- Chef Masaki Sugisaki serves up a menu of countless highlights at this modern Japanese restaurant in Knightsbridge
- Japanese restraint with a comfy twist
- Global influences
- Crystal clear and incredibly smooth
Chef Masaki Sugisaki prepares dishes at Dinings SW3
Chef Masaki Sugisaki serves up a menu of countless highlights at this modern Japanese restaurant in Knightsbridge
What makes a meal memorable? The right combination of food, company, and surroundings is certainly important. But then there is that ineffable quality: hospitality.
Plenty of restaurants across the spectrum from high to low get this wrong, with a front of house that is either too remote or too attentive; too obsequious or too cool for school. The best restaurants, meanwhile, welcome you as something like a friend who has popped round for tea – which is certainly the case at Dinings SW3, an unexpectedly convivial modern Japanese restaurant tucked away in a little mews in bustling Knightsbridge.
I say unexpectedly because one might expect a certain haughtiness from a restaurant whose SW3 postcode, and all that it might connote, is literally baked into its name – and yet arriving here feels something like a homecoming. This is partly because of the friendliness of the team, all of whom are on hand when you need them, but leave you to enjoy your meal when you don’t, and partly to do with the homely quality of the restaurant itself.
The restaurant has a homely quality
Japanese restraint with a comfy twist
The garden in particular feels like a quintessential west London interior courtyard, and on glorious summer or mid-seasonal days is the perfect place to put yourself for a long and languorous lunch. But inside too the decor feels as though it has been chosen for comfort, as well as for design; Japanese restraint with a comfy twist. It hides its elegance behind a veneer of informality – again, echoed by the wait staff, who are there to advise on your choices with their genuine thoughts on your question, or replace fallen cutlery before it has even hit the floor, with a smile of “we’re in this together” reassurance.
And the food, oh the food. Chef Masaki Sugisaki has an enviable CV, having worked in high-end restaurants in Japan and London, including Nobu Berkeley Street before striking out on his own.
Masaki was quite literally born into it. His parents ran a traditional kaiseki restaurant in Japan, and as the eldest son, the expectation was that he would take over the family business. “While my friends were playing after school I was a kitchen porter or working front of house,” he told Great British Chefs. “My father would regularly wake me up at 3am to go to the fish market, then send me off to school, then I’d continue to work in the restaurant in the evenings.”
Dinings SW3 sushi
This ethos has been infused into Dinings SW3. Today, Masaki has close relationships with Cornish fishermen who run day boats, ensuring that only the best and freshest seafood reaches his kitchen. That connection was explored this summer, when Masaki took up residence at two of south Cornwall’s most established seaside restaurants; The Idle Rocks hotel in St Mawes and restaurant Tavola on Portscatcho Bay.
Back in London, meanwhile, the quality of fish that Masaki has sourced from the southwest is immediately apparent from the first dishes that hit our table: the unassuming-sounding crispy rice Akami tuna, with its spicy sesame aioli is a melt-in–your-mouth delight. A wooden spoon is provided to ladle the fish into accompanying rice puffs.
This is joined by two toro fatty tuna tar-tar chips – something like mini tacos – with a dash of jalapeño aioli, offering an early indication of the global influences that suffuse Masaki’s cooking, and a Wagyu beef version of the same, with its dash of chilli miso, designed, we can only presume, to demonstrate the kitchen’s obsession with sourcing high-quality meat matches its fixation with fine fish.
Next up, a caught Cornish sea bass carpaccio takes us straight down to the coast, with its truffle shaved with a flourish at the table and speckled cubes of amber-like ponzu jelly. This comes alongside a pair of Wagyu mini beef buns – think classy Japanese sliders, each emblazoned with the restaurant’s logo.
Sushi follows – six perfectly formed pieces, starring bluefin tuna, yellowtail and salmon, each embellished with a small fastidiously crafted topping: pickled wasabi leaves on one, onion soy jam on another. The rice, meanwhile, is not a congealed singular block beneath, but rather each grain is distinct and separate from one another – pretty to look at, delectably textured to consume.
The desserts are equally attractively presented. The yuzu cheesecake looks to have been inspired by French pastry supremo Cédric Grolet and his false fruits. On the surface the cheesecake looks like a lime, but cut into it and it reveals a blood orange and ginger heart.
Food at Dinings SW3
Crystal clear and incredibly smooth
It is a menu of countless highlights. Close your eyes and point a finger – you won’t go wrong. Equally strong is the wine and saké menu. My lunch companion works her way through the wine list, especially enjoying the 2019 Geyserville from California’s Ridge Vineyards. I stick with saké – a carafe of Karakuchi, the so-called “dry saké”, which is both crystal clear and incredibly smooth.
A restaurant with food this good could easily survive with less than superlative hospitality. Equally, one with a front of house this skillful could probably paper over a few duds from the kitchen. Dinings SW3 compromises on neither front – an understated gem located deep in the overstated heart of Knightbridge.
Dinings SW3, Walton House, Lennox Gardens Mews, Walton Street, London SW3 2JH; diningssw3.co.uk