In a serene little pocket of London, its rebirth as Koji marks a new era for this upmarket Japanese eatery. Partnered with a plush interior, Koji makes its mark with fashionista chandeliers, a robata grill & a gleaming cocktail bar. We learn that Koji is the pure, initial base of saké, signifying new beginnings blossoming now that these premises have crafted a new concept. You may recognise the venue as the ‘artist formerly known as Mao Tai,’ and more recently, Kozu. Venturing forth from sushi royalty, Koji sushi master Nobuhisha Takahasi was head chef for Nobu in London and Cape Town, lending his expertise to the Koji concept along with Pat & Mark Barnett, proprietor/s of Mao Tai for 29 years. Having graced a few of the big-name players, we were keen to find out how this swish Parsons Green restaurant matched up with Japanese restaurant heavyweights such as Nobu and the like.
We’re sat in a table overlooking the uber-zen Japanese garden, aglow with twinkling lights and lush greenery, and to start, we vow a pledge to first tackle a couple of cocktails. With a Pan-Asian element, the lemongrass martini had a subtle buzz of chilli and mellowness from apple, along with a Manhattan from the impressive Equilibrium selection of classic cocktails and fusion martinis.
Having made a concerted effort to try a dish from most sections of the accomplished menu, the first dish from the hot tapas section arrives. A failsafe go-to dish, the Japanese-style dumpling of chicken gyoza featured shiso, and was griddled with ginger and warm spices. To match, we tried the Spanish Ribeiro Fino, cutting through with beautifully zingy, clean notes.
Snazzy sheets of transparent umami jelly gave the fresh tuna tartar a distinctively futuristic look, while the caviar and gold leaf added some glitz and spangle to this edgily sophisticated take on a Japanese classic.
The yuzu squid was one of the best we’ve tried with an exceptionally good barely-there, light and crisp batter. Paired with the squid was a citrus-infused Japanese creamy yuzu dip with floral notes.
Fresh from Koji’s new embedded sushi counter, a selection of salmon sashimi and assorted nigiri brought by our waiter showcased the honed skills of the Koji sushi chefs. This was also the first time we’d tried fresh wasabi, fleshed out against a sharkskin-sheathed grater, lending an extra savage bite! We thought it would be milder but it still packed all the punch of the pea-green incarnation you would find in your usual sushi joint.
Soft shell crab tempura maki were deliciously light but surprisingly filling. The fresh sweetness of the crab shined through with the contrasting herbiness of the burdock leaves, forging a perfectly constructed sushi selection.
The exotically leaf-wrapped black cod miso was richer in flavour than previous versions we’ve tried elsewhere: the rich, treacley taste of miso coated the perfectly tender, white flesh of the fish partnered with the new addition of a 5-spice melange.
Soft and sweet, the miso-glazed pork belly had beautiful charred flavours from the robata grill, finished off with mild sweetness from miso and veiled with aromatic spices, making this a must-try dish.
As one of the signature trademarks, the waiter recommended we try the asparagus griddled on the robata with green sauce. It was a good recommendation; the citrus-marinated shredded garlic and onion brought the perfectly charred asparagus spears to life with zingy richness, against the earthy fronds of terracotta chilli pepper.
Bursting with colour, the yuzu cheesecake was not overly sweet and had a scarlet-red berry garnish, giving a decidedly wintry twist. Tartness came from the red berry coulis, making this a preferred option for those looking for a very subtly sweet dessert.
Likewise, with the Ho Ji Cha crème brulee had caramel sweetness from the burnished sugar yet gave way to a mild green tea crème, giving the right balance of yin and yang.
Forging the perfect balance between trendsetting and long-established specialities, this up-and-coming restaurant is well worth a visit for its contemporary take on Japanese cuisine. Koji already has an exceptional reputation with in-the-know sushi lovers, and after our visit I think it’s fair to say that Koji steadfastly competes with Japanese powerhouse players Zuma and Nobu, in a serene suburban retreat.
Koji, 58 New Kings Road, London, SW6 4LS