It was recently my 25th birthday (two weeks ago, I’ve been banging on about it for far too long now), and for said birthday my boyfriend organised a meal at a surprise location. Despite attempting to book a simple table for two on a Wednesday evening over a month in advance, there were none available. Not until two weeks later. On a Monday. At 9 p.m.
Now I’m no stranger to dining out, but my exploits in London thus far haven’t expanded much further than Nandos and wherever is cheapest on Tastecard – what can I say, living in London is damn expensive. Anyway, I was excited to visit somewhere so in demand, and expecting the ultimate height of culinary sophistication.
I arrived at our meeting point of Liverpool Street station and was told that the allusive restaurant was none other than Sushi Samba – a place I’d actually heard of after listening to many a colleague rave about it. At first I was apprehensive. I know it’s not very fashionable, but I have to admit I’m generally a bit ‘take it or leave it’ when it comes to sushi. I just don’t quite get what all the fuss is about – it’s only raw fish and vegetables wrapped in rice after all. To me a sushi restaurant being fully booked up six weeks in advance was just so London it bordered on comic.
However, as anyone who has had the Sushi Samba experience will agree – this is no standard sushi restaurant, and it’s well worth the wait.
Sushi Samba sits on the 38th floor of the Heron Tower – a standard glass sky scraper building that in itself is nothing great to look at, but offers some of the most stunning views of London’s skyline. Your experience starts in the all-glass lift, that whizzes you up at such a pace it makes your ears pop. You can see everything as you go; below you, in front of you, to the side of you. This makes you feel two things: terrified (if, like me, you have a fear of heights that gets only progressively worse) and like you’re in some futuristic world, like the Matrix or any given Will Smith film.
On surviving the lift you arrive into a bar, artfully decked out with slick surfaces, graffiti-style splashes of paint on the walls, and short tables that offer a perfect view of the chefs cooking up bar snacks. The bar has a sophisticated yet casual feel to it, but when you step inside the restaurant the atmosphere changes completely. Between the dimmed lighting, waiters bustling round in suits, and flowing bubbly – I’ve never felt fancier.
Fellow sushi sceptics will be pleased to know that the menu doesn’t just feature straight-up sushi, but fuses the cuisines of Japan, Brazil, and Peru. We ordered a range of dishes from the different sections of the menu. All the plates are designed for sharing amongst the table, but as I didn’t want to limit myself to veggie food, we each picked our own. Worried about not having enough food we ordered an appetiser and two small plates each. This was a LOT of food. Contrary to what the staff would have your believe, the portions are more than ample, and boast such a range of flavours that to over indulge in any one of them feels wasteful.
To start with I ordered the Brazilian style grilled peppers, which came with a slightly charred lemon for squeezing and looked pretty as a picture. The dish was tasty, if a little tiresome once I’d worked my way through the whole portion, and made me slightly jealous of my boyfriend’s delicately flavoured miso soup.
The small plates arrived all at once, and were a real feast for the eyes. Not since binge-watching Masterchef have I seen such artistry. The sushi, or ‘maki’, dishes come served with various sauces and condiments, all either dotted or spread across the plate – each taking the maki on a different flavour journey. Be warned – just the tiniest bit of their wasabi can be overpowering, and the strips of pickled ginger, while they balance the maki well with their sharp sweetness, should be applied sparingly. The real winner in the condiments department though was their soy dipping sauce. I have no idea how they make it, but lets just say it wipes the floor with Tesco’s own.
To get my meat fix I ordered their kuromitsu glazed pork belly, which despite being on their small plates section, was a fairly sizeable amount of pork for one person. Still, I didn’t want to waste a single bite of it – it was beautiful. Beautifully cooked – soft and melt in your mouth but with a slight crisp on the outside – beautifully flavoured – with a sweet orange glaze – and beautifully presented – topped with pickled onion, palmito, and a leafy garnish (don’t quite know the name of that one).
I had initial doubts about the suitability of this restaurant for vegetarians – there’s only so much veg wrapped in rice a person can eat, surely? However I was pleasantly surprised to find a wide range of dishes, including the corn-coated tofu from the large plates section, which was served with a refreshing quinoa salad topped with an egg yolk, and crispy Peruvian potato chips. In all of this there was one clear stand out dish for me: the coconut rice we ordered to share. It may sound like a fairly standard meal accompaniment, but it was like no rice I have ever tasted. It was creamy, it was sweet, it was coconut-y. It was perfect. I have no idea how they make it, but I have made it my mission to find out.
Watch this space…