From a major Oriental operator, a competent but, on our visit, almost deserted Japanese restaurant, decorated in nightclub style, five floors above Regent Street.
Intrigued by our recent visit to the neighbouring Spanish restaurant, aqua nueva, we felt the need to hot-foot back across town to see how the neighbouring Japanese restaurant had turned out. There’s not much point in us setting the scene again, so if you haven’t read that earlier review, please do so now.
Our early lunching experience of the Japanese operation was just like the Spanish one: perfectly competent, but nothing to get excited about (if with perhaps a bit more atmosphere here). The details hardly matter, though, as the key point is that it was pretty much empty; the sort of empty that makes you feel sorry for the staff (who were charming, and trying hard). And, if anything, the Spanish part, which we revisited, was even emptier than it had been on our first visit.
Causes are not hard to find. The absurdly discreet entrance doesn’t look like a restaurant at all: even a nightclub like Annabel’s is less of a shrinking violet than this place is. There is no menu outside – isn’t that illegal anyway? And why, when so many restaurants which don’t need doormen have them nowadays, does this place – which desperately does – not have two? (Hey, one in Spanish dress, one Japanese – at least they’d be noticed.) If you do summon up the courage to go in, the Stygian ground floor lobby feels positively spooky. We were half way across the apparently deserted room when a voice demanded to know our business. Well, to go to the restaurant; the lifts from the lobby go nowhere else.
The whole approach is so wrong that it makes you wonder how anyone – even more a highly regarded international operator with a number of outlets in the East – can spend millions, and still not have thought properly about the basics of getting people into such an obscurely-located restaurant in the first place. We’re told that measures are in hand to put right many of the most obvious defects. But is there time? Without the mother of all relaunches, this place is fast beginning to look like the biggest pre-Christmas turkey London has ever seen.