11 August 2010

Post image for Soseki

Last night I went to Soseki, a Japanese restaurant at the foot of the Gherkin (the tower not the edible variety).  The food was unbelievable and the decor absolutely beautiful. From the outside there is no indication of the gem that lies within, but climbing the stairs up from the matcha café (where we enjoyed pre-dinner drinks – a yummy green tea cocktail for me – and nibbles) to the restaurant is like being magically transported into a Miyazaki film. It is full of antique furniture, laquerware, tatami wall-hangings and smooth shiny wood; you are no longer in the City of London in 2010, but in a Japanese teahouse in the Taisho era.

The food is based on the concept of kaiseki-kappo, a style of cooking that originated in high-class restaurants serving wealthy merchants in Osaka in the nineteenth century. There is no menu as such, rather ordering is done on the omakase principle, whereby the selection is left up to the chef, who presents a series of dishes prepared according to the best seasonal ingredients – or, in the case of fish, the catch of the day.

We opted for the Haiku selection, which consisted of the following courses:

sakizuke appetiser
palate cleanser
yakimono or agemono
sushi selection of nigiri and maki
salad, miso and pickles

I am still sighing wistfully over the memory of the food. It was SUPERB. The appetiser was a kind of omlette embedded with exotic mushrooms and chives, simply but stunningly presented in a spherical dish. The sashimi – salmon, horse mackerel and lemon sole – tasted as if it had leapt from the water only minutes earlier. I wasn’t overly keen on the palate cleanser,which was vaguely melon-y but with a bitter aftertaste, but the pork yakimono (literally: ‘grilled things’) was possibly the most succulent meat dish I have ever had the good fortune to taste, and I only wish I’d had a large piece of bread to mop up the sweet and silky sauce that accompanied it. The platter of sushi (pictured above in poor quality iPhone photo) was, unsurprisingly, excellent and varied. Even the dressing on the salad was divine, all peanutty and moreish. The dessert alone would be worth returning for: a dark chocolate pavé with white miso ice cream and berries…mmmmhh.

Service was attentive yet discreet, as you would expect in a restaurant of this calibre.

It was only after my visit that I learned that Soseki is part of the Moshi Moshi group (love their conveyor-belt sushi), but that it has just been put up for sale. Here’s hoping that any change in ownership doesn’t affect the amazing food. And if you care about such things (which I do), the current owners have won numerous awards for their approach to sustainable fishing; personally I think it makes the food taste even better.

All in all, a pretty faultless dining experience. I would have liked it if they hadn’t automatically added a service charge to the bill, but that’s probably just nitpicking.

Soseki, 20 Bury Street, 1F, London EC3A 5AX (020 7621 9211)
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