On my quest to find decent fine dining Japanese and after the luscious lunch we had at Sake no Hana, I decided to take my Sushi loving daughter to another Japanese, Aqua Kyoto which is situated just off Oxford Circus on Argyll Street behind my favourite department store, Liberty’s and opposite the infamous London Palladium.
The Aqua Restaurant Group is vast with some 25 restaurants in Asia (Beijing and Hong Kong) and London including a couple at The Shard. The Aqua building is home to the group’s three Central London restaurants, Aqua Kyoto, Aqua Nueva, a Spanish Tapas style restaurant and Aqua Spirits, as the name suggests, it’s a cocktail bar with Japanese bar snacks and a stunning roof top terrace, perfect for summer drinks al fresco. My First impressions of Aqua Kyoto were almost “seedy den” vibes, that’s the image this very dramatic, dark and sexy restaurant conjured up with it’s separate booths and high stools and intimate bar. The heart of the restaurant is occupied by a very large open Sushi bar which I am finding quite common in Oriental restaurants of this calibre. In contrast, Aqua Kyoto is the complete opposite to the cool, contemporary Sake no Hana, I was going to find it hard to take decent photos in this lighting and upgrading my camera is now an absolute must. My daughter was just as surprised by the interior and definitely prefers the cool minimalist look of Sake no Hana but then she is a teen, clean lines is what they prefer, they don’t get that an interior of a restaurant can set the tone for the evening so I would suggest that dinging in the evening at Aqua Kyoto would be my preferred choice.
The intimate bar and seating area
The Sushi Bar
We were seated and shown the menu to choose from, we arrived ravenous so we were both looking forward to fabulous Japanese. As with my previous dining experience at Sake no Hana, we were eating from the Summer Set Menu. It included a gin based cocktail which was very refreshing, could have been mistaken for a mojito with the addition of mint, my daughter was offered a virgin one, minus the gin. Being a mocktail lover, she couldn’t understand why she was only allowed one, “darling, not all restaurant’s have to offer you two cocktails” I replied back, I think my daughter was getting rather too used to dining out were my thoughts.
The choice of the starter course was Hamachi Harumaki Sushi which is a maki roll filled with hamachi and yukari – Japanese tuna with rice seasoning plus takuwan harumaki which is Korean picked diakon radish, harumaki means roll in Japanese. The other offerings are Sake Tataki which was lightly seared salmon with fennel, sweet potato and tosazu jelly and finally Jikasei Tofu Kaiso Sarada – what a complicated title for a dish! essentially, it’s handmade tofu with sea vegetable salad and black goma dressing. Of course, we opt for the maki Roll, it’s Sushi and Zoë is absolutely obsessed with all types of Sushi, you may as well not have included any other starters on the menu, she’d stuff herself with Sushi until she was sick.
The Sushi was amazing! We had four pieces each accompanied by a bowl of soy sauce for dunking in rather like biscuits and tea! Zoë was greedily scanning the table next to us as they had ordered Sushi as an entire main course, seriously though, you can have too much of a good thing I quickly reminded my daughter of that.
Our mains were a choice of three consisting of Sake Yuzumiso Yaki which was yuzu miso salmon with seaweed and pickles, Hinadori Yakiniku which is yakiniku (grilled) baby chicken served with Japanese white peach, Wagyu Yaki – Wagyu beef slow roasted with kombu daikon, Wagyu is the Rolls Royce of beef, it’s buttery soft and succulent and comes with a £5 supplement and finally we have Yaki Soba which everyone is famililar with because of the surge of Wagamama restaurants in London, this soba dish is served with cherry tomato, edamame beans, tamago (Japanese omelette) and wasabi yuzu, I’m almost tempted to have that as it sounds so delicious. We opt for the miso salmon and Wagyu beef, guess who’s eating the beef! Yes, my daughter does like the finer things in life, it was truly delicious, succulent, melt in the mouth beef. My salmon was cooked perfectly, there is nothing worse that overcooked dry salmon, this was spot on, it was pared with the seaweed and pickles. I adore seaweed in all it’s forms especially mozuku seaweed which is pickled and served before any Japanese meal. I could eat bowlfuls of it, sadly I just don’t know how to recreate it at home, it’s piquancy is so delicious and full of nutrients.
We were basking in a glow of Japanese wonderment, now you know why this is by far in my top three of favourite cuisines. We were really ready to be wowed by dessert, this time, just a choice of two, it had to be the ice cream. The first choice was, Momo Raichi Kurimu – golden peach, lychee crème, apple peach granita and crushed meringue or Banira Aidu Berii Kone which is a vanilla ice berry cone, chocolate dipped freeze dried strawberries, it sounded lush. However when it arrived, it was disappointingly small, we were both a little bit crestfallen, don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely gorgeous but just not enough of it. It was cleverly presented standing prominently on a bed of ice, I would have happily paid for two each, or was it just us being disgustingly greedy and gluttonous.
If I had to compare my experience with Sake no Hana, I would choose Sake hands down because our experience was enhanced by the attentive waitress who explained each dish in great detail and that means a more pleasant dining experience where as at Aqua Kyoto, it felt a bit like a conveyor belt – just another customer with dishes plonked in front of us. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, I believe that their set menu lets them down a bit as nice as it was but having eaten at a rival Japanese similar in style and price, they could be a little bit more adventures I felt. Having said that, I believe you can’t judge a restaurant by their set menu, in order to gage the true essence of a restaurant, one must dine from their a la carte and I definitely intend to do that and have drinks at Aqua’s Spirits, their bar on the next floor.
Zoë and I left the restaurant and headed home before London’s evening rush hour, feeling full and satisfied and eager for our next Japanese, where would my quest for fine dining and authentic Japanese take me next?
240 Regent Street (Entrance, 30 Argyll St)
020 7478 0540
All photos and views are my own.