aqua kyoto isn’t cheap, but inspired food and an electric atmosphere make this spectacular experience money well spent.
Set a hair’s breadth away from Oxford Circus, aqua kyoto sits atop the former Dickens & Jones department store and overlooks London’s iconic Regent Street. It’s a fabulous venue standing proudly near timber-framed Liberty and opposite the star-studded London Palladium. The entrance on Argyll Street leads onto a mysterious corridor, at the end of which a lift whisks you up to the 5th floor, far away from the shopping crowd.
aqua kyoto is a dark labyrinth oozing style and sophistication, and when the lift pings open, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped onto a stage set for 007. An attractive assistant greets you, before leading the way through cocktail-sipping City-slickers and out into the restaurant. Loud pulsating music makes the place feel more like a funky nightclub than restaurant, while square tables and wide rectangular chairs create a neat, clean and minimal look. In the centre of the room, chefs dance while they work behind the sunken sushi bar, illuminated from above by glowing red lotus leaves. The far wall is made of glass, enabling dinners to gaze out at the terrific London skyline or step out onto the hip terrace, complete with outdoor bar. Service is slick, efficient and friendly: waiters and waitresses are well informed of the menu and eager to recommend dishes, while the keen, precise sommelier is never far away. Don’t be surprised if the restaurant manager pays you a visit, too.
New head chef, Paul Greening, has put his own stamp on the menu here, and he and his team deliver an awe-inspiring culinary experience. The menu ranges from small plates to salads, dishes cooked on the sumibi yaki (charcoal grill), larger mains, and tempura, sushi and sashimi. Although extensive, this ambitious menu is executed with finesse and every dish is presented as if a work of art.
Begin with sea bass sashimi (£12.50), where fine yet meaty slivers of sea bass are arranged like a halo on the plate; or a fresh crab and glossy seaweed salad (£12.50). Adorned with strands of seaweed, rising up from the glass serving-dish, this thing of beauty appears to float on some magical sea bed. A ‘soap bubble’ of tomato dashi lies, like a soft pebble, atop the crab ready to be pierced with a chopstick to release the subtle broth.
After teasing your palate with these delectable offerings, continue with prawn and oba leaf tempura (£13.50), where fabulously sized prawns are encased in a sparkling light batter. Perfectly balanced by crunchy tempura, the prawns taste even better rolled in the accompanying green tea salt. From the grill, which sparks and flares delightfully from across the room, indulge in a dish of black miso cod, tonburi seeds (also known as mountain caviar), and seaweed ribbons (£29.50). Marinated for five days, the cod unfolds in delicate flakes and awakens the taste buds with delicious umami flavours.
You’d be forgiven for thinking things couldn’t get any better and yet larger dishes are equally sublime. Oriental mushrooms and mild ginko nuts are delicately folded within silky green tea soba noodles (£15). A large round earthenware dish of suckling pork belly and eel (£24) arrives shimmering in a luscious fish shock. The richness of the meltingly-soft pork and flavoursome eel counterpoint the young baby carrots and peppery daikon, drizzled with a few precious drops of Japanese jade oil. Wagyu beef (£32), tender and velvety, arrives on a barge-like plate adorned with ruby red beetroot, wild herbs and a garland of edible flowers.
As well as these incredible dishes, aqua kyoto is also the place for sushi. Dive into a platter of fresh and delicate scallop (£8), marbled fatty-tuna (£11) or a salmon roll smothered with creamy rich, lobster bisque sauce (£18).
Dessert is essential and reasonably priced. Juicy poached nashi pear, (a curious Asian fruit combining the crispness of an apple with the speckled skin and flavour of a pear), sits proudly alongside a scoop of soya milk ice cream and toasted chestnut crumble (£7.50); drizzle everything with warm, caramelised pear syrup served in an oriental stone jug. ‘Forest floor’ (£8), a gorgeous dessert of mint panna cotta buried beneath bitter-chocolate curl branches, earthy biscuit crumbs and the occasional berry, dazzles with every texture and flavour you could ask for.
With food this impeccable clamouring for your attention, the drinks menu at aqua kyoto can feel like a place to retreat – a moment to sit back and ponder over your last fascinating mouthful. However, with a wide-ranging cocktail, wine, sake and spirit list, drinks are also deserving of praise. Open with a glass of refreshing and light, Whispering Angel Rose (£11/125ml glass) or a corker of a Riesling (the 'Kung Fu girl'); with dry notes overpowering its background sweetness this wine makes the perfect apéritif. Some serious sake is available too, setting you back anything from £35 to £183 a bottle; the mid-range daiginjo from Nishinomiya, has enough bite to cut through the richer dishes, retaining a mellow flavour that allows the food to sing. Sweet wines are also worth the extra splurge to accompany dessert, or relax with whole rosebud or delicate silver needle white tea.
The Last Word
If you’re looking for a meal to remember, head to aqua kyoto. With an exhilarating combination of style, glamour and mouth-watering food, dining out doesn’t get much better than this.