63-97 The Barkers Building, Kensington High St, London, LND W8 5SE sushirobataldn.co.uk
There’s often a curious, almost post-apocalyptic, feel to once great department stores that have been taken over by small retailers. It’s as if the smaller ones are camping out in the carcase, amid the bones of grand staircases and the faded finery of once impressive decor. You almost expect Mad Max to walk through with a shotgun over his shoulder.
The first floor at the old Barker’s building is cavernous and houses a selection of restaurants including Bone Daddy’s, the ramen place. This last doesn’t seem very busy this lunchtime perhaps the locals aren’t ready for hot bowls of fatty broth; it’s not East London after all.
But Sushi and Robata by Genji, to give it its full name, is bustling. The big windows are throwing a gentle lunchtime light on wooden tables and on the curved bar where the sushi chefs are busily working.
I love this kind of food, the presentation, the colours and the tastes. It’s rarely cheap, and High St Ken is no place to look for bargains, but Sushi and Robata’s large illustrated menu reveals reasonably well-priced food and plenty of choice, not just the two eponymous dishes but steaming bowls of soba noodles as well. Soba noodles being perhaps an adult version of ramen.
We sit at the bar to see more and to be closer to the action and because here the chefs can pass us the food as it’s made. We umm and err over choice, I like the sound of everything, but settle on mostly sushi and robata, perhaps rather unimaginatively.
Nothing comes in any particular order, just as it’s made. We had to try the Genji I Tuna Crunch maki, as it was Rat-Japan Sushi Award 2015 Winner.
Made up of prawn tempura and cucumber, topped with spicy tuna, spring onion, tempura crunch, a sliver of chili, a lively mayo and a teriyaki sauce this shone with flavours, the dusting of crumbed tempura a marvellous textural opposite to the smoothness of the other ingredients and their subtle interweaved flavours.
I’ve rarely had bad sea bass anywhere and here it was one of the best versions I’ve ever had; firm perfectly cooked fish with a rich miso based sauce spread like jam. We clashed chopsticks as we tried to get more than our fair share and tore at the wilted pak choi beneath that had absorbed all the flavours.
Crunchy rice salmon tartare was another textural twirl, the rice brittle to the bite but the salmon melting. A sprinkle of finely chopped chives adds a gentle breath of onion. We also had more salmon in a classic combination of salmon and avocado wrapped in a dragon roll, the avocado I’d seen peeled in front of me so I knew it was fresh.
Ceviche octopus was impressive visually and superb on the tongue, melting easily and accompanied by crisp grated white radish. The little curved’boats’ of sliced cucumber making it easy to eat complicated mouthfuls.
Robata? Not so impressive actually at first, the beef and asparagus a trifle chewy and a bit gamey in taste. The scallops were far better, large and charred on the outside and tender in the middle, so just right in fact.
Dessert was two halves, I wasn’t keen on chocolate spring rolls, with chopped hazelnuts, chocolate sauce and a bowl of coffee dipping sauce for dipping, mainly because they were burnt and no one likes having their nuts burnt.
However the yuzu cheesecake made up for that, the unique citrus notes of the yuzu slotting like a key into a lock with the cream cheese. Excellent match with the last of my glass of very decent viognier, the thinking man’s chardonnay.
An excellent lunch; relaxed, informal and with a couple of tiny reservations all good.