What happens when an everyday Japanese staple is elevated to a brasserie concept?
But what happens when an everyday Japanese staple is elevated to a brasserie concept? We went to Anzu to find out.
First, a design intervention. The Tonkotsu group’s designer Maja Myall spent time in Tokyo to absorb the Japanese capital’s interior design clout. At Anzu, which opened in November in St James’s Market, the Japanese influence is expressed through use of rich timber, wall cladding inspired by Geta (traditional Japanese sandals) and warm, indirect lighting. Each table is artfully set using dishware brought in especially from Japan. Everything feels like it was placed there purposefully, and with care.
So the scene is set. But what about the food? The impetus for Anzu was to evolve the Tonkotsu concept with a more expansive, experimental menu. Founder and head chef Ken Yamada has a hefty recipe book, but the ramen-centric nature of Tonkotsu isn’t doesn’t make for a conducive outlet for the breafth of his culinary talent. Ergo Anzu, where sesame spinach gomae and agedashi tofu share menu space with Japanese pickles, katsu curry and even bistro classics with a Japanese twist: moules frites under the guise of sake-steamed mussels with nori salt fries. And unlike the slurp-and-go approach behind Tonkotsu, Anzu is a place where diners can sit and enjoy a languid meal.
And with great determination, that’s exactly what we set out to do. In a slight bout of unoriginality, we began our lunch with edamame beans. Crunchy on the inside with a generous sprinkling of salt as is mandated. The king prawn dumplings that followed were plump and delicious, served with a side of soy sauce for dipping. The chicken kara-age, a fried chicken dish ubiquitous on izakaya menus, was crispy and succulent, and especially enhanced when doused in a vinegary sipping sauce.
At this stage, it would be careless to continue this lunchtime retelling without brief mention of the chilli oil. Every table at every Tonkotsu is topped with a little jar, and we were relieved to see that Anzu was no exception. This chilli sauce is heavenly stuff. The toasted sesame gives it a nutty fullness, complimented by a garlicky umami and the d’Arbol chilli flakes and shichimi togarashi Japanese spice mix give it a good kick of spice. They are sold by the jar, but after slathering each dish in this moreish goodness, this writer will be investigating how to buy it by the bucket.
Thomas Blythe, the well-spoken maître d’, floated in with our mains. Mirin-steamed cod was presented sealed in a clay pot and accompanied by mussels and salty broth and greens. A crispy vegetable katsu of pumpkin and squash came nestled on a neat bed of steamed rice, with a pool of curry sauce poured along the rim. The perfect amount to soak each piece of katsu in the zesty sauce, but not too much to diminish the light crispiness of the batter. A welcome addition of Japanese pickles refreshes the dish with a little touch of sour.
The entire meal was accompanied by a cheeky portion of lunchtime sake called Sky Conqueror. The well-appointed sake list is Anzu’s way of encouraging diners to explore the Japanese rice wine. According to Blythe, sake is brewed like beer but is meant to be drank like wine. We also learned one shouldn't pour their own sake, otherwise it’s bad luck. We obliged.
Too full and happy for dessert, we left Anzu feeling like we’d only scratched the surface, let alone explore the list of bespoke cocktails. But with spring just around the corner and a generous patio for al fresco dining, you’ll be able to catch us on the terrace with a Japanese negroni in hand.