26 Albemarle Street, W1S 4HY Tel: 020 7495 5999, www.sumosan.com
Cost per person without wine: £40
ALMOST entirely lacking the fanfare of Nobu, Roka and Zuma, Sumosan is nevertheless one of the best Japanese dining spots to name drop. It certainly ticks the boxes: a Russian-operated, clubby restaurant in the heart of Mayfair, it’s expensive, its clientele are exquisitely moneyed and well turned-out (though on my last visit, they seemed rather more what New Yorkers call “bridge and tunnel”, in reference to New Jersey folk driving to Manhattan for a taste of razzle dazzle) – and the food is very well executed.
How exactly it differs from Nobu appears to be mainly that it is not Nobu. Still, it has borrowed from that formidable chain’s menu – what glossy Japanese restaurant hasn’t? – and so it makes a very good alternative, with its mixture of sushi, tepanyaki, salads and soups. Chiefly, it features a very good version of Nobu’s famous black cod.
As early as 2006, A.A. Gill declared this of the nation’s favourite ethno-posh fish: “black cod is so utterly, naffly, screechingly, definitively over.” While his sentiments regarding the ubiquitous dish are understandable, he was, well, wrong. Black cod is alive and well (well, not quite alive), and happens to be among my favourite dishes, so from my less exalted perspective, it was a pleasure to encounter its eye-rolling creaminess and umami bite on the menu.
Elsewhere, we had a tangy and moreish cone of seaweed draped in a flag of funny orange sauce; some exquisitely delicate scallop sashimi and a plate of sushi that was good though not astonishing. Our tempura order was delivered wrong, with the result that we didn’t have enough of the vegetables of our choice. Also, for so little food, they were very expensive – a problem diners at Sumosan need to watch. But then, judging from the look of them, it’s not one that most of them probably have to worry about.
Other standout dishes include yellowtail terriyaki, honey mustard organic spare ribs and the Barbary duck with lingonberry sauce that has been on the menu for yonks.
Sumosan casts a layer of Euro-dust over its menu, but not in the contrived way that has become trendy. The duck is one example (you can see it being popular in Moscow, where the first Sumosan opened); so is turbot on a bed of cauliflower and broccoli risotto.
The food is, on the whole, delightful. As for its je ne sais quoi as a see-and-be-seen-at Mayfair hotspot, it’s hard to say. The high prices probably help and the interior – in a weird way – might help too. At night it feels like a club where oligarchs can comfortably sequester themselves with magnums of Grey Goose (or sake) – all purple gloom, clubby tunes and beautiful women. During the day, it’s a more low-key affair, crammed with the area’s workers. Whenever you go, it’s fair to say that Sumosan is the discerning Mayfair diner’s best alternative to Nobu.