After the culinary wasteland that was the lockdown summer of 2020, there could be no better or more sumptuous feast to break it with than the 14-course Omakase menu at Hot Stone London.
For those that are new to the concept of Omakase, as I was, it roughly translates as ‘entrusted’ as you are trusting the chef to decide what he serves you. So no pouring over a menu before painfully deciding which dish to have, only to have serious food envy for your companion’s superior choice. Just 14 courses of decadent dishes, with the chef talking you through each morsel.
Hot Stone’s Omakase evening is also perfect for social distancing. Only four guests are allowed into the restaurant at any one time and, as they lower the shutters, blocking out the street and any disturbance from the outside world, this is about as private as private dining gets.
The meal (and to be honest it’s best described as ‘the evening’s entertainment’ because this really isn’t your run of the mill sit and eat while food is handed to you kind of vibe) is presided over by Executive Chef Padam Raj Rai, whose theatrics and humor creates a fantastic vibe and pace to the evening. He describes himself as a talker, and when he’s chronicling the provenance of the next dish, why he is creating it in a certain way, and the history behind it, you really don’t want him to stop.
We started with some Dewazakura Dewa 33 sake, which was recommended as a perfect accompaniment for the intense flavors of the first few kobachi small plates, outlined below.
– Ika somen, which is warm, delicate squid served with okra, seaweed and wasabi.
– Clear seafood soup with succulent octopus, salmon, prawn and the warm heat of ginger.
– Sashimi – a trio of tuna sashimi nestled in a wasabi leaf perched on a bed of ice. The chef insisted we ate these in a specific order.
– Hand dived scallop from Scotland, paired with a truffle ponzu sauce.
– Seared wild butterfish from Indonesia with hamachi in a green jalapeno sauce that packed a punch.
– A cooling watercress mango salsa with black pepper yuzu dressing, the perfect antidote to the heat of the previous mouthful.
– A5 Japanese wagyu sirloin cooked in front of us on a hot stone.
We were then treated to the theatre of Padam Raj Rai’s sushi crafting skills. We were given bowls of ginger, and instructed to eat one piece before each piece of sushi, and one piece after – effectively cleansing our palate to ensure the delicate flavors of the fish are enjoyed as they should be. As we moved into the sushi courses we were served Nigori sake, which is coconutty, velvety with the distinctive milky color one traditionally associates with sake. The sushi dishes are outlined below.
– Spanish sea bass with yuzu miso and crispy leak.
– Fatty Spanish tuna served with a truffle slice and caviar perched on top. This is, hands down, the best sushi I have ever tasted.
– Salmon nigiri.
– Gunkan – quail eggs with salmon ikura (roe).
– Unagi (eel) with teriyaki and goma (sesame).
– A handroll of fatty tuna and salmon with roasted seaweed.
– Warm green tea cheesecake with a side of pomegranate.
Each dish was presented with an exclamation in Japanese, which essentially means ‘here we go’ but of course means 100 other things. After the silent, culinary drought and isolation of lockdown, it added to the authentic drama of the evening.
The fact that Omakase invites such dialogue between guest and chef, where more than just food is shared, creates something special and unique. Hot Stone has created an incredible experience, a perfect antidote and succor in today’s world.