The lift journey up was thrilling. I couldn’t remember looking forward to hating a restaurant this much in ages. Sushisamba had disaster written all over it: neon-brash pomp and bottomless pockets, taking over – after what must have been a ruthless bidding war – the top floors of one of the tallest and shiniest buildings in Europe. This American export had also crossed the Atlantic with its stock fairly low in novelty and fashion terms back home. Brazilian/Peruvian/Japanese fusion? That’s so last decade. It’s all about nouveau kosher these days.
Much has been Tweeted about the views from the top of Heron Tower. Once you’re past Sushisamba’s ground floor, smiley clipboard police and the Willy Wonka 38-storey glass lift experience, they don’t disappoint. This is an aspect of London you haven’t experienced before. Sushisamba overlooks the Gherkin while Renzo Piano’s Shard stands in the distance some way behind it, like a nearly beautiful chess piece. You can be as cynical as you like, but you’d have to be an anarchist tepee dweller not to get a rush from the wraparound Tron-like vision. “It’s like Hong Kong! It’s like Manhattan!” No, it’s like London, but new London. So it’s better than both of those. Inside, the furniture is a mish mash of South American modernism, with a few buckled nods to Sergio Rodrigues. It’s nice enough, but all eyes are on the windows.
Now, depending on which side of the north/south cultural divide you sit on (and I’m talking about nearby Redchurch Street, which separates London’s identikit hipsters from the Square Mile’s single breasted types), you’ll view the crowd at Sushisamba as either “the chaps from the office next door”, or a hellish cabal of morally bankrupt imbeciles. Each brightly illuminated bar and dining space shouts “MONEY!” right in your face, while pinching your arse and flirting outrageously with your partner. A friend of mine dined at Sushisamba a few days before me and she described it as “very American Psycho, full of women who want to get f—ked in high heels.” She was right. But, better this than a Leicester Square mix of tourists fresh from M&Ms World, surely?
So, you can see why I’d been looking forward to hating the place. And yet… Despite all the glazed, louche, visual noise, the food isn’t actually bad. In fact, it’s really rather excellent. The nigiri is as good as I’ve had in London, and the sashimi too. There’s not a great deal to say about sushi. OK, yes, you can write books about the culture of it, but it’s also fairly formulaic. You need the freshest fish, well cut, with expertly cooked rice, all served at the right temperature, and Sushisamba does all of that.
Then there’s the South American part of the equation. They were clean out of wagyu gyoza on my visit, so I went to town with the feijoada pastels – petite beef, pork belly, chorizo and black bean pastries. They were a touch on the bland side, and our waiter admitted that they were one of his least favourite things on the menu, but they are also terribly moreish. I could have eaten my own body weight in them.
The Samba London roll with crab, tuna, salmon, yellowtail, prawn, scallop, wagyu, avocado, tempura crunch, wasabi mayo, aji panca and soy reduction is the restaurant’s grandstanding fusion production. It sounds a mess, but it retains lightness and focus. It’s quite fabulous. If you’re eating here because you just want to take in the space, and only want to order one thing, have that. Mixed with a few plates of sashimi – salmon in ponzu and yuzu salsa, and yellowtail with jalapeno and lemongrass – and some nigiri and perhaps a little dish of tuna tataki, it would make for a splendid, fresh-tasting supper. All of this doesn’t come cheap, you’ll be unsurprised to hear: with a cocktail or two, you won’t leave well nourished for under £100. And then there’s the wine list. Oh, the wine list! I teared up trying to find anything south of £30 a bottle and the bulk of it is much, much more expensive. It’s aggressively, nay risibly priced. But then, if Patrick Bateman is treating…
Sushisamba London, Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, London UK
0203 640 7330; sushisamba.com