In a City where you can get every type of food your heart desires, from the most luxurious fine dining experiences at world-famous hotels to tiny little street food stalls churning out grilled cheese toasties faster than you can say ‘raclette’ it can be so difficult to find the best restaurants, and to allow smaller, less renowned eateries to pass under the radar while sub-par places take all of the limelight.
My love for sushi is a relatively new thing and that combined with the often hefty price tag means my knowledge of London-based Japanese restaurants is far from extensive, with Sticks n Sushi still being one of my favourites to date. That said I’ve visited a few well-known restaurants which people seem to rave about – most notably Roka that I am not ashamed to admit I found distinctly underwhelming and very (even by sushi standards), very overpriced. At the other end of the scale there’s always supermarket sushi, or fast-food-type chains such as Wasabi where you can be guaranteed to get row after row of the 95%-rice nigiri and the odd sushi roll, which equates to mountains of hard, slightly crusty rice thrown together with little more than a scattering of poorly presented filling.
Like me, my mum rarely eats sushi, with the view that she’d rather eat good sushi once a year than a poor-quality experience weekly. When I heard about the newly opened Kazu I couldn’t wait to take her there and see what she thought, as I have been to a couple of very memorable Japanese restaurants with her in Malaysia and Singapore.
Open for separate lunch and dinner slots from Monday to Saturday, Kazu is one of London’s newest Japanese restaurants located in the heart of Fitzrovia, with their 52-seater restaurant including a sushi bar and an intimate private dining room available for hire. Translated literally as ‘peace and harmony’ in Japanese, they aim to provide the very best of Japanese cuisine using the highest quality ingredients in a modern yet peaceful environment.
Inside the décor is as you’d expect – modern but minimalist with wooden tables and a few bar seats if you fancy watching the chefs creating their magic. No stone has been left unturned when it comes to detail, from the menus beautifully bound with wooden covers to the little black marble chopstick rests. As a giant nerd I’m a huge lover of pretty crockery but I feel like at sushi restaurants when so much time and effort goes into creating stunning dishes it’s even more vital, and here every plate and bowl is carefully selected to complement each dish perfectly. Sushi rolls come on stunning rectangular plates, each slightly different which adds to the beauty of it all. The rolls are intricately designed and flawlessly executed, each piece a work of art in its own right. The soft shell crab rolls came presented on a beautiful white and grey two tone plate – possibly my favourite item both in terms of taste and presentation! The crab was fried in the lightest tempura batter, crispy and golden brown – sitting beautifully in the centre of the most immaculate inside-out rolls.
Their specials are slightly larger – my favourite was undoubtedly the ‘Charlotte roll’ (a salmon and avocado roll topped with tuna, yellowtail, sea bass and avocado), which came beautifully arranged on a longer plate, each piece delicately topped with a mix of the three fish. The whole plate was dressed in a yuzu miso sauce which was both refreshing and satisfying – we mopped that plate so clean that it was ready to be used again!
Sashimi came arranged beautifully, with each piece so fresh and flawlessly sliced that it was impossible not to savour every last bite. Gyu Tataki was incredible too – thinly sliced seared beef fillet in a delightful ponzu sauce – an entire pate of perfectly pink tender meat, layered with onions and crispy garlic pieces.
Next to arrive was chuka seaweed – a spicy seaweed with sesame dressing, which surprised us both with its texture and flavour. As someone who would see seaweed as a mere side, and a fairly nondescript one at that, this was a star in its own right! Thin shreds with a beautifully chewy bite to them, seasoned generously and sitting in a wonderfully balanced sauce. Chicken gyoza dumplings were executed perfectly too – a thin, chewy exterior giving way to a flavour-packed filling delicately wrapped up in a perfect parcel.
Other dishes included an udon noodle soup (my mum’s choice!) – thick, chewy noodles in a flavoursome broth ayered with delicious fried tofu which had absorbed all of the complex flavours of the broth. I wasn’t a huge fan of the noodles (just personal preference, and my all too prominent dislike of many Asian foods coming out!) but my mum was in heaven, and I was definitely ready to fight her for the tofu! On the side came pork belly kimchi, a surprisingly spicy dish which packed an absolute punch! The acidity of the kimchi cut through the fattiness of the pork belly perfectly – another perfectly balanced dish.. even if my mouth was on fire by the time I’d polished off the plate!
Even the nigiri-style sushi was incredible. We intentionally avoided ordering any of the nigiri sushi pieces, but the seared scallop and seared squid ‘grill specials’ came neatly presented on a mini bed of rice. Sadly the squid was one of the only let-downs of the meal – I’m not sure if we got unlucky but it so chewy that it took some serious jaw work to break it down and even then it was tough to swallow. Scallops however were an absolute triumph – they came sweet, juicy and beautifully seared until they were melt-in-the-mouth soft. My mum is most definitely not one to go heavy on the carbs (I don’t know where I get it from!), but she mopped up every grain of that perfectly cooked rice and we both agreed that if we went back we’d most definitely reconsider our decision not to order any nigiri. I don’t know how they achieved such perfection, but it held together wonderfully without the tiniest hint of excessive stickiness, or (God forbid) the rock-solid block so common in supermarket sushi. In fact, the chef’s special, which the executive chef Dham Kodituwakku (known as Kodi, former head chef at Chisou) brought over in person especially for us to try was possible one of my favourites of the entire meal, with the most plump piece of tuna perfectly seared and resting on the heavenly rice – it was so juicy it literally glistened.
By the end of the savoury dishes we were both feeling incredibly satisfied. My mum was full but insisted that I ordered dessert even if she could only manage to eat with her eyes. Satisfied as I was I find sushi to be incredibly light and I jumped at the chance to order some ice cream filled mochi – I absolutely love the mix of smooth, creamy ice cream wrapped up in a wonderfully chewy shell!
Their mochi, not that we’d have expected anything less by this point, came beautifully presented on a bamboo leaf with thinly sliced fruit. The three flavours were vanilla, green tea and black sesame, and with black sesame being by far my least favourite I started with that one. Something about it makes it taste almost burnt to me – one of my only memories of Asian desserts involves me eating black sesame ice cream and it tasted just as overpowering and intense as I remembered. I gave half to my mum though and she absolutely loved it – the fact that she finished it was testament itself as not only is she not a dessert person, she was also freezing cold and stuffed to the brim! The vanilla and green tea flavours were heavenly though.. the vanilla was sweet and creamy and the green tea flavour came through strongly without being bitter or overpowering as it so often is.
Link to their website: https://www.kazurestaurants.com