Archive for the ‘Japanese’ Category

Oysters and a Guest List

A great friend of mine was over from New York this week. We’d arranged to go for dinner so, naturally, so I was left with the challenge of booking dinner for us. Probably quite understandably for someone who lives in New York, he’s not massively into eating portions that could feed a small city so I wanted to find somewhere that was light, but served excellent food. An obvious choice was seafood, but it may come as no surprise at all that I’ve not been near oysters since the dreaded Oystergate in New York last month. So I guess I surprised even myself when I booked us a table at that greatest of London seafood institutions, J Sheekey (http://www.j-sheekey.co.uk).

In the oyster bar.

We’d had pre-dinner drinks and went to the restaurant for our reservation. It was such an immediate meeting of minds (he thought it was too quiet, I saw oysters and immediately felt queasy) that within 30 seconds we were bidding the doorman our excuses and we were back on the street. Where to eat in the heart of London’s tourist mecca ? Aberdeen Steak House ? The Greasy Grill ? El Tacky Taco ? A stroke of genius from my guest and moments later we found ourselves in the excellent, but confusingly named, Asia de Cuba in St Martin’s Hotel (http://www.stmartinslane.com).

Asia de Cuba shouldn’t be in a hotel. In the menu construction, the ambience and the clientele, everything tells you it ought to be in Mayfair somewhere. Perhaps it’s the Philip Starck influence but everything about Asia – and indeed the hotel itself – just exudes stylish funkiness. The restaurant decor is avant garde to say the least but it was nice to see that it remains as popular as ever.

Asia’s menu is an eclectic, Nobu-like Japanese-cum-Fusion affair with some strange ingredients and combination flavours. I was immediate left with the feeling that it was trying to hard to be, well, something but not entirely sure what. But our server was both attentive and knowledgeable and suggested many items on the menu that she must clearly have tasted. Nice touch. The food was expensive but absolutely exceptional. The Thai beef salad had some of the best beef carpaccio I’ve tasted in a long time while our other starter of Ropa Vieja of Duck (duck confit) was beautiful and, in keeping with my strange ingredients comment above, came with shredded calabaza (a variety of squash so I found out later). Our shared main course of black cod was even better than that I’d had in Zuma which is really saying something. It was really nice that you just didn’t feel like you were in a hotel restaurant though which I guess is a combination of the decor and clientele.

St Martin’s Hotel is a strange old place though, and we had an after-dinner drink in the guest list-only LIght Bar (even though we weren’t on the guest list). Think about it. A bar, in a hotel, where you have to book. Pretentious ? Moi ? And given it was half empty, either the door staff were being too choosy, or there was actually no need for door staff. I’ll let you guess which. But given all that, I do like the fact that even in a desert of the world’s worst restaurants, you can find an oasis such as Asia to eat fabulous of, even if it does have an identity crisis.

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Japanese, the way it always should be

I’d dined at Megu (http://www.megurestaurants.com) once before a couple of years ago but had forgotten just how good it was. Nestled just off Broadway in Tribeca, I was completely blown away by the whole experience. From decor to menu, service to flavours, this place has it all. If you’re thinking sad looking sushi chugging round a carousel, then think again.

The bar upstairs reminded me of a strange club-like netherworld, the sort of bar I’d normally find in some uber-trendy SoHo club, not New York’s finest Japanese restaurant. Service was too slow, but Hendricks is always a welcome start to any meal.

Going downstairs into the main atrium-like restaurant the first thing you notice is the illuminated ice Buddha, sitting beneath an enormous bell. This thing is huge. Would be too over-the-top anywhere other than New York but then, this is the city that does things bigger than anywhere else.

Our server was typically – for the US – attentive and knowledgeable and he didn’t perform the cardinal sin of servers in lower-end restaurants: kneeling down. He did, however, advise on our selection without being too pushy. Loving Japanese food this menu is a challenge even for the most experienced of diners. Abandoning the traditional appetizer/entree format, it’s almost like they just threw all the items up in the air and caught them on the paper as they landed. That said, I reckon the word “Kobe” (as in beef) must have been mentioned well over a dozen times.

Amongst the many dishes we tried a few stood out as favourites, the Kobu beef croquettes blended ground beef with a thin wrapping of fois grois. Real melt in the mouth stuff. And the silver cod miso skewer was outstanding. Even the more mainstream sushi items we selected were carefully prepared, with a good balance of flavour. And, of course, no wasabi from a jar at Megu. Theirs comes freshly grated right from the root. In fact all the food was excellent; there was nothing I didn’t enjoy. This is without doubt some of the finest Japanese food in Manhattan. Eat your heart out Nobu.

But all the above does come at a price. This isn’t a place you’d just pop out to for a quick snack. This is definitely a special occasions restaurant and, frankly, you get what you pay for when it comes to food. I hear it’s growing in reputation as a celebs hang-out which I can only hope will not elevate the prices even further. If you’re after the finest Japanese food that money can buy, I challenge you to do better than Megu.