Don’t be put off by the slightly dubious entrance, this is competent Japanese cooking displaying moments of brilliance.
Wabi has had a bit of an interesting introduction to the London restaurant scene with two different PR companies taking over promotional duties within a fairly short space of time.
I must admit to being fairly dubious. Holborn isn’t somewhere I would naturally head of an evening, but then again, it is fairly central, so not altogether out of the way.
The restaurant is located down a flight of stairs (the door incidentally is flanked on either side by those flame pillars which gives it a slight whiff of strip club). Luckily although it’s dark inside, there are no seedy ladies, gentlemen or podiums.
It is a fairly large subterranean space, complete with bar at one end and open kitchen at the other. Staff were plentiful — we had roughly six different people serve us during the evening — and they were all friendly, if a little nervous.
So, on to the food. I am officially awful with chopsticks. For half of every meal I attempt to eat with them I look like a three year old grappling with a difficult colouring-in exercise. Thankfully I had remembered how to eat gracefully by the lobster course.
Wabi’s scallops and yuzu
We opted for the kaiseki tasting menu as we were told this gives the best overall impression of the chef’s style. We started with otsumami, or snacks of fire roasted edamame, smoky scratchings and sweet and sour nasu (aubergine).
We merrily nibbled away on these as the temaki cones — tiny ice-cream cone shaped seaweed and salmon morsels — were delivered to the table. They weren’t particularly interesting, nor were the two sashimi courses of seabass and yellowtail that followed. They were all perfectly fine, just not wildly exciting.
The next course was ‘lobster and chips’. This consisted of poached lobster with uni (sea urchin), vegetable chips and yuzu, truffle and egg dip. The lobster was beautifully soft and buttery, the dip unctuous and the vegetable chips looked beautiful.
I wasn’t entirely convinced that beetroot and lobster were a match made in heaven but the next two courses were much more successful. A substantial piece of warm Loch Duart salmon hidden under a thin piece of cedar wood, blowtorched to provide a hint of sauna-like smoke in a delicate lemon miso. My companions cedar was burnt in such a way to look like a face — an additional bonus.
The fish was ever so slightly translucent (as it should be), falling apart at the slightest touch. It was lovely to eat and not sickly or overpowering in the way that many salmon dishes are.
Then came the Wagyu beef. We were still only a mouthful or two into the salmon dish when this arrived, but I suppose it comes as and when. Served on a dangerously hot metal dish, it comes sizzling in a Japanese BBQ sauce. It was delicious. Tender, sticky and laced with danger. It had considerably more flavour than some of the earlier dishes and as I was at this point a chopstick expert it was easily dispatched.
The sushi that followed was fresh, tasty and nicely presented, though felt a little out of place after the more substantial salmon and beef courses.
Sushi at Wabi
The puddings were less successful on the whole, with the tiramisu being a particular let down. It showed no oriental flair, it was just a deconstructed Italian pud.
However, the pudding that was brought out by the chef afterwards — still in its development stages — was so much better. A take on tofu, it was a just-set coconut pudding, similar in texture to a semolina or tapioca pudding, with a little lime and some minced ginger on top. It was much more in keeping with the rest of the meal and infinitely more exciting than the tiramisu.
The lovely chef mentioned perhaps the addition of a soy toffee sauce for a salty sweet contrast. I hope this makes it on to the menu as it would leave things on a much better note.
Overall, it was a competent showing of Japanese cuisine, with one or two more exciting courses in the middle. The wine pairings from the sommelier were also surprisingly good, even if he was a little too enthusiastic for me after a long, stressful week — never before have I had a sommelier encourage me to drink quickly to help me forget the busy day. I’m sure he was just trying to be fun and breezy.
It would also be nice to have slightly more consistency when it comes to waiting staff, one or two per table rather than several, but these things work out with time. So overall, it was not bad and with a few moments of very good indeed.
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