At £420 a head, the London outpost of Tokyo’s two Michelin-starred Sushi Kanesaka lays claim to being the city’s most expensive menu, overtaking Ynyshir to take the top spot when it opened in mid-June in the Dorchester Collection’s 45 Park Lane.
The restaurant – Kanesaka’s first venture in Europe – is entered via a discrete doorway behind the bar, through which diners are guided by a kimono-clad host. Entering Sushi Kanesaka is like being transported to Tokyo’s exclusive Ginza district, leaving behind a rain-soaked Mayfair and businessmen at the tail end of lunch.
Tradition and craftsmanship are at the heart of this 13-cover restaurant that strives for perfection yet retains an intimate, even relaxed, atmosphere aided by the soft lighting in the windowless room that mirrors daylight (a far cheerier aspect than an autumnal Park Lane at rush hour).
Diners are seated in a row along a nine-seater counter (there’s a private room for four guests) made from a single block of 300-year-old cedar wood, which head chef, Kanasaka-protegee Hirotaka Wada and his colleague, work directly in front of, giving a whole new meaning to ‘open kitchen’.
This counter, modelled on Hans J. Wegner’s iconic Wishbone designer, which is considered to be the perfect sushi bar seat, is the centrepiece of the elegant and welcoming small space. There are also hand-cut glassware, vases by renowned ceramic artist Shiro Tsujimura and hinoki ice chests, first used in Japan’s Edo period to keep fish fresh.
Food and drink
The delicate elegance of the interiors is reflected in the 18-course omakase menu. Omakase, translated as ‘I’ll leave it up to you’, is a traditional form of Japanese dining where the menu is chosen by the master in the art, enabling the head chef to select seasonal highlights.
The joy of the omakase and the counter seats lies in the interaction with the chefs who personally Present each micro-course on an individual plate (or, in the case of the hand roll, without a plate).
Most of the courses are no more than a mouthful of sushi (served at the correct temperature: room) which is served in the Edomae style, the most traditional form, where fish is cured to enable the flavours to shine. And shine they do.
Kanesaka believes the key to great sushi lies in the relationship between topping, vinegared rice and wasabi and the results of his alchemy can be tasted in each mouthful; from the opening Cornish king crab with beluga caviar to the rich roll of eel (river eel), through to the lean slab of tamagoyaki omelette and rare, seared kobe beef served with a shade of wasabi.
Most of the seafood is sourced from UK or European waters but other key ingredients, including the wasabi grated at the beginning of the meal, are imported from Japan. Authenticity is important at Sushi Kanesaka.
The meal is finished with a fruit dessert. This might sound like a letdown but the mango and melon, shipped from Japan, was so sweet and succulent it stayed on the tastebuds for hours.
The sake, chosen by a knowledgeable sommelier who, understanding of any ignorance, directed diners towards choices that paired beautifully with the delicately balanced omakase menu, guiding guests through the tasting notes and quietly refreshing and changing up our glasses.
The team, many of whom, having moved from Japan to London in June, are as new to the city as the restaurant, are attentive and discreet; swiftly removing empties, recharging water glasses and answering questions on the provenance of the fish.
Discipline combined with grace and tradition are foundations of omakase, and the London team bring this mastery of etiquette to this corner W1. Guests were taken tender care of by the team (host, Nanami-san, our sommelier, and manager, Yasushi – who oversaw from the sidelines) right down to the mobile phone protector my phone was discreetly placed on (chronically the experience is quietly encouraged).
There are two sittings; 6pm and 8.30pm and there is a strict late-arrival policy: ‘courses already served and missed will not be replaced’. Dinner lasts about two hours and there is no lingering at the end of the 18-courses.
The restaurant hit the headlines not long after it opened for ‘banning’ perfume – the experience is designed to be a treat for the senses and scents were thought to overpower the delicate to interfere with the delicate flavours of vinegar and fish.
This is dining as an immersive theatre where guests get to watch great artists of sushi and etiquette at work.
Despite the rules (don’t be late, don’t wear perfume), the ceremony – and the potentially intimidating small room where you sit and make contact with a chef with a very sharp knife – Sushi Kanesaka was a culinary adventure served with great skill and warmth.
45 Park Lane, London W1 (020 7493 4545; dorchestercollection.com)