Monday, 15 November 2010

Aqua Kyoto (London) review - Japanese 5 course shinmai menu


Address: 240 Heddon Street,
London W1B 3BR
Tel: 020 7478 0540
Nearest Tube station: Oxford Circus

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Service charge: 12.5%
Taste: ***
Service: ****
Ambience: ****
Aqua Kyoto is one of those restaurants that looks and feels vastly different in the day and night. When we dropped by Aqua Kyoto for its bento lunch set earlier, it was rather docile with a handful of tables filled. But when MC and I turned up during an evening last week, we could hear the music thumping the moment we stepped out of the lift into Aqua Kyoto's reception.

After handing over our coats, we were led through the bar area. While previously empty, the bar area, with its lights dimmed, was packed to the till with office workers winding down at the end of the day. We realised later that many were merely quenching their thirst before sitting down for a proper dinner.

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With a gale working up across London, it was rather understandable why Aqua Kyoto's terrace that the main dining area opened up to was comparatively quiet. There were only a few souls braving the plummeting temperature despite the reward of London's skyline. The heaters strategically placed on the terrace didn't quite do the trick.

To celebrate the Japanese new rice harvest (shinmai), Aqua Kyoto's Jordan Sclare is presenting a new autumn shinmai menu that features five rice-themed courses. MC and I were kindly invited by Aqua Kyoto to sample the menu.

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Starter came in the form of sashimi with rice crackers. The tuna and yellow tail sashimi was mixed with some wasabi (not horse radish) and seaweed presented in rice crackers in the shape of a half cone. The dish requires you to be competent with your chopsticks as savouring each chopped up sashimi cube is the key here. A fork just won't do the job.

Wasabi and seaweed wasn't overwhelming and I could taste the sashimi's freshness. I liked the lightly crisp rice crackers and left that till the last. The dish came with a small glass of mild sake and a "edible stick" (as Kiyo put it). While the sake was very much welcome, the stick, which tasted like a boiled radish didn't bring much to the table. I did enjoy the mountain date though. Being soaked earlier, it easily disintegrated and its taste neutralised that of the sashimi's wasabi.

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Kiyo, the staff serving us, had explained earlier that all five courses of the Shinmai menu would feature rice and we thought that the foie gras sushi roll epitomised the menu. The sushi rice was warm (which should be the case from my understanding) and sticky, not overly so but just enough to cling on to the insides of my mouth. Marvelous. The roll, however, tasted less of foie gras but more of onion and wasabi.

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MC dug into the beautifully presented quail tempura first and immediately cautioned me to go easy on the dip, which turned out to be barbecue sauce. Kiyo assured us that the fried rice noodle was edible but in all honestly, it was barely for it was all clumped together and boy was it tough. I tried wrestling with it briefly using my bare hands but gave up after bits of the rice noodle landed all over except in my mouth.

I thought that the tempura itself was more batter than anything else. Kiyo did mention that the batter was made of rice flour (instead of flour), which resulted in a heavier batter, and it was an acquired taste (think soy milk). That probably explained why a strong sauce (barbecue in this case) was needed to add some colour to the taste.

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The seafood fried rice ticked the right boxes - it has got this heavenly aroma, with generous bits of crustaceans and juicy sliced mushrooms. Pity that the garlic was burnt though.

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Of the five courses, I enjoyed the dessert the most. Sweet rice rolled into the sushi rolls with preserved fruit in the middle. The rice rolls, with a mixture of coconut and sesame seeds based, could very well fill your stomach if the previous four courses hadn't already. In fact, they reminded me of the Malay sweet pastries that are very much loved back home.

Curiously, I wasn't able to find any detail of Aqua Kyoto's shinmai menu online or for that matter Aqua London's website. That said, the shinmai menu is available between mid-Oct to mid-Nov so you'll have to act fast if you wish to sample the menu before it's taken down.

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2 comments:

TomEats said...

I've been tip toeing around trying Aqua here in HK (which I think is originally a HK brand?) and this has helped me drop it a bit further down the list as although it looks good it doesn't seem as though you had an amazing time.

Over here apparently it is Asian and Italian as the combo..

C K said...

@Tom,
Don't get me wrong though. The ambiance is fantastic. Are you referring to Hu Tong in HK? I was there some time last year. Well, as Hu Tong is a one Michelin, it comes with all the frills but I thought that it was more style than substance. Boy, the view up there was good though...

Not sure about the Asian/Italian combo... maybe we're talking at crossroads. Anyway, hope that things are fine with you and Jen over there!