SADLY NOW CLOSED
PART of the mystique of the Japanese Restaurant is to be out of the way, in a side street, slightly hard to find, make an effort as they say. Wazen – meaning Wa for Japan and zen for table – is on the Kings Cross one way system, formerly the Prince Albert pub and then Oliver Rowe’s individual restaurant which had distinctive chain mail netting around the windows.
The room has all been stripped back and the kitchen moved up/downstairs. Some very heavy wooden tables and chairs now dominate. It is nicely sparse, high ceilinged with a blackboard list of specials for the evening. The web site says it is an art gallery without paintings…you are the art. Or the kitchen is.
I have read a couple of MOR reviews here which miss the point. As friends who have spent years in Japan assert, it is the closest London restaurant to eating in Japan itself. Leave aside the stellar priced, booked ahead, Michelin Mayfair duo of Araki (omakasi £300 pp) or Umu (£100 pp), the sadly defunct Tetsu and the fusion of Jason Atherton’s newbie Sosharu, Wazen combines style, quality and also some value. Of course you can spend a lot of money, especially on the sakes, but it is not strictly necessary, especially at lunch where there are bentos from £10, the Wazen sushi roll is £6.50 and even the Japanese factory staple of a curry starts at £6.50 going up to £10 for chicken…
You have to read between the lines here. The ingredients have been carefully and individually sourced including excellent rice. The soy has its own little glass teapot. Plates are often individual and different. And not unlike Atherton’s Pollen Street there is a sense of show and display. The bento is served as two stacked oblong bamboo boxes. The donburai comes in a big laquer bowl with a lid.
The vegetarian option in the bento is a lovely mix of teriyaki bean curd and wild mushrooms – it changes though. Or salmon teriyaki as the main course comes with its sides of a perfect hijiki and carrot, greens and tofu, stunning because the fish is not just fresh and perfectly cooked but the central vertical fillet, its sauce rich and fruity.
There are some elements of fusion, playing on the idea of both seasons and being in London, there is a foie gras teriyaki and also in the desserts a berry compote meringue with yuzo ice cream or matcha tiramisu …in fact chef Toshimasa Tanahashi has also worked in French and Italian restaurants and may use some French broths. He heads a team of four chefs. I would expect Michelin to give it a star next year. Mottainai!
Wazen, 2 Acton Street, WC1X 9NA
0203 632 1069 http://www.wazen-restaurant,co.uk