Koji

KOJI

Koji Japanese Restaurant in Parsons Green is a joint collaboration between Nobuhisha Takahashi, the former sushi head chef at both Nobu London and Nobu Cape Town, and Mark Barnett, the former proprietor of the now closed Mao Tai Chinese restaurant. The Koji concept centres around contemporary Japanese dining, ranging from fresh sushi and sashimi being carved out at the beautiful sushi bar, to meats and seafood caramelising sweetly on the robata grill. On the a la carte menu is an array of modern Japanese dishes that draw influences from South America and Europe.

Koji offers a sophisticated yet relaxed atmosphere. Towards the front of the restaurant is a cocktail bar offering light snacks and the sushi bar where diners can choose to eat their meal whilst watching the sushi craftmen at work. In the restaurant proper is a buzzy restaurant where diners can relax in well-appointed surrounds.

We started with the summer roll with soft shell crab (£15) which was gloriously fresh and summery. The crab was sweet and meaty with a crunchy coating, and it had been paired with seasonal asparagus, tangy pickled ginger and some fragrant shiso leaf. To hold together all the deliciousness was an outer roll of beautifully made soft Vietnamese rice paper. A yuzu dressing added a citrusy and refreshing touch to the roll.

Koji - London Food Blog - Summer roll

Koji – Summer roll

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Roka, Aldwych

The chain of Roka restaurants offer a unique style of contemporary Japanese robatayaki cuisine, a cooking method where items of food are slowly grilled over hot charcoal. The original branch of Roka opened on Charlotte Street to much success and subsequent branches followed in Canary Wharf, Mayfair and on Aldwych. But the menu extends beyond just robata dishes. There is also a delectable selection of sashimi and nigiri, fried options including tempura, snacks, soups and rice dishes such as hot pots with lobster and miso butter. Now how good does that sound?

We visited Roka Aldwych which opened last November. Designed by Claudio Silvestrin who was also responsible for L’anima and Alan Yau’s Princi on Wardour Street, the restaurant is spacious and grand with a sleek, contemporary minimalist look, a style for which Silvestrin is well known. Like all the other Rokas, the robata grill plays centre stage at Roka Aldwych, and in addition to the tables in the main dining room, guests can also eat in the lounge area and at the robata bar.

We started with the yellowtail sashimi with truffle yuzu dressing, mizuna and pickled vegetables (£14.60), and the spectacular scent of truffle immediately caught our attention when the dish arrived at our table. This dish was pure perfection. The quality of the fish and the balance of the truffle yuzu dressing was absolutely flawless. It was an exquisite dish and we enjoyed it immensely. If you only order one thing at Roka Aldwych, this has to be it.

Roka - yellowtail sashimi with truffle yuzu dressing, mizuna and pickled vegetables

Roka – yellowtail sashimi with truffle yuzu dressing, mizuna and pickled vegetables

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Blue Restaurant at The Grand Heritage Hotel, Doha, Qatar (Day Two – Doha)

Grand Heritage Hotel

Grand Heritage Hotel

Day two of my stay in Doha saw me at the Grand Heritage Doha Hotel and Spa. The hotel is located inland away from the Corniche in the Al Waab district, right by The Aspire Zone, a famous Qatari sporting complex built for the 2006 Asian Games. The Grand Heritage Hotel is indeed very grand looking and resembles a sprawling Victorian mansion and houses Blue Restaurant that serves steak and Japanese food.

The Grand Heritage caters to both business and leisure travellers. There is a business centre which offers services such as binding, laminating, scanning and secretarial, etc, and a spa containing a number of amenities including treatment rooms, a natural pure water indoor swimming pool, a gymnasium, separate male and female saunas, steam room and whirlpool facilities.

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London Foodie Japanese Supper Club

If you don’t know who LondonFoodie is, then let me introduce you. He is a fabulous food blogger who bravely quit his investment banking job last year to take up his calling in food. A foodie journey to Japan ensued, during which time he sampled his way around the many delights in the cities of Tokyo and Kyoto, all of which you can read about on his blog. This year he became a student of the esteemed Le Cordon Bleu Cookery School to study for his Grand Diplome. He also has a new venture, the London Foodie Japanese Supper Club. The menu includes a five-course tasting, and ever the gracious host, diners firstly gather for canapés and drinks before heading to dinner in the dining room which runs adjacent to the kitchen and where guests can ogle at the most massive aga cooker imaginable.

I recently attended one of LondonFoodie’s Japanese Supper Clubs which kicked off with a South American styled salmon sashimi accompanied by a wasabi flavoured sour cream, shallot chips, chives and a Japanese vinaigrette. The salmon was beautifully fresh, the cream and chips added a lovely creamy and crunchy textural contrast, and the vinaigrette provided a nice acidic zing to the dish.

Salmon sashimi

Salmon sashimi

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Atari-ya Sushi Bar Take Away, James St

I have always been a huge fan of Atari-ya Sushi Bar, especially the one on James Street for their ‘cheap and cheerful’ disposition. As far as hole-in-the-wall places go, this tops my list. Their sushi and sashimi is some of the best in London, and the fact that they supply Nobu and Zuma bears credence to this.

Time for a revisit, and I again lapped up the luscious salmon sashimi which is a very reasonable £1.80 for three pieces. (But I still remember back to about four years ago when Atari-ya use to charge ONLY £1 for three pieces!) The salmon nigiri (£1.40) was also fantastically fresh, as was the scallop nigiri (£1.40) which I adore eating with my favourite Japanese herb, shiso (which I always request) for its burst of aromatic flavour. The sea bass nigiri (£1.40) was also particularly satisfying with its lovely sweetness.

Salmon sashimi, various sushi and soft shell crab roll

Salmon sashimi, various sushi and soft shell crab roll

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Nobu Berkeley

Is Nobu Berkeley the most uptight and pretentious restaurant in London? Well, judging from my experience, it most certainly deserves to be on the shortlist.

So here are some examples for you:

(1) Handing my coat to the ice maiden at reception invoked nothing but a snooty glare. She said and did nothing other than stand there until the coat lady turned up to take it (I mean, how was I suppose to know that it was someone else’s job?).

(2) It appears that if you sit in the bar area downstairs with a drink, and it runs past your reservation time, another ice maiden will not hesitate to come over and insist you go upstairs to your table. Apparently the restaurant only holds tables for 25 minutes and each sitting is two hours. I may not have been Cheryl Cole, but was it really necessary to exercise such Stalinist muscle when we were spending money at the bar and the restaurant was one-third empty throughout the evening?

So upstairs there were three more beautiful ice maidens behind another reception counter who didn’t appear to be doing very much other than look pretentious and occasionally take people to their tables. To be fair, the waiter that served us was quite friendly, but then he probably wasn’t some struggling model type.

The bar downstairs is the height of sophistication and elegance and justifies its tag as an A-list celebrity hangout joint. The décor in the dining room upstairs was far less striking but was far more stylish than Nobu London on Old Park Lane which I thought looked like it had been fitted out as an expensive canteen.

Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa spent three years in Lima and a short stint in Buenos Aires in his twenties, and it was there that he developed his fusion Japanese and South American style. It was therefore unsurprising to see dishes such as seafood ceviche (£10) on the menu. Containing a mixture of lovely fresh prawn, salmon and turbot, there was also a touch of coriander which was beautifully fragrant. However there was too much citrus in the dish which slightly overpowered the delicate flavours of the seafood.

Seafood ceviche

Seafood ceviche


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Atari-ya Swiss Cottage

I am a big fan of Atari-ya on James Street. The sushi is super fresh which is to be expected of a business that imports premium grade sashimi fish and supplies high end restaurants such as Nobu and Zuma. Prices at the James Street branch were very reasonable when I last went, especially given the quality. And its proximity to Oxford Street means that it’s an easy diversion when one is out on a shopping expedition.

Atari-ya seems to be branching out. Earlier this year they took over Sushi-Hiro in Ealing Common. There’s now a branch in Swiss Cottage as well which is where I recently visited.

Ohitashi (boiled spinach – £3.50) was topped with bonito flakes and finished with a lovely sauce of dashi and soya sauce.

Ohitashi

Ohitashi

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Kiraku

As pointed out to me by some readers, Sushi Hiro which has now closed, use to be the Japanese restaurant favoured by chefs Heston Blumenthal and Anthony Demetre of Arbutus. But just a few steps down the road is another Japanese gem, Kiraku. The story goes that Heston only stumbled across Sushi Hiro because he was trying to get a table at Kiraku after being sent there by the head of his experimental kitchen, Kyle Connaughton. Finding the latter full, he wandered down to Sushi Hiro instead.

I haven’t been to Kiraku in a while, but I use to be a bit of a regular there, and time and time again I was hooked by the kaki fry (fried oysters: £8.80) and the saba shio (grilled mackerel: £6.90), so much so, I had to introduce the delights of these two dishes to my friends. They were suitable impressed. The meaty flavour of the giant sized oysters exploding in your mouth as you bit into the wonderful coating of crunchy panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) was impressive, as was the contrasting sweetness of the tonkatsu sauce.

Fried oysters

Fried oysters

The mackerel also delighted with its fantastically crispy skin and moist succulent flesh. A drizzle of lemon juice and some grated daikon also worked a treat. I adore the way the Japanese grill their mackerel, and Kiraku probably produces some of the best in London.

Grilled mackerel

Grilled mackerel

A special sushi set (£18.50) was very fresh. The sweetness and acidity in the rice was well balanced. It was reasonably priced, but Atari-ya still has better priced sushi in London just like the So Good Sushi bar in France.

Special sushi set

Special sushi set

A serving of gyoza was good and decent (£5). Nasu dengaku (grilled aubergine with miso and sesame pastes: £5.90) was gooey and soft, as well cooked aubergine should be. Both the miso and sesame pastes were nicely flavoured, but there was a touch too much of each which slightly overpowered the delicacy of the aubergine.

Gyoza & grilled aubergine

Gyoza & grilled aubergine

Prawn tempura (£12) with firm juicy prawns was delicious. The tempura batter was wonderfully crispy but could have been a little lighter. Agedashi tofu was slightly disappointing as it was a little bland.

Prawn tempura

Prawn tempura

Agedashi tofu

Agedashi tofu

We finished with a selection of ice creams (azuki beans, green tea and cinnamon: £3.80 to £4.30) which weren’t bad, although there were ice crystals to be found in my green tea scoop.

I like Kiraku a lot. I’ve been here a number of times and I think the food is consistently good, especially the kaki fry and the saba shio. Kiraku is a family business and it shows in the homely atmosphere, down-to-earth Japanese decor and warm friendly service. It’s well worth making the trip to Ealing Common for.



Summary information

Food rating:
Service rating:

Price range: £25 to £35 per head, excludes drinks and service.

Rating:★★★★☆ 
Rating:★★★½☆ 

Web: http://kirakulondon.wordpress.com/

Kiraku on Urbanspoon


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