Aqua Kyoto, London

In I tried... on June 15, 2010 at 5:17 pm

This weekend my femme fatale companion, Nixy and I continued on our singles cruise and took each other out for dinner in London. I had never heard of Aqua Kyoto but she convinced me I’d been living on Mars so I promptly booked a table for a fashionably tardy 10pm.  First impressions on track, we took the elevator to the top floor (I’m thinking, Shoreditch House) where pretty ladies greeted us with fancy clipboards. Our third-party member had cruelly cancelled in favour of couch time with the boyfriend so we were counting on a sparkling atmosphere as compensation for the empty chair.

We stand in front of ceiling high doors to the restaurant, made of carved wood that slide open like a Japanese starship enterprise. Through the bar we go, the decor is dark wood, reds and blacks with massive oriental lighting structures hanging from the ceiling.

Aqua Kyoto dining room

Eyeing up the clientele so far, I notice a lot of suits but disappointingly, not much class. I’m putting it down to the weekend bar crowd that has no desire to be eating raw fish of any kind (pah), but seeks a “swanky west end bar” they can stumble over to the West End clubs from. I assume the restaurant is a different world.

We’re held at the border between bar and restaurant when I see two young men arising from their dining tables dressed in puffa jackets and baseball caps. My face screws up like I’ve just detected a bad smell. I had made particular effort with my attire that evening and was beginning to wonder whether I would have been just as welcome in my pyjamas. The hostess informs us that our table is still occupied and sheepishly suggests we have a drink at the bar while we wait. Nixy notices the look on my face and decides we should be given complimentary cocktails to prevent an impending tantrum. Hostess scrambles to find us a free table instead of the free drinks– we’re finally seated.

A mix of over-boisterous traders, out-of-towners and post-theatre diners was disappointingly as good as it got on this particular Friday night at Aqua Kyoto. I’m hoping the food had better set off fireworks from my taste buds as I sluggishly settle amongst the predictable crowd seated around us.

The crab rocket salad with spicy yuzu vinaigrette arrives first. I’m stopped in my cynical tracks. It is bloody delicious! I immediately prefer it to my prized appetizer, the lobster salad over at “special occasions only”- sushi restaurant, Sumosan.

The vinaigrette reminds me of the mustard sauce used for the hibachi prawns at Benihana (five points extra for reminding me of my all-time favourite childhood restaurant). Nixy groans with delight and we mix laughter with sighs of relief. The smoked yellow tail sashimi with peashoot salad comes next alongside the seared beef tataki with onion sauce. Both delicious, I’m so pleased with the flavours I’m hardly interested in sipping my wine. Ten points for presentation too.

The twelve piece sashimi platter arrives with both familiar and unfamiliar cuts of fish, the smooth scallops with texture like butter were the stars of the show.

Time for a sneaky cigarette break (quitting social smoking soon) on the extremely pleasant roof terrace overlooking a beautifully lit catherdral dome. Of course we couldn’t escape the cheap suits who had left their clueless girlfriends at the table while they practised awful chat up lines on us.

Back to the table and we’re greeted by our order of shitake mushroom with salted shuto and grilled courgette with onion ponzu & chilli miso– never have I ever taken greater pleasure in eating my veggies. For dessert I try the black sesame and green tea ice cream which is just as delightful as the same dessert from Feng Sushi where I first discovered the joys of japanese ice cream.
Now if I was the restaurant inspector, this is what I would suggest; hire a good PR firm, get door girls that know how to let in the right crowd and for god’s sake, have a dress code! Dare I say, with these factors in check, Aqua Kyoto could be rated alongside a classic like Nobu?

Had the overall atmosphere been slightly more manicured (exclusive), I would have been more pleased with the total of £125 for all those wonderful dishes, including wine. If they don’t take my advice, I’m still likely to make my return, perhaps on a less valuable day of the social week, such as a Tuesday.


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