Soseki Japanese Restaurant – review

restaurant review What is a Soseki? It is a who and he was one of Japan’s favourite novelists, Natsume Soseki. He lived in London over a hundred years ago, and in the two years he was here he had plenty of time to miss the taste, sight and sound of home.

Soseki offers an authentic “sight” of Japan in the most magnificently striking fashion. It truly does encapsulate all that we would expect of the Japan of a couple of centuries past. The ground floor entrance might be contemporary and anonymous but as one ascends the single flight of stairs one is wafted to another world which couldn’t be further away from the glass and steel of the Gherkin which overlooks it.

The bar is the first truly Japanese element one encounters. It has an impressive wall of bottles and a strikingly low seating area. This isn’t a high-stool-swivelling night-clubby drinking hole. It’s tasteful and charming and introduces one to the still more stunning restaurant.

Soseki have avoided mass-produced beers and wines. They have developed a considerable range of “pure rice” junmai sake, some Japanese rice beers (it’s the only restaurant in the UK serving Koshihikari Echigo rice beer and Hitachino red rice ale), and rice shochu. The wines have been selected specifically to enhance the food rather than overpowering the delicate flavours.

restaurant review asian This restaurant is a vision of dark wood, tatami mats and kimono fabrics. There are intricate wooden shutters and painted ceiling panels. I wouldn’t, however, describe Soseki as “themed”; that word denotes a contrived style. There is nothing that seems artificial here. It’s more transported than themed. More engaging than engineered. This is the real thing and Natsume Soseki would have felt quite at home.

We were shown to our dining cabin. Yes, indeed, a small raised room at the end of the restaurant. There are two compartments inside this cosy and intimate space. The first holds half a dozen guests and the second was our nest for two for the evening.  A calm vantage point to watch the sushi preparation area and our fellow diners. Many of those guests were themselves Japanese: ex-patriots are a reassuring sign when one is looking for authenticity of any ethnic cuisine.

We settled ourselves in our cocoon of a booth and perused the bill of fare. The menu at Soseki is inspired by the Japanese philosophy of ‘kaiseki-kappo’ or Japan’s haute cuisine. This fashion of cooking originated in celebrated restaurants in 19th century Osaka. But unlike European haute cuisine, the Japanese rely solely on light and fresh ingredients and outstanding presentation. No heavy and cream-laden sauces here.

Perhaps it’s not so much a menu as a suggestion of courses of different cooking styles. The main ingredients are what’s best that day. The finest quality fish from sustainable sources. Soseki has received numerous awards including the prestigious Green Apple Award for the Environment, and the RSPCA Award for Animal Welfare. You can enjoy the best south-coast seafood without guilt. The use of seasonal fruit and vegetables ensures that the dishes change often. One could visit frequently and find new culinary creations to tempt.

asian restaurant review
Sakizuke appetizer was a confection of quail, both egg and flesh. A punch of chilli heat was unexpected but delicious. The shimmer of gold leaf added to the impression of opulence and held great promise for the rest of the meal.

Wan Mono Soup served in a lidded lacquered bowl had great flavour. Sashimi was a collection of raw fish and in this case salmon, yellowtail, sea bass and sole. A simple dish which relies on quality for its success.

Mushimono will be your steamed dish and this evening it was savoury custard. This was a triumph of texture and subtle taste. Served in a lidded ceramic pot resembling a small boulder – thoughtful and amusing.

Yakimono, a grilled dish, was tender slices of lamb with aubergine, asparagus and edamame beans. You’ll not find better lamb than this: still pink and juicy and with plenty of flavour from the flame. Memorable.

asian restaurant review Agemono is a deep-fried dish comprising fish and vegetables with a dipping sauce. The battered foods were clean-tasting with a perfect crunch. Served on traditionally-folded paper mimicking white mountain peaks silhouetted against the black pottery. Comforting.

The Palate Cleanser today was a small shallow glass bowl of sweet and refreshing melon juice. The drinking vessel was presented resting in a wooden dovetailed box. The authentic cup of choice for sake, I believe.

Nigiri and Maki Sushi was a beautiful presentation of rice and fish in all its guises. A traditional platter of food that was uncommonly good and served with refreshing salad, flavourful miso and pickles. A surprisingly substantial conclusion to the main courses.

Dessert of fresh fruit and Japanese-inspired ice cream served in a martini glass was welcome and a great counterpoint to the seafood, wasabi and soy sauce of previous dishes. Chocolates made at Soseki will soon be on the sweets menu. Another indication of the Soseki attention to detail. Those specific chocolates might change but be assured that they will all be remarkable.

We arrived as exhausted westerners and felt almost clumsy in the refined Soseki environment. We were amazed but not intimidated. We left with bows to the waiting staff and chefs. Relaxed, impressed and much the richer for the experience. This might not be the cheapest Japanese food around but I venture to suggest that it’s value for money. We will return and sit at the sushi bar, enjoy a flask of fine sake and unwind anew. I cannot fault Soseki in any regard. It’s conveniently situated but easily overlooked. Make the effort to seek it out at the foot of the Gherkin. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Soseki Japanese Restaurant
20 Bury Street, 1F, London EC3A 5AX
Tel: 020 7621 9211
Fax: 020 7621 9210

Opening times:
Lunch Monday to Friday Midday – 2.30pm
Dinner Monday to Friday 6 – 10pm

[This restaurant has now closed.]


Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018


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