Published on November 19th, 2014 | by Sophia Longhi1
Summary: With faultless flavours and excellent craftsmanship, it has already earned its place amongst the best of Japanese cuisine that London has to offer
Best of Japan
Belgravia must be rubbing its hands with glee (and wiping the soy sauce of its chin) at the opening of its latest gourmet destination, Kouzu, on Grosvenor Gardens. With Japanese super-star chef, Kyoichi Kai of Zuma and Arts Club fame behind it and a Grade II-listed venue to house it, their October launch bowed under the weight of high expectations and a full inbox of review requests, no doubt.
If one must judge a book by its cover, then Kouzu starts off well – its muted colours, glass and light-wood furnishings are sophisticated and contemporary, making a striking contrast with the period surroundings. Diava, our amiable hostess, leads us to the ground-floor cocktail bar and we sit upon lovely, cushioned bar stools at a solid oak bar, which confirms it for me – this is a bar that is meant to be sat at. It is rare that you come across comfortable bar stools and there is a reason – the bar collective is experienced, skilled and knowledgeable and it would be a huge shame for you to miss out on front-row seats to watch talented mixologists at work and learn the ins and outs of the cocktail list.
The twisted cocktail concept is one that has been adopted by lots of bars these days, but here, we are not just talking a dash of syrup and a flower to transform your gin martini. Everything, down to the bones of these cocktails, has been considered, including the use of Awamori, a mellow alternative to Russian vodka. Mama’s Tea, made with Mikkakouji-Awamori and Russian Standard, is one punchy peach iced-tea, and the perfumed scent of the tea leaves hang in the air as the glass is placed in front of us. A more delicate choice is the Yuzu Lin – floral and sweet, it is a delicious aperitif. A dish of dried fruit (made in-house that morning) is served with the drinks as an extra layer of texture.
After the first taste of Japan of the evening, Diava leads us up the sweeping staircase to the floating mezzanine level, where we are seated at the sushi bar and we meet our personal chef, Ryu. Trained by master chefs in Japan, and having worked in London’s top Japanese establishments, we are in the hands of an expert and are more than happy to let Ryu take the lead and share his recommendations with us.
We start with a selection of sashimi – the salmon and the yellow tail, recommended by Ryu as perfect start points for our culinary journey. The salmon, with an aromatic youz soy dressing, is fresh, clean – and one of the big favourites on the menu. I am a huge fan of rich flavours and the yellow tail with truffle dressing is absolutely exquisite.
There are many advantages of having a personal chef prepare and serve your food before your very eyes, not least the interaction, which feels like some kind of education about each dish, but also for the invaluable advice. No soy sauce, Ryu gently advises, because it will kill the flavour of the delicate fish. Another one of the endless perks of being front-row is seeing first-hand the love and passion that goes into each work of art – because, here, that’s what it is – and witnessing the skill and precision of the preparation, each deft slice, until it is presented, perfectly, on the plate.
Despite being a purist in some respects, Chef Kyoichi Kai also takes inspiration for his dishes from all over the world, particularly from French cuisine, and this is reflected in such dishes as the foie-gras and the pan-fried sea bass with Roquefort sauce. Foie-gras on a Japanese menu? Served in a wasabi and teriyaki sauce, it melts in the mouth like butter and the sweet Asian flavours work superbly with the pan-fried foie-gras. The hint of hot wasabi is exactly what it needs to cut through the richness.
Of course, though, let’s not get side-tracked here. Let us get down to business and try some celebrated sushi! Ryu steps into his element, brandishes his knives, and guides us through a tasting wave of sushi, promising that we will never buy shop-bought sushi again. We start with the yellow tail, which has been lightly charred on top with a blowtorch. Eaten as one whole mouthful, it is sweet, delicate and smoky. It is immediately obvious that it is excellent, world-class sushi. We take a sip of dry, peppery sake to cleanse the palate, and onto the next: spotted shrimp. It comes rare and is the closest you’ll get to a true taste of the ocean in Belgravia. Next, we are treated to some O-toro, the most desired part of the tuna belly. Its freshness delivers a hit to the palate, but everything else about it is soft and tender, leaving you with an almost barbecued, meaty aftertaste. Our final stop on our sushi adventure is the unagi, fresh water eel, grilled. It is full of flavour and surprising tender with a delicious crispy skin – how does a creature that looks like this taste like that?!
For those who like a traditional restaurant-sized main course, Kouzu’s menu has a Special section, which features a selection of larger plates, such as Roasted Black Cod, Roasted Baby Chicken and Duck with Pepper Sauce, all of which sound divine. We try the duck (cooked to perfection) served with deep-fried daikon and a side of spinach and sesame salad, with a crunchy sesame crisp. All excellent, but we still can’t stop talking about the sushi…
We round off the meal with a selection of sweets and Jasmine tea. The chocolate mousse is the most popular on the desserts list (hard to imagine why…) and looks dazzling as it arrives in a shiny, tempered dome with flecks of gold decoration. We are assured that everything on the plate, from the candied orange slice to the hazelnut brushed swirl, is there to be eaten. You don’t have to tell us twice.
Dining at Kouzu is about the entire experience – from first sitting at the cocktail bar, to hearing our chef’s culinary knowledge and watching the theatre of our meal being prepared, even down to the grating of fresh wasabi. Kouzu succeeds in bringing the passion of Japan directly to the guest, and combined with faultless flavours and excellent craftsmanship, it has already earned its place amongst the best of Japanese cuisine that London has to offer.
Kouzu, 21 Grosvenor Gardens, SW1W 0BDShare This Post