Tucked away on a quiet, narrow street in the heart of London's Fitzrovia and away from the hustle and bustle of Tottenham Court Road lives Kikuchi, an intimate, 16-cover Japanese ‘destination’ dining room. Here, we're talking how the Japanese would dine in the pretty villages outside Tokyo. The décor is traditional in the sense that it is anonymous, modest and understated, with white-washed walls and unremarkable wooden furnishings. The expansive wall space boasts an impressive collection of framed sushi knives that my companion and I spent some time pondering during the course of the evening. The focal point, however, is the long sushi bar and, as I am soon to discover, what exactly is happening behind it. Chef-patron, Masayuki Kikuchi, himself is hard at work providing a mini master class, cutting, filleting and creating each nugget - every one a masterpiece - to go straight from counter to table.
Kikuchi has stood the test of time and is now in its 19th year having recently launched an ‘Omakase’ menu. Omakase - 'to entrust' in Japanese - is a traditional recipe-concept whereby the culinary journey is in the hands of the chef, therefore removing any element of choice and predictability the diner affords. This is about as far from an ordinary dining experience as one can get, however, it must be said that in today’s world of abundance and choice, it was wonderfully refreshing to relax and succumb to the experience and enjoy the anticipation and mystery of what was going to arrive at our table, course after course - fully embracing the concept, naturally. I was certainly not disappointed by the journey; a seven-course culinary adventure - and we both left feeling a new found love for Japan.
The pleasant team are knowledgeable and attentive, possessing a sweet and graceful manor. Oshibori (hand towels) were presented on arrival and our waitress introduced each and every dish as it arrived, proceeding to explain with muted excitement the suggested accompaniment for each one. For example, in combining soy sauce, lime, ponzu or truffle salt with certain cuts of sashimi, as well as recommending the perfect sake pairings for each dish. Our menu came with the sake tasting tray, which consisted of three cute glasses, allowing us to sample a selection of three different sakes. It was recommended that we drink from left to right in order of strength. My companion, a sake newbie, absorbed the succinct, pared-back explanation. My personal favourite, however, was the ‘gold blossom’, which possessed a ripe fullness to it, yet combined perfect balance of fruitiness and acidity that delicately took the edge off any sweetness. The result you ask? A beautifully clean taste.
Our ‘experience’ started with not one but two courses of generous cuts of sashimi. Salmon, yellow tail and hamachi, which were all wildly fresh and divine. We both fell silent whilst we cherished every last bite. It was at this point that we acknowledged our delight at being at the mercy of the wondrous chef-patron. This carefully planned momentum continued with an exquisite succession of tastes and textures. Ten stars goes to the juicy yet delicate slab of sea bass that was so fine it melted on the palate, accompanied with glossy sweet potato and a smattering of beautifully light and wispy fried sweetcorn, which perfectly complimented the lightness of the sea bass.
A simple, rich and savoury clam miso soup followed before the main event; a grand sushi platter which boasted a luscious selection of chu-toro, (belly tuna) sea bream and mackerel nigiri, gently blow-torched, releasing a rainbow of taste and flavours. The fish is just as mouth-wateringly fresh as the sashimi and the rice itself, offering just the right amount of vinegar and a sticky gloss. Like many traditional Japanese restaurants, the dessert offering was simple yet effective - a superbly smooth and cleansing chestnut ice-cream, joined by fresh fruit, which marked the end of our Kikuchi journey.
For those who like their dinner with an authentic experiential edge, a visit here is mandatory.
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