Let me clarify my position regarding Kouzu from the off. It’s very, very good. Service is impeccable – Salvatore, we salute you. Drinks are interesting, and not in that euphemistic, fixed smile kind of way. The room, while not scoring points for originality, is spacious, sleek and stylishly picked out in assorted greys and variations on (beige sounds insulting so let’s call it) taupe.
As for the food… it’s all good. As in very, very good. My complaint – if it is a complaint and which you can happily add to any lists of middle class woes that you’re compiling – is that we didn’t find a particular stand out, no must-have dish that you can recommend to all who ask because, when you do this sort of thing for a living, people do ask.
To that, however, I should add a caveat. We went around the first week of opening – not my usual practice, I like to give places a little bedding-in time, but sometimes needs must – and so perhaps the final tweaks were still being made. Also, I must stress again, fireworks or no: a) it was all very, very good; b) I’m extremely willing to accept that my demands for a genuine fireworks moment are probably hypocritical and unjust; and c) I would, very happily, return to Kouzu.
Over clever, creative, and Japanese-influenced cocktails – a Smoky Negroni for me (Bowmore 12year, Campari, Antica Formula, Aragoshi-Umeshu, Orange Peel), a Shirikabe-Tini (Shirakabegura-Junmaishu, Antica Formula, Umeboshi Plum, Jerry Thomas Bitters) for her – we did what we often do in the face of new menus and let the waiter decide. Likes and dislikes were explored, suggestions were made, and our skip through the menu began with a, well, very, very good plate of Salmon With Yuzu Soy Dressing from the “New Stream Sashimi” section. No, me neither, but I think it’s basically sashimi, just not as you know it. The fresh, tart, citrus kick of yuzu, the richness of the salmon, the underlying savoury note of soy… this is a very good dish. The foie gras and spinach with Teriyaki wasabi was also good, and I’m always up for a bit of crossover cuisine, but I’m not sure the liver, unctuous as it was, brought anything vital to Japanese cuisine.
We fared better with the simplicity of the spinach with dressed black sesame, which is probably a culinary lesson if I could be bothered to work it out. That bright savoury note of sesame, the iron tang of the barely blanched leaf was a lesson in minimalism, ditto the char grilled asparagus, with shichimi. Al dente, a little spice, a hint of smoke… if all green vegetables tasted that good, I’d be a whole lot thinner.
Roasted black cod with miso may have become something of a cliché these days, but there’s a reason for that: it’s a great dish and while Kouzu adds nothing new, the words “if it ain’t broke…” spring to mind. It’s certainly a better option than the roasted baby chicken with chilli sauce. There’s no complaint about the meat or the roasting, but the sauce lacked any noticeable heat. It’s a very polite dish that needs… well, some fireworks. We know the kitchen can do it as the Spicy Tuna Roll was precisely that, so again perhaps it was an early hiccup
Whatever the reason, that was the only real flaw. Every other dish was – you guessed it – very, very good and my first experience of “aburi nigri” – where the fish is briefly blowtorched on one side – was extremely positive, the toro, like a rib eye cooked medium, proving a fine foil for this brief moment of fat-melting intense heat.
If I sound less than enthusiastic, blame me, not the restaurant. They’re shimmying along very nicely and I’m a grumpy old cynic who sometimes just wants that “pow” moment (and I don’t mean the slap I very probably deserve). Across the board, Kouzu offers very, very good fine Japanese (and Japanese-influenced) cuisine.
21 Grosvenor Gardens
London SW1W 0BD