65 Regent Street, W1B 4EA
020 7494 7600
Cost per person without wine: £60
STEERING clear of food with “style” is a culinary hobby. I can’t help the suspicion that “Chinese-style” chicken, for example, has less than a token resemblance to Chinese culture. At most, there’s a sprinkling of five-spice or a lick of sweet and sour.
Well, thank goodness that Senkai isn’t a “Japanese-style” restaurant; it’s self-confessedly “Japanese-inspired”. After three hours of prime eating in this place, I’ve learnt that food that’s inspired rather than styled by a culture is far preferable.
With its Regent Street address and sturdy doormen, Senkai can’t help but inherit that club-feel of its predecessor Cocoon. It’s rather slick especially as all the staff (and there are a lot of them) are standing to attention. The front of house downstairs are helpful, stressed by their own efficiency, and chatty like GAP store attendants. Super-chatty, in fact.
Upstairs, the decor is all clean wood-lines down the long room, which breaks up into lounge, main restaurant, raw bar and exquisite private room at the back. Tables along the half-moon windows peer into Regent Street. The cocktail menu is a nice mix of Japanese and English infusions, and the wine list is well put together. A 2009 Muscat Sec is a surprising treat with
The thing to have here is raw fish. Behind the slickness is the promise of sustainability by sourcing fish from day boats, which means damn good fresh fish for us. To the soundtrack of New York soft beats, we eat a plate of well-presented chef’s sashimi — 15 pieces of raw fish and a neat pile of pickled wasabi, which are lovely chunks of mustardy heat. At £28, you’d expect wonders, and the salmon sashimi is absolutely stunning, as is the mackerel and halibut. The texture is a staunch reminder of why spending a little extra on sashimi is worth it.
The one fish I take issue with is the sea bass, as it has an unfortunate chewiness, and undoes an otherwise glorious tartare. The fish it’s mixed with, however, is the unusual and iridescent wrasse, the flavour of which is lifted with sesame and the sweet, crunchy lotus roots in a gnarly twist on top.
Though the noodles are a little too al dente to be a truly satisfying dish, the mungbean noodle salad with crab and langoustine ceviche is fresh and clean-tasting, chicken with shiro miso (white miso) is wondrously tender and the remaining sauce worthy of finger-licking. Cobia fish from the robata grill comes on a bed of samphire, and is both meaty and well-flavoured.
Other highlights include the deliciously crisp prawn and vegetable tempura, a perfectly cooked selection of vegetables ranging from your thoroughly British (purple sprouting broccoli), to the traditional aubergine.
Dessert is refreshing: scoops of green tea, cherry and sake and vanilla ice cream on a brick of ice served with chocolate fondant, and pineapple sorbet with yuzu and mint sorbet. At £8.50 each, these light palate-cleansers rounded off the meal well, but it seemed a little steep for fruit and ice-cream.
Now, the price. We should be taking our fish seriously, and Senkai goes out of its way to source good ingredients, and to its credit, does not flaunt it in some tediously virtuous way. But the restaurant is based in Regent Street, and has Regent Street prices. There is a hint of the hotel bar feel to it, at times intimate and well-serviced, but ultimately, a little transient. The clientele is also slightly Chardonnay, and I can’t help thinking they are all about to hit Chinawhite post-sashimi splurge.
But overall, Senkai doesn’t pretend to strive for total-Japanese authenticity, as it serves just good, progressive food. So here’s to being inspired, and done with style too.