Published on November 10th, 2014 | by Rebecca Anne Milford0
Aqua Kyoto, Regent St
Summary: If I could eat like this every day I would - and my body would benefit from it.
You can be forgiven if you don’t consider a seaweed menu all that appealing. It generally fits more into the nourishment category of ‘extreme health kick’ along with the equally salubrious kale and spinach than it does in ‘delicious fine dining’.
But, while you’d be right about it being superbly good for you (seaweed is rich in vitamins as well as a great source of iodine and alginates, and research has proven it to aid weight loss and help combat obesity), you would most certainly be wrong about the fine dining part. Wildly wrong, as I discovered when I visited Aqua Kyoto.
Chef Paul Greening has passion by the bucket-load. He’s master of the menu – a maestro of meals, transforming ingredients into plates so beautiful one feels bad eating them, and so tasty it’s impossible not to. On top of that, he has a huge knowledge and respect for the sea. Growing up near the coast, with a father who was a marine biologist, he got to know the ocean. Add to that a love of foraging, sustainability, and the firm belief that we can be good to our bodies while also enjoying food, and you have a clear recipe for his success.
And his latest project – a three course seaweed based menu accompanied by a cocktail – will change any preconceptions you might have about this green bounty from the coast. So, for a limited time only (until November 28th – so get moving!) you can enjoy it too.
I enter the beautiful Kyoto restaurant on a Tuesday evening, when dusk is falling in Regent Street, and the lights are blinking on. The foyer of the old Dickens and Jones department store is dark as a cave, and I whizz up to Kyoto – a red and gold bedecked room of theatrical oriental glamour, with a central sushi bar crowned by some huge ornamental lantern (I think) that wouldn’t look out of place in the Forbidden City.
Kyoto has that lovely atmosphere where one can tell everyone else is happy to be there, too. City slickers, shopping trippers, couples on dates and large groups of mates – all of the various groups combine to give the place an air of relaxed informality in a superior setting.
But enough prattling about the decor and diners – what about this seaweed?! I’m weened in with alcohol (what better way?) and accept my Umami Cocktail with interest. A combination of house-infused Wakame Seaweed & Oba Leaf Tanqueray gin with Elderflower, Apple and Lime Juice – it is an instant hit. Refreshing, palate cleansing, and with the unstoppable combination of elderflower and gin to balance the wakame, I can definitely feel the health benefits, and so am not surprised when it is finished in a rather short amount of time (I’m just a fitness freak, I guess).
There are three options for the starter, including Mackerel & Sea Bass Kombu Jime Oshi Sushi, and a very pretty salmon dish decorated with roe and edible flowers which my partner attempts to eat as I lean over him snapping pictures for Instagram (it gets a record number of ‘Likes’ FYI). I choose the Wild Seaweed & Sea Vegetable Salad with Black Sesame Dressing, feeling that I may as well dive in (ho ho) with a plate full of the good stuff. It arrives in a little mound on my plate – an artist’s interpretation of a sea shore at tide out; very pretty and very healthy looking. I close my eyes, try a mouthful and pow – I’m standing on some pebble beach, the sky steely grey and the cries of gulls overhead. Fresh, clean, and then afterwards that divine nutty taste of sesame. The textures are super – there are a plethora of varieties, some chewy, some slightly rubbery, some crisp and sticking up like masts of abandoned ships. Before long, the plate is cleared.
Onto the main course – a choice of vegetarian, fish and meat. The latter is an autumnal stew using thin slivers of beef, accompanied by shreds of seaweed and little ocean-pearls of baby onions, all swimming in a rich sauce – my partner digs in with gusto as I appreciate the beauty of my Kabayaki of Grilled Cod with Hijki Ni Seaweed. It sits on my plate surrounded by vivid green spots of sauce, another little heap of seaweed, and a dark, sticky coating that looks like treacle. It is in fact an amazing combination of about a hundred things that I don’t remember because I am too busy rapturously enjoying the mixture of flavours – the meaty flesh of the fish smothered in the rich sauce; the freshness of the seaweed cutting through, and the sweet-meets-sour tingling effect the whole thing had on my taste buds.
So, what could possibly finish this menu that incorporates seaweed and lives up to the sensational previous courses? Well, believe it or not, a fine counterbalance for the ingredient is the sweetness of white chocolate. We indulge in a Nori-Infused White Chocolate Parfait with Anori Panko Nougatine and Berries – the berries adding a much needed sharpness to balance the dish out. After such a virtuous first two courses we naturally deserve it.
And yet when the meal is over, there is no sense that I haven’t eaten enough – no feeling that my palate or my stomach have somehow been deprived. I am full, content, but not rubbing my stomach and rueing the final course. There have been some meals (woefully recently, I’m sure) where just getting through dessert has been some sort of herculean challenge; where success is perversely measured on just how tight my waistband is. This is not proper enjoyment of food, I have come to realise. Proper enjoyment is finishing a menu like the one at Kyoto and knowing not only have you eaten food prepared by a chef that knows his sea-onions, has masterfully combined them on a plate, but has also presented food that is good for the body.
If I could eat like this every day I would – and my body would benefit from it (not what you can say about most restaurant set menus!). But alas, this particular seafood extravaganza is only around for another few weeks, until November 28th – and for the ridiculously inexpensive price of £29 you’d be mad not to try it. Fear not though, because Paul Greening is a chef with many exciting concepts up his sleeve, and I for one can’t wait to see what the next idea is.
Aqua Kyoto, 5th Floor, 240 Regent St, W1B 3BRShare This Post