Thirty-eight floors above the City, one of the world’s most ambitious indoor/outdoor elevated restaurants; prices are high, but the place was already into an impressive swing on our day-one visit – even though the trendy Japanese/South American cuisine is rather incidental, this will surely be one of 2012's major talking points.
estination dining is a worrying phrase, but surely the appropriate one for this new venture, looking down on London from the 38th and 39th floors of the City’s Heron Tower. Yes, that’s 30 floors higher than Oxo Tower, the only indoor/outdoor restaurant in London on anything like a comparable scale.
Indeed, it seems that London’s Sushisamba – an offshoot of two earthbound ventures in New York – is one of the most ambitiously-elevated restaurant complexes anywhere in the world. (The only one we know of that's broadly similar in concept is on the 62nd floor of a hotel in Bangkok.)
The backers of the new London venture have sensibly let the setting speak for itself: the light and airy interior design is unintrusive to a fault: why bother with too much theming when you have the whole capital as your backdrop? The concept works best as darkness draws in.
The dining room itself looks east, which certainly seemed very 'now' during the Olympics, but deprives visitors of the more obvious picture postcard views of the City and West End – and they are indeed breathtaking – which you get from the lift, from the bar and (especially) from around the staircase which leads to the 39th floor. (From there you can ascend yet again to a semi-separate venture called Duck & Waffle, which is set to be London’s first 24/7 quality restaurant of recent times.)
It is thanks to those views, presumably, that cocktails, pretty decent as they are, weigh in at around £12 each. Well, you’re paying for elevation aren’t you? And arguably pretty good value, if you find yourself on the terrace, under the (artificial) tree on a warm evening. (We had to use our imagination for that last bit.)
We visited on the first paying night, when the operation was, in every sense, already in impressively full swing. Indeed, if we hadn't bumped into the PR (who had given us a 'walk-around' a couple of weeks before), we suspect we wouldn't have secured a proper table, and have had to content ourselves with a visit to the sushi bar.
So, yes, we were 'recognised’, but apart from a welcoming cocktail (thank you), we didn’t get the feeling that we were in any way given special treatment. And one benefit was that we had a bit of a chat with one of the co-owners. He would like us to believe that this is a ‘Shoreditch restaurant’, not a ‘City restaurant’. Preposterous? Given the early-days crowd – which included such multi-various groupings as married couples, a family with a baby, and a party of gay men, as well as a few 'suits' – the early-days signs are that attracting a non-City following is a less outrageous idea than the temple-of-Mammon setting might suggest.
This is a large establishment, and all these people, in shiny 21st-century London, seem to find it quite normal to dine in an operation where you’d struggle to spend less than £60 a head, and a ‘night out’, with a few cocktails, could easily run to £150 a head. (Opening is till the early hours.)
Looking at the online reviews of the New York Sushisambas, it was always likely that the food at the London outpost would be a bit of a supporting attraction, and such was our initial impression here. The formula is small(ish) plates, and the trendy culinary style is Japan-meets-South-America. Each of the four dishes we tried was explained in detail by lovely staff… most of whom had such thick accents that they really needn’t have bothered.
Fortunate, then, that people don’t read our reviews for blow-by-blow accounts of the food. Suffice it to say, our best dish was a mixed ceviche, prettily presented too. The least exciting was a South American version of the dish which in Morocco they call pastilla (and which, in Cornwall, where it’s done on a larger scale, is traditionally described as a ‘pasty’).
Will this brave venture work out? We would guess so. Most Londoners who can afford it will probably want to go and 'get the t-shirt', and for entertaining foreign clients (in particular), the attractions for the City market are pretty obvious. And all recent experience suggests the ‘surely there can’t be the money to keep this all going’ argument is, for whatever reason, erroneous.
This is one Sushisamba party, we suspect, which will run for a while yet.