It’s a lovely, unseasonably warm, early spring evening. The perfect evening for a cold, refreshing cup of Sake. A big-shot publicist friend is in from LA and has a hankering for Roka. I suggest Watatsumi instead, since it’s on my list of places to check out. The chef-owners met working in the kitchen at Nobu Park Lane, which seems like a good sign.
Just off Trafalgar Square, it’s perfectly placed for tourists, pre-theatre, and the post-work crowd. And, at 7.45, it’s nearly full with couples, colleagues and visitors. The room is instantly imposing, with massive, square columns revealing the building’s past, slightly at odds with the Japanese screens.
Apart from the columns, a school of illuminated fish form a lovely welcome mat and are mirrored in the form of a beautiful, circular, floating fish lamp at the reception desk. We’re off to a good start. We do, indeed order a carafe of sake, skipping the Japanese whiskies and themed cocktails (think goji and wheat berries). It’s cool and crisp and goes down easy.
Watatsumi boasts a raw bar and even offers Master Chef classes. It’s true; the sushi and sashimi selection is overwhelming. I’m actually relieved not to see all the usual Nobu rip-offs on the menu. After all, almost every trendy Japanese restaurant in London has the classic yellowtail with jalapeno on the menu.
We start with the duo tartar, perfect for someone indecisive like me, and the tuna tataki. The tartar arrives as two perfectly scooped ovals of tuna and salmon. The salmon is the star, with a clean, light flavour, a hint of citrus and the perfect amount of scallions. The tuna is a totally different sensation, bowing to those who favour a sweet and sour taste. The tataki are lovely triangles perfectly seared and doused in a light, but slightly sweet sauce.
Instead, we go for the sashimi selection in hot oil, and the prawns in garlic yuzu sauce. The sashimi is a seriously loaded plate of salmon, sweet prawn tails, sea bass, and tuna. The citrus oil is well, oily, though it makes a nice change from soy and wasabi. The prawns are delightfully displayed standing upright, wearing a thick coat of spicy, chilli sauce. It’s a meaty dish and great for sharing. “Don’t order the prawns, you can make them at home,” my friend says. We agree, these are NOTHING like what I’d make at home. The sauce is pungent and distinctive.
Not surprisingly, the tea menu at Watatsumi is impressive. I’ve never even heard of Hojicha, a Japanese roasted brown tea bag. Too bad it’s too late for a caffeine fix. There’s also a lengthy list of flowering teas. We share the chocolate fondant with Matcha green tea ice cream. It was set down on the table in a Bento box … part gimmick, but equally charming. The green tea ice cream is strong but the chocolate sauce tames it down perfectly.
For a million reasons Watatsumi is neither Roka nor Nobu. The best part is, it’s not trying to be. It’s more chilled out, undemanding, and definitely won’t leave a financial trail of destruction. If a raw bar is on the agenda, in a central spot, Watatsumi fits the bill.
+44 (0)20 7036 8520
7 Northumberland Avenue
London. WC2N 5BY