I went to one of London's swankiest Japanese restaurants that offers 'caviar bumps' and 'charcoal chicken'

Step into old-school, Orientalist chic at The Aubrey – possibly the coolest Japanese restaurant you’ll lay eyes on outside of Tokyo. It feels like a speakeasy as you pass through the curtains, into what is effectively a smoking lounge without the smoke. It’s relaxed, moody, and very louche. And the smells are incredible. As they should be: this place gets an impressive 4.9 on Google Reviews and 4.5 on TripAdvisor.

Describing itself as an “eccentric Japanese izakaya experience” – based on the informal, snacky bars of Japan’s after-work culture – it is certainly eccentric. Take the wasabi liqueur cocktail, or Le Mort d’Artur with sweet potato shochu. I’m a sucker for a huge, square ice cube. Something about it screams ‘this has been carved by hand, in a pleasingly over-elaborate ceremony’. Don’t shatter my illusion.

You can spend a long wait for food (45 minutes in our case) by soaking up the drinks menu. Cold white wine, with a crisp and acidic Riesling. When the beverages were done, we built up our hunger and eavesdropped on the business execs staying at the attached Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge. Some of the food was worth the wait. Out came the battered seaweed: a revelation. I sent word to the chippies of Glasgow and hope they’ll adopt it as a staple. And the scallop nigiri was as smooth as a seal in a diving cap.

My Non-Veggie Wife (NVW) tucked into the charcoal chicken (£14). It’s kind of how it sounds: charred, but still light and crisp, and deliciously balanced. “Not just a gimmick” was her review, and she has a stricter threshold standards for gimmicks than I do. The Iberico pork was tender, rich, pink in the middle as it should be, and full of flavour.

But the real eye-opener was the mixed tempura (£31, above). The prawns were the tastiest NVW had ever eaten. She’s eaten many a prawn in her time. Extremely carefully prepared, and juicy as a watermelon. The tempura overall was faultless actually, and quite beautiful. Go there for that, but fill up on bread beforehand. Why? Not just the wait, but the price tags.

We’ll get to that. This is an experimental restaurant, and not all experiments work. The leek robata in a miso glaze was sadly inedible. Tough as nails, and best ignored. A tale of two restaurants however, the pork packed a punch, I was told, while the eel (don’t look away) was surprisingly good: creamy in a light batter. But really, get the aubergine. The glaze is off the chain, and you get plenty of it.

Not everything has to be experimental, mind. The soufflé was salty, massive, and made me realise I do actually quite like soufflé. So a win for them. The volcanic cheesecake with black sesame was experimental, on the other hand. Intriguing, but not moreish. A good thing too, not to order more. I had a minor heart attack when I saw the bill. This place laughs in the face of the cost of living crisis. Though it was a kind gift, the bill was £300 for two. Two cocktails each, and a glass of wine each, without leaving exceedingly full.

There are a couple of ways of getting your head around this. People staying at the attached Mandarin Oriental are a captive audience, with dollar to burn. It is, as promised, an experience, and some of the menu is well worth a trip. Aubergine and tempura seaweed, I’m coming back for you when I win the lottery. In the meantime, travelling property tycoons of Knightsbridge, lap this place up.

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