Now this might sound more like an introduction to a Japanese language class than a review of a fine-dining restaurant, but before we begin there are two Japanese concepts that one needs to be familiar with if you’re not already. The first is my favourite – and something I have engaged in at restaurants for most of my adult life before I even knew the word existed - and that is the tradition of Omakase. Omakase is a form of Japanese dining in which you leave your food selection to the chef – thus allowing him to showcase his culinary skills and also serve the best and freshest seasonal ingredients.
The second is Izakaya. The Japanese word Izakaya is made up of three kanji with the meaning, in order - stay-drink-place - a venue to grab a drink, settle in, and get comfortable and believe me there are few places that are as elegant, stunning and welcoming to stay, get a drink and relax in as The Aubrey. To simplify things, Izakaya is perhaps better described as a Japanese tapas bar.
Located in the heart of Knightsbridge within the fabulous Mandarin Oriental hotel – The Aubrey occupies the site once home to the much-vaulted Bar Boulud. As sad as I was to see the genius of NYC chef Daniel Boulud and his burgers leave London, The Aubrey is a more than stellar replacement and fine-dining Japanese food and cocktails are hard to come by and few do it as well as it is done here.
Our evening began with a cocktail in the bar which includes a maze of intimate rooms adorned in velvet, marble, and wood. Comfortable spaces to relax with ambient lighting include a library, the salon and curio lounge, each has been designed to suit a variety of moods and occasions with music until the late hours. Bar Director Pietro Rizzo took us on an omakase cocktail experience with inventive creations akin to those that feature in traditional restaurants in Japan – not a bog-standard Bloody Mary or Whiskey Sour in sight!
We were then escorted into the dining room which has been transformed into an elegant space with original gold-framed Ukiyo-e print artwork adorning the walls and a sense of calm, elegance, and sophistication permeating throughout.
The food menu draws on the classical techniques of Edomae sushi, Tempura and Robata - an interpretation of the philosophy of a traditional izakaya. The concept – my favourite – is one of communal small dishes for all to enjoy. Share, share, that’s fair!
We began with the sushi and sashimi selection which was superb and as good as any served anywhere in London and beyond. This was followed by the most succulent oysters with classic chili daikon and ponzu, however, the very, very tempting caviar selection was overlooked in favour of paying my mortgage this month! The tempura offering is beautifully delicate and, for our main course, as an epicurean I am always drawn to the robata grill and, of course, wagyu. Their wagyu oxtail and bone marrow fried rice is an exercise in indulgence and excess that has to be savoured. While the Alaskan King Crab Leg with kimuchi from the robata is so decadent that it should be saved for your deathbed last wish.
As you would expect the wine list is exceptional – albeit a bit pricey - and pairings are offered to match the food exquisitely.
The exceptional food was enhanced by the service which is rarefied in London and I’m extremely grateful to Jaime, Christian and the fabulous Leo for making our evening so very special. Our Aubrey experience was truly Subarashī – which is the Japanese word for amazing/wonderful – and thus concludes your Japanese lesson!
SW1X 7LA London