Thursday, 3 October 2013
There are some restaurants that shower you with generosity, where for what essentially amounts to loose change you can eat as many lamb chops and seekh kebabs, or home-style cabbage, or devilled mutton as you can stuff in your face. These are the uncrowned kings of London dining, serving food that, at any price would be worth the effort, but for the pittance they charge is something approaching miraculous.
Most other restaurants can't hope to compete at this level, but the reason you don't leave feeling like you've been metaphorically hung upside down and shaken until all your money falls out is because the food, service and atmosphere are decent enough for it to have been worth the outlay. Obviously there are exceptions, but this after all the hospitality industry we're talking about, and anywhere that doesn't make you feel welcome or valued is failing on a fundamental level.
Speaking of which, Kirazu. It isn't the first time in 2013 that I've left dinner feeling like I've been fleeced - nobody is likely to challenge Balthazar for the London's Greatest Restaurant Ripoff title - but the price/portion size ratio at this tiny Soho joint is just so out of whack it's bordering on upsetting.
Which is a shame, because portion sizes aside, the food isn't bad. Tofu with spicy minced beef had a lovely kick of chilli and the tofu had a perfect texture - not too collapsey and not too firm. Deep-fried dumplings had a good crunch and a generous filling, and the ponzu-style dip matched them very well. And a thimble full of seared cod's roe was genuinely impressive, a fresh zing of the sea tempered with a soft smokiness from the pan. If only there had been, you know, a bit more of it.
But of the less successful dishes, takoyaki (deep-fried octopus balls) seemed to contain no octopus whatsoever and were just little hot sacks of bechamel - £3.50 for three. And chicken karaage was a complete disaster, soggy and bland (felt like they'd been soaking in cold oil rather than frying), and presented - don't ask me why - with cherry tomatoes and basil as if the chef had started trying to make an Italian chicken Parmigiana then remembered where he worked. Bizarre.
So, I'm torn. Some of the ingredients were top-notch, some of the dishes tasted great, and I'd even consider going back to try the cod's roe and tofu etc. again if it weren't for the fact the final bill, with just two beers and a small jar of sake, came to £70. Seventy pounds for half a dozen miniscule portions of mainly decent Japanese food and a drink or two. This is not value, and coupled with the horrible seating arrangements (choose from cheek-to-jowl with your neighbours on a splinter-ridden wooden bench, or squeezed onto a stool near the toilets) and scatty service, and you have yourself all the ingredients for a rather mediocre evening out. I didn't hate Kirazu, despite their best efforts, but I doubt you'll see me there again.