose a long variety pack of sushi from the counter (£3.80) and a spicy cod rice bowl (£3.60), a bottle of cold green tea (89p), and a bag of orange jellies (99p) from the supermarket. Chopsticks and napkins will be deposited in your bags so you’ll be all set to eat!

Sushi Variety

We decided not to go to the easy option of St James Park around the corner and instead walked down to Embankment and crossed the Golden Jubilee/Hungerford footbridge. We would be closer to our final destination of the Tate Modern. At least, that was the idea. What we didn’t expect was that what seemed like every single resident and tourist in London had descended upon the South Bank. Every bench was occupied and we almost thought of heading into the Royal Festival Hall and commandeering a table.

I don’t remember how we came to walk up the stairs in front of the Queen Elizabeth Hall but at the top, we came across rows of empty picnic tables and benches as if laid out just for us! Most of the tables were in the shade, which may have explained their lack of popularity. Many people we know will happily sit full-on in the sun but we’re not ones to. We selected a table at the end of the row and set to our spread.

Spicy Cod on Rice

Our variety pack of sushi came with three pieces of inari sushi (one of which was stuffed with both carrot shreds and rice) and eight rolls of maki sushi, stuffed with chicken katsu, avocado and cucumber, cucumber and fake crab, and smoked salmon. There’s a more interesting variety pack available for 6 quid that includes eel and tuna and, you know, more expensive ingredients. Our pack passed muster though I have to admit that I prefer the smaller packs of 8 pieces of maki sushi available with more interesting innards. Our spicy cod rice bowl was so delicious – fried pieces of fish in a slightly spicy glaze sitting on a bed of rice. The fish was surrounded by salad with a sesame dressing, purple pickles and half a hard boiled egg topped with Japanese mayonnaise (so yellow, so delicous – and that’s referring to both the mayo and the egg yolk!). I only wish the Japan Centre were close to where I worked – I’d have one of these bowls for lunch every day!

Orange Fruit Jelly

Can’t end such a nice lunch without dessert – time to open up the bag of orange jellies. These are very similar to the little fruit jellies I ate as a child (ok, and as an adult). But these are more special – there’s a little piece of fruit in them, a piece of satsuma in our case. While the satsuma segment looks whole, its texture has all but disappeared, leaving you with an almost homogeneous satsuma jelly mixture. Still, it was the best little jelly cup I’d ever eaten, with almost a pure fruit flavour.

About two and a half hours later, we roused ourselves and set to moving on. The picnic tables had filled up by now and more and more people were passing by and staring at us. Unfortunately, after our lovely picnic, we both admitted to each other that we were feeling a bit lazy to go see the exhibition. And so, hand in hand, we went off in search of more things to eat…

Japan Centre
212 Piccadilly
London W1J 9HX