Eat Here: Sushi and Robata, Whole Foods Kensington
“But why would we want to have dinner in a supermarket?” was my boyfriend’s first response. But, of course, to the mere mortal, Whole Foods is just a supermarket. But to us foodies, with a keen sense of trends, fads and an obsession with nut butter, Whole Foods is so much more than a supermarket – it’s a healthy haven, a mecca for the spiritually enlightened, and the home of the most expensive salads in London. Whole Foods is a status symbol, a mark of pride for those that can afford brown rice sushi, and know it’s GI rating, too. It’s so much than a supermarket: it’s a life choice. Carrying around a Whole Foods brown bag is the modern-day Anya Hindmarsh, showing you know what spirulina is and you’re not scared to show it. Whole Foods is the millennial answer to owning a Porsche, because, after it all, isn’t true health, wealth, right?
And, so, when we were invited to dine in the new Sushi and Robata in Whole Foods Kensington, I jumped at the chance. My dreams have been answered; I was going to be part of the lycra-clad elite, sporting my new Nike free running trainers and a baseball cap, fresh from a HIIT class and being basic AF. I was excited. My boyfriend was not. But we both came out smiling ear to ear – so here’s why you need to visit Sushi and Robata in Whole Food Kensington:
Sushi and Robata, run by restaurant group Genji, recently opened on the 1st floor of Whole Foods Kensington; tucked away from the crowds of the high street, the restaurant is the perfect place for grabbing a spot of lunch whilst out shopping, or a casual dinner with girlfriends post-spin class. It’s an informal affair, with a seats at the bar for watching the sushi-making first hand, and quiet booths tucked away by the windows for a more intimate affair.
Run by Genji UK, whose managing director co-founded local favourite Feng Sushi, the restaurant is all about quality and produce. Named in honour of the original Japanese novel The Tale of Genji, they first opened their doors as an independent neighbourhood restaurant in Philadelphia, offering healthy, authentic Japanese cuisine. Today, Chefs Tstevan Greganov and Masa Tanaka, of Feng Sushi and Koya Frith Street, have done a great job with the menu at Sushi and Robata; with an emphasis on good produce, they employ the traditional methods with a thoroughly modern approach using the freshest, locally sourced sustainable ingredients
The food. Oh man, the food. If you’re someone who likes to eat with their eyes, you’ll be spoilt for choice here, as the whole menu is accompanied by pictures. What was once the favourite of dodgy Chinese restaurants has now become mainstream, and rather trendy indeed.
The menu is divided into robata grill, small plates and sushi, with lots of lovely nibbles for the table, such as homemade Japanese pickles (£2.50), delicious miso soup (£2.50) and chilli edamame (£4) with a homemade chilli sauce. We started with the Nasu Dengaku (£6.50) -a classic Japanese side dish of eggplant, brushed with a sweet, salty and savory miso glaze – which was served warm and soft with lots of sesame sauce, and the salmon tartare on crispy rice (£8). Nasu Dengaku is one of my absolute favourites and did not disappoint, and the salmon tartare is an usual take on a classic dish, with crunchy, almost fried sushi rice sitting below soy-seasoned salmon, with sprinkles of sesame. The salmon was well balanced and delicious to eat… Seriously moreish.
If you’re a meat lover, try the robata grill dishes – a Japanese-style barbecued meat, fish and vegetables skewered and slow cooked. It’s £14 for 5 pieces, and selections include tuna sesame tataki, asparagus with minced beef and pork belly. As we’re meat-free, we tried the asparagus stick, which was nice, but perhaps not a highlight of the meal.
The sushi, however, is a crowning glory. Their spicy tuna rolls (£9.75 for 8 pieces) with tuna, avocado and mizuna leaves, are bang on, with just the right amount of kick, and the classic salmon and avocado rolls (£11 for 8 pieces) are melt-in-the-mouth soft, with the sushi rich cooked to absolute perfection.
We loved the Peruvian Twist (£12.50) dish – which features Hiramasa, also known as Yellowtail with kimchi, jalapeño, wakame, avocado and coriander salsa. The unusual dish is a lighter alternative to the traditional rice sushi, but still packs a serious punch. The salmon tataki (£9.75) is also perfect – with a fruity ponzu dressing really adding a new level of flavour to the fish, and just the right amount of sauce to coat the fish, without overpowering it.
If you’re feeling virtuous, there’s also brown quinoa sushi with avocado, which is light and delicious. We also tried the Protein Power Ranger (£6) – a salad consisting of wakame seaweed, silken tofu, red quinoa, baby leaves and ginger miso dressing. It’s nice, but nothing to write home amount, and doesn’t quite match the depth of flavour in the other dishes.
The highlight of the meal is the Salmon Selection Perfection (£14.75) – a platter of salmon chilli maki, salmon nigiri and salmon sashimi. It’s good value for money, with delicious rolls and sashimi, and enough variety to keep you happy. One of my favourite more substantial dishes is the Chilean Seabass (£25), which is served simply grilled, letting all the fresh flavour of fish do the talking. It’s an impressive, bold dish, that adds a real depth to the meal. All in all, the food here is totally top notch.
There’s a solid selection of Japanese sake, wines and beer, with a couple of Japanese-inspired cocktails with sake and shochu for good measure. If you’re feeling spendy, we opted for a small bottle of the sparkling sake (£20), which is one of those things I feel compelled to order when I see it. It’s sweet, a little bit fizzy and totally indulgent – the perfect thing to compliment a sushi feast.
You know what, Sushi and Robata does more than it says on the tin. The sushi is good. The robata is good. But the vibe is really good, too. With just the right of informality to keep it light and breezy, and enough style and substance from the menu to keep it exciting, I was surprised walking away from dinner to realise that we just had a Date Night in a supermarket. And they say romance is dead people. If you’re looking for a new Japanese gem in the heart of London, I can’t recommend Sushi and Robata enough. I think this might just be my secret spot of 2016 – get your lycra on and pop down there to discover the magic yourself.
Sushi and Robata is at The Barkers Building, 63-97 Kensington High St, London W8 5SE