Japanese dining in London, it seems, ranges from the cheap, grab-and-go sushi outlets of almost every West End street corner, to sophisticated Michelin-starred eateries that serve up the city’s finest sashimi.
Canteen-style set ups, reflective of Tokyo’s typical ‘Izakaya’ have become as common as sandwich shops. Rows of benches with disposable chop-sticks and paper placemats which waitresses scribble your order on are just as convenient as the sushi chains that allow you to grab a colour-coded sushi roll from a moving conveyor belt. There’s no perusing over Sake or chatting over a candle lit table. It’s quick and tasty dining without the frills.
But go up the Japanese dining scale and it ranges from the upmarket ‘Teppanyaki’ style joint where animated chefs cook skewered meat over an open grill, to the likes of celeb favourite Nobu where everyone who’s anyone goes to be seen.
But what about a Japanese venue that’s quirky, exciting, and classy all in one? Belle was invited along to Soho’s new restaurant Tapasia – a clever fusion of Japanese and tapas. Verdict? We loved it.
The team behind Tapasia come from the award-winning restaurant Tsunami. Already impressing the people of Clapham and Fitzrovia, their newest venue is slightly different.
We walked along Old Compton Street three times before we spotted the narrow front of Tapasia, a couple of doors down from G-A-Y. A moodily-lit and trendy bar decorated with vases of red hibiscus greets you. The main dining area upstairs is a 70-cover restaurant but seems far smaller.
The bare brick walls give an informal vibe and the naked light bulbs hanging overhead bring more of an edgy Hoxton than Soho feel. It was slightly disappointing to see we had disposable chopsticks in a venue with such a trendy feel, but it’s a small price to pay for what turned out to be great food. The menu was fuss-free – no sushi, sashimi or tempura. Just 16 hot and cold tapas creations ranging in price from £4.50 to £10.50 that combine flavours from the East and West.
Following the waiter’s recommendations we chose a selection of six tapas to share.
The ‘Kara Age’ (Fried chicken salad with fresh chilli and cucumber noodles) was fresh, tasty and loaded with chillies. We whet our appetites with the Scallop Tartar Chip – a picture perfect dish of scallop tartar, separated from an avocado guacamole by a crispy Gyoza chip. It was a little bland perhaps, but nonetheless pleasantly light – a good contrast to the meaty dishes that were still to come.
The Gochijang Barbeque Pork was a tangy fusion of sweet and sour. And the Ying Yang Kushi Yaki (beef fillet skewers) were cooked deliciously rare. With a duo of tarragon sauce and extra spicy Tapasia sauce they were simply more-ish. But we were simply blown away by Tapasia’s Yuzu Kosho Jumbo Tiger Prawns and the Shichimi Pork Belly creations.
The prawns were perfectly chargrilled and meaty and the Shichimi pork belly, was simply heaven on a plate. It was served on a miniature iron griddle pan and topped with a fresh Granny Smith apple salad. The stickiness of the sauce left an eruption of ginger, chilli and fruity flavours. And the slow roasted pork was amazingly soft.
With blanched choi sum with chilli garlic oyster sauce and jasmine rice on the side, this was an exciting dining experience. The upbeat funky house music in the background and chic surroundings make Tapasia trendy, yet not uptight.
Whether we’d have cleared our plates quite as enthusiastically if we’d chosen the Nasu Miso (grilled aubergine with sweet miso on a yoghurt hummus) or Okinomi Yaki (Japanese omelette) we’re not sure. But we finished the evening with a relaxing couple of cocktails by the bar. And in keeping with eastern flavours, we tried a pineapple and Thai basil Mojito and Japanese Bellini. More daring Belles might go for the ‘Sakura’ – a powerful mix of Hibiki 12, Cherry Liquor, Lemon and chocolate bitters. Or if you wanted to end the meal with something a little lighter, there are also iced teas and sorbets to choose from.
We love grab and go sushi as equally as we’d love to indulge in Michelin-star Eastern cuisine but for beautifully presented and flavoursome Japanese fusion in the bustling centre of Soho – Tapasia is simply brilliant.
Tapasia, 32 Old Compton Street, Soho, London, W1D 4TP
by Lucy McGuire