North of Liverpool Street, an understated (to a fault) bar/restaurant offering the cuisine of Kyoto; despite the best efforts of the charming staff, and the beautiful presentation of the dishes, our early-days lunch was very dull.
We were rather excited by the idea of Chrysan – the first non-Hakkasan-branded outlet of the group founded by Alan Yau (and from which he has now substantially sold out). Yau (currently launching the Bangkok-styled Naamyaa Café in Islington) has a knack of not offering just really good food, but an atmosphere that’s often characterised as ‘sexy’. He famously pulled off this trick at Hakkasan, and – at a lower price point – at Busaba Eathai too. This new establishment, surely, would carry his spirit on, offering not just the refined cuisine of Kyoto, but also a good dose of slick style.
The entrance – next to L’Anima, a great City success-story – is certainly discreet. How subtle, we thought, to offer so little external hint of the excitements that undoubtedly lay within.
First impression on entering: unusually decorative staff, and they were trying very hard too. So far so good. Second impression: what happened to sexy? The bar is Japanese as if conceived by Scandinavians; it had no atmosphere at all when we swung by for a pre-lunch drink. Indeed, it was quite difficult to imagine how it ever could. Even for a business rendezvous, it seemed a cold and vacant space.
The long dining room was rather in keeping – more elegant, but just as dull. It’s really not so hard for a restaurant to be understated in an upbeat way, as L’Anima convincingly demonstrates. Why did Hakkasan, with all its experience, not succeed in injecting some of the same pizzazz here?
Perhaps Kyoto is supposed to be dull? Japanese culture is much too impenetrable for any outsiders like us to pronounce on authoritatively, but we have been to Kyoto, and do not recall restaurants being totally unatmospheric. If anything, rather the reverse.
Someone must have decided that this was a venture which was all about the food. The Bento boxes were a key part of the menu, so two standard boxes and a veggie one seemed the way for our party of three to get a wide choice of the kitchen’s output.
It turned out that each menu consisted of a bowl of miso soup (meaty, in the non-veggie option, which was not necessarily an advantage) plus two Perspex trays, each displaying some of the prettiest food we have ever seen – perhaps 20 highly-wrought mouth-sized bites.
Sadly, though, the cliché about being ‘too pretty to eat’ turned out to be more a piece of practical advice. This was one of those lunches where, half way through, one of us asked if anyone had really tasted anything, and the answer from the rest of the party was a pretty consistent ‘not really’. The only thing we can remember from the box was a superb lobster claw. The disparity between the effort which had gone into presentation, and the results on the taste front was overwhelming.
Despite the efforts of the well-meaning staff, then, we couldn’t really think of a single sort of lunch or dinner party – Citified or otherwise – for which this establishment could really be recommended in preference to, say, L’Anima.
In fairness we should note that we have read very positive reviews, and that we have a suspicion that we might have done better choosing from the (relatively short) à la carte selection. The Bento boxes, however, were hardly a budget choice, and surely a natural, for a City lunch.