The new game sushi at Ginza Onodera’s London branch was a perfect introduction to the restaurant’s Japanese delights…
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In a Word
Since Onodera arrived in London last year, the result of a high-profile makeover on the site of former institution Matsuri, it has developed the same reputation as its predecessor for solid Japanese classics.
Its loyal following garnered among Japanese ex-pats and those who have enjoyed its sister-sites in Tokyo, Shanghai, Paris and New York, is a testament to its impeccable service, diverse menu and an elegant interior, befitting of its St James’s postcode.
Upstairs a sleek, fully-stocked bar, overseen by hugely knowledgeable manager Gergo Nyiri, offers a variety of signature cocktails which showcase Japanese ingredients. While downstairs, elegant Japanese dishes are served in a large open restaurant area, with teppanyaki and sushi counters, private booths and function rooms catering for a wide variety of clientele.
We begin our lunch with drinks at the bar, which is all shining black stone and monochrome, giving a polished, sophisticated atmosphere. A Nikka Coffey Old Fashioned ticks all the boxes with a lingering caramel flavour from Japanese black sugar and zesty citrus. The new gin from Nikka is similarly impressive, with a delicate, balanced flavour, gently coaxed out by Fentimans grapefruit tonic.
As we move downstairs into the restaurant, we can see small groups of people taking advantage of the afternoon tea which has just launched, a sign of head chef Ryosuke Kishi’s constant menu reinventions to celebrate Japanese food in all its forms.
The reason for our visit, to try the newly launched ‘venison nigiri’ to usher in game season, reinforces this. The razor-thin slices of venison tenderloin, with a blushingly pink centre, is marinated in a blend of sake, sakiyo miso, sake kasu (the lees remaining from sake production, often used as a pickling agent) and arima sansho pepper. Neatly laid out on a golden plate, garnished with ginger, ribbons of spring onion and soy sauce, it is a thing of beauty. The earthy meat sings with umami-rich flavours and a punchy, peppery hit of wasabi.
Kampachi carpaccio is one of the best things I have ever eaten, beautifully infused with a medley of zesty yuzu, sour-sweet pomegranate and slivers of musky truffle. Next comes a tuna tartare, so finely diced it melts in the mouth, leaving whispers of mildly sweet and piquant gojuchang. Crispy streamers of burdock add a medicinal crunch which cuts through the rich fish, while a smattering of pine nuts offer further depth.
A selection of nigiri, including hamachi, snow crab and different types of tuna are all delicious, as expected. A lavishly marbled otoro, lightly flushed and unctuously striated, is a treat – although the delicate white fish selection is somewhat overpowered by heavy-handed wasabi. The seafood is paired with a naturally sparkling unfiltered Fukushima sake which offers enough dryness to cleanse the palate after each bite.
From the robata grill, miso-glazed black cod is well executed, translucent and flaking, lip-smackingly seasoned. But teriyaki chicken, recommended by our (utterly marvellous, for everything else) waitress, is a disappointment. Over-seasoned and overcooked, it makes for a laborious and insipid main event, easily eclipsed by its accompaniments of meaty mushrooms and courgettes. A pairing of sake 50, dry yet still fruity complements the meal well, however.
As can be expected, the seafood and sushi at Ginza Onodera is high quality and in line with the sort of show-stopping sparkle demanded of the establishment’s location and clientele. Service is also impeccable, with a knowledgeable and attentive team catering to every detail.
Despite this, the mains we try lack the panache to justify their hefty price tags and seem slapdash in comparison – which is disappointing after such a strong start. If you have the budget for it, stick to the small plates and sharers, with sake pairings, expertly chosen by the house sommelier and you’ll be sure to have a brilliant time.
5 Bury St, St. James’s, London SW1Y 6AL