I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy the experience. For me, it’s all about the food: a themed restaurant makes me suspicious. Why is this diner being distracted? Something wrong in the kitchen? Iffy ingredients, perhaps?
Yes, Itsu is very definitely themed. It has moving food. Revolving dishes. No, the waiters don’t spin plates for the amusement of the guests, there is a conveyor belt which carries food past the assembled and seated company. There are still waiting staff who will escort you to your seat at either kitchen carousel or comfy banquette. Those same Itsu employees will take your drinks order, explain the method of food selection, and they will whisk away the empties.
This turned out to be one of the most laid-back and chilled lunchtimes I have spent in a long while. I now realise why this style of dining really works. It’s the ideal spot for lone lunchers – those who have their dietary horizons set somewhat higher than a curly sandwich or a sugar-laden muffin. I have never felt comfortable eating alone and I know many others who have the same inhibition. Itsu provides an environment of anonymity. One can find a place at the raised kitchen carousel, watch the food preparation for diversion and even engage in witty conversation with the black-clad chefs, who are more than happy to customise your selection with a little extra ginger, a ring or two of additional chilli. There is a first-floor dining room which has a more formal but quirky atmosphere. Armchairs, mirrors and a goat’s head all help to make this a sought-after venue for those who want to enjoy Itsu food in a sophisticated environment.
I have said that the food is, for me, the most important part of any restaurant visit. Itsu did not disappoint. This is quality food and the presentation is faultless. It doesn’t come fresher or faster than this. One sees the chefs chop and plate the dishes. They are placed on the moving belt and all you need to do is make your choice from a wide range of fish, meat and vegetable offerings.
Perhaps those dishes could be more accurately described as plates, for that’s just what they are: saucer-sized plates with coloured rims which indicate the cost of that item. The food meanders by with the saucers balanced on name-emblazoned pedestals. Chop-sticks, serviettes, spoons, wasabe and soy sauce are all to hand, so nothing more to do than grab the food and enjoy.
That food is fresh, well-flavoured and delicious. Visit with a friend and you’ll be able to share many of the dishes. My guest chose to start his meal with something other than the conveyor-belt fare. Yes, there is a selection of hot favourites, like tempura. Itsu has a “famous” Chicken and Coconut Soup. It’s the colour of peanut butter but a rich and warming flavour which is truly quite outstanding. A great start to a meal on those days when the sun refuses to put in an appearance. There is also the traditional Miso Soup for less than £2.00 for a serving.
One of the best value plates here is the Fine Green Bean and Kombu Roll. Once again they didn’t breach the £2.00 barrier. These two hearty rounds of rice and vegetables were attractive and delicious and you would walk away pounds poorer if you ordered them in any other Japanese restaurant. These were one of the bargain white-rim options.
We meandered through half a dozen or so plates of various styles of rice, fish and vegetable confections. Those passing dishes are enticing. The Salmon Sushi was fresh and substantial. The Crab California Maki Roll is well-worth trying; but the stars of the carousel were the two Vietnamese dishes. These were both striking to behold and generous of filling. The Crystal Roll with Fresh Crab was delicate and light. The Crystal Roll with Roast Duck should be a signature dish: the meat was cooked and shredded and packed along with vegetables to present a winning choice.
You might want a pud after sampling the savouries, and Itsu offers some non-Japanese sweets. My guest selected Seasonal Fruit on White Chocolate Yoghurt. The red berries were contrasted against snowy drifts, an idea which I’ll shortly be stealing. A crème brulée had my name on it. It might not be Japanese and at under £3.00 it was great value, but it was also one of the best executed I’d encountered in years . Specks of vanilla bean and a creamy texture were topped with the traditional crunchy sugar crust. I’ll grab that again on future visits.
Itsu ticks so many boxes: quality of food, thoughtfully sourced fish from sustainable stocks, value for money, and a unique ambiance. I might have arrived with a few cynical thoughts, but I left a convert.
Restaurant opening times:
Mon – Thurs:12 noon – 3pm / 6pm – 10pm
Fri:12 noon – 3pm / 6pm – 11pm
Sat: 12 noon to 11pm
Sun & Bank Holidays: 12 noon to 9pm
Itsu, 100 Notting Hill Gate, London W11 3QA
Phone: 020 7229 4016
Fax: 020 7727 5653
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018