Friday, 14 August 2009

Soseki review - exquisite Japanese cuisine in London


Soseki+review+London+authentic+Japanese+restaurantI had too much of a meat fest lately and decided that I needed something delicate for a change. I decided that what I really needed was Japanese food, but where can I get decent Japanese food in London? A quick search through Squaremeal brought Soseki to my attention.

According to Soseki's website, their menu "is inspired by the Japanese concept of 'kaiseki – kappo', a style of cooking which originated in high-class restaurants for the wealthy merchants living in Osaka in the nineteenth century" and "ordering is done on the "omakase' principle: diners will not find a list of itemised dishes on the menus, but will rather entrust our Japanese chefs to create a menu according to the classic principles of Japanese cooking." Sounds promising and with the carrot of 50% off the price of their kaiseki-kappo sets (the usual average price being a staggering £50 per set) (a Squaremeal promotion), I was sold.

Soseki+review+London+authentic+Japanese+restaurantThe restaurant is on the first floor of a nondescript building set in the shadow of the Gherkin. I walked up a flight of rickety wooden steps to be greeted by a smiling waitress at the entrance of the restaurant and was shown to my seat at the sushi counter. Directly opposite the sushi counter were little booths with window views and it seemed that if you walked the length of the restaurant, you would come to one of their "pagodas' (apparently private rooms but I fail to understand why they are so called as they do not resemble their namesake at all). Soseki's website boasts that critics described it as one of the most beautiful restaurants in London. Soseki had its charms, but beautiful it was not,at least not from where I was seated.

We ordered the Hanashi menu (usual price £60 per set). The appetiser was chawanmushi. The custard was wonderfully soft with some crunchy roe providing a delightful contrast in texture. I like my chawanmushi steaming hot, a pity that the dish was only lukewarm. According to the menu, what I was supposed to have next was the wan mono soup. What I had instead was a morsel of beef with half a quail egg on the side. I figured that it was the omakase principle in operation, but I didn't mind a single bit as that little morsel was exquisite.

Soseki+review+London+authentic+Japanese+restaurantSashimi came next (fresh and meaty as should be the case), followed by the appetite cleanser which turned out be a scoop of melon infused ice (which I found really refreshing).

The food had so far come in small portions and there was a time lapse between each course. I am not complaining about the time lapse as the food should be prepared fresh but both of us were frankly starving despite having been served 4 courses. We were speculating in hushed tones (the cook is preparing the dishes in front of us) whether we were going to go home hungry when we were served buta no kakuni (Japanese braised pork). Yes, I was meant to be on a detox diet but who can resist this when its cousin (five spiced braised fatty pork) has been THE comfort food your entire childhood? Sadly, the kabuni did not live up to expectations. The meat did not crumble on touch (it really should) and the accompanying broth was underwhelming.

Sushi was next and it did much better. The meat was sweet and succulent and more importantly it filled us up! Desert was a scoop of nice creamy ice-cream with little squares of matcha sponge cake and respberries on the side. Not a traditional Japanese desert, but I loved it, in particular, the matcha sponge cake. Fluffy with just a light touch of the matcha bitterness, it was the perfect end for our meal.

Soseki+review+London+authentic+Japanese+restaurantA word about being seated at the sushi bar. The last time I tried it was at the Tokyo fish market in a very small sushi restaurant. There would be a row of chefs busy rolling sushi right in front of you, not to mention the pieces of recently alive seafood wriggling in front of you (they are that fresh!) so there was plenty to watch. This time round, I found it rather awkward as you not only looked into the sushi preparation area but also the kitchen beyond. With only 4 chefs, 2 in the kitchen beyond with the remaining 2 (presumably the more senior chefs) at the sushi counter, you do not get the same sense of activity.

Soseki+review+London+authentic+Japanese+restaurantStrangely I did not happen to see sushi prepared in front of me. I saw the chef handling the fish, using a blow torch on the beef, just not individual sushi being prepared in front of me! I am not a purist but those who expect to see the chef making individual sushi on the spot would be disappointed. I am not sure whether the chef did adjust our menu according to his observations of our likes and dislikes (supposedly one of the advantages about being seated at the sushi counter) as he did not speak and hardly made contact with us. His assistant at the sushi bar was cheerier, smiling and waving us goodbye at the end of the meal.

Another thing to note is that the pricing and the menu options available are different from those listed on the website. Their website lists Japanese western food as an option, but it is no longer available. Time for Soseki to update their website.

Would I go back to Soseki again? Yes, but only if the promotion is still available. The price while good is not exceptional and I would make it a point to sit in the booths instead.

Address: 20 Bury Street 1F, London, EC3A 5AX
Tel: 020 7621 9211
Nearest Tube station: Liverpool Street / Aldgate

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £30 pp (with 50% discount promotion)
Service charge: 12.5%

Taste: ****
Service: ***
Ambience: ***
Suitable for: meals with clients or colleagues and strictly for small groups only.

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5 comments:

Dutchie said...

This foodie adventure has left me the same feeling whenever my much awaited cheese soufflé didnt rise as expected :-I

Personally I would go for the sizzling n hot dishes tho. Hv not the stomach for cold bites or rauw stuff. An acquired taste, perhaps ?

C K said...

@Dutchie,
With the sunny summer over in London these days, a cold soba is more welcome than a hotplate teriyaki. That washed down with cold rice punch just cools me down. Ahh...

Anonymous said...

i was there exactly a month ago!!! i only remembered being carried down from the steps after way too much sake! how much was sake there? 4 quid a flask? way tooo cheap and i over drank! ;)

justine said...

Thanks for the post! I am searching for Clapham restaurants but now I found some place better! Thanks for sharing this wonderful place. I think I have somewhere to take my wife in our anniversary! Thank you very much!

C K said...

@Anon,
My first experience with sake was at a ryokan in Kyoto. A small flask knocked me flat. If I'm not mistaken, it's 40% alcohol? And I assume you have more than a flask? :)

@justine,
Hey, no prob. Hope that you guys will have a wonderful time over there. If possible, ask for a private room. Cheers!