In a hidden spot just off Holborn’s Kingsway, Wabi is a gourmet Japanese retreat with a good dose of clean-cut Zen chic. Embodying understated luxury, the restaurant is named after Wabi-sabi (佗寂), the Japanese aesthetic centred on the acceptance of transience, simple beauty and imperfection. At Wabi, however, they’ve got it pretty close to perfection.
Sister restaurant to the established Horsham venue, the edgy interior at Wabi reveals a jazzy New York-style glass-walled kitchen, an immaculate sushi counter and a minimalist bar. Exotic, bespoke cocktails with fresh pomegranate and lychee are rustled up by the enthusiastic bartender whilst we wait for our table, perched at the slick bar counter. The dark, understated dining room has a brooding feel, punctuated by green bamboo and super-slick furnishings, and we get down to business and assess the menu at the table. A pan-Asian aficionado, executive chef Scott Hallsworth has an illustrious background in the Japanese dining scene as previous head chef at Nobu London, alongside a wealth of experience gathered at groundbreaking pan-Asian restaurants across the globe. This guy knows his stuff, and it shows in the menu, as our waiter expertly recommends some trademark Wabi gems.
Easy on the eye, a beautiful petal-strewn plate of delicately sliced yuzu koji scallop topped with black olive crumb arrives first. Although very good, the dish was crying out for a punchy sauce to accentuate the sweet flesh of the scallops.
A true showstopper, the foie gras martini slinks onto the table and seriously impresses. We scoop up the luxurious nuggets of richly sweet foie gras and fruity-soft umeshu jelly with the crunchy rice crackers. This is an awesome combination, with a brilliant balance of both texture and flavour.
Luxurious beyond compare, decadent diver scallops are coated in a sublime yuzu truffle egg sauce, complemented with the crunchy bite of yellow yuzu tobiko (flying fish roe). The sweet seared scallops and the rich truffley sauce are a heavenly combination, and one of the best dishes we tried.
A futuristic looking number, the tuna tataki nestles underneath its translucent tomato sheet blanket, while velvety violet hued petals contribute to an immaculate presentation and the meaty-red tuna, lightly seared, is of the finest quality. Again, I can’t help feel that a drizzle of Japanese dressing would add a vibrant flourish to the dish.
The much anticipated barbeque pork belly buns were one of the screamingly good highlights of the evening. Juicy pork nestled in charred, soft rice buns against the spicy crunch of the peanut dipping sauce tasted like perfection. Seriously, it’s worth a trip to Wabi just to check these out; I predict they will be the talk of the town before long.
Our impassioned waiter encourages us to try a platter of the chef’s best sushi and who are we to refuse? It was all deliciously fresh; the tender wagyu beef maki and tempura cornets being the highlights, while a grassy, citrusy Riesling accompanies the platter. Avocado and shrimp tempura dragon roll with grilled unagi could have been packed tighter; it was still delicious but I have tasted better elsewhere.
From the wood-fired section of the menu, we choose the kombu-roasted Chilean sea bass. Roasted to charred succulence under the wood-fire flame, the opaque white flesh gloriously flaked apart, perfectly finished with a smattering of spicy shiso ponzu-flecked sauce. The sea bass was a winner in both flavour and presentation, darkly pretty in its simplicity.
Feeling rather devoid of carnivorous dishes, we shamelessly order the ribeye steak. It’s a modest portion for the price but at this point in the proceedings, this is fine by me. Doused in Japanese Asahi beer, the delicious ribeye holds a chargrilled, tender bite with a kick of wasabi. I could take or leave the soba noodles but we happily plough on with the excellent blackened ribeye morsels.
The next dish carries a welcome dose of Wabi theatre. Set in jet-black earthenware, the confit chicken wings sit above a lick of dancing blue flame, punctuated with charred green chillis and maximised with heat from the trademark Wabi red hot-sauce. The crunch of the lotus flowers contrast against the crispy confit chicken which packs a dragon-flame punch. This is a solid, sturdy dish but yields little meat.
We hit the dessert menu, and things step up a gear rapidly. It’s fair to say that the ‘zen garden’ dessert brings peace and joy in its wake. Delicate layers of matcha avocado oil sponge nestle against crisp white chocolate shards, while crisp sesame sugar pieces of rubble are perfect for dunking in the beetroot-like purée. A zen masterpiece.
Next up, a devastatingly good chocolate platter with eight varying textures. It’s called Chocol-8: these people at Wabi are sharp. A chocolate orb sits waiting to be bashed, and chocolate rubble, sand and shards are strewn artistically about in a beautiful graphical mess. The dessert chef deserves a chocolate medal, this is truly amazing.
To round things off, a pristine selection of cho-bit chocolate and green tea truffles is presented, and by this time we were well and truly finished after an eclectic Japanese feast and a great night.
Service at Wabi was genuine and incredibly well informed throughout the evening; I found all the team who served us to be both personable and passionate. You’ll be wowed by the sublime presentation of each dish and if you’re looking for a glamorous pitstop for some decadent Pan-Asian treats, Wabi is the one for you.
36-38 Kingsway, London, WC2B 6EY
Booking available here