Sushisamba: Dancing to the beat (February 2014)

It’s a fairly well-trodden path that you need to take if you want to try and succeed at present on the London restaurant scene – a menu comprising sharing dishes that draw their culinary influences from around the world, especially Asia and South America. A nice view and trendy-looking people (guests and servers too preferably) also help. While it would be easy to criticise Sushisamba (somewhat pretentiously spelt all as one word) for simply following in this somewhat predictable vein, the place does have a huge amount going for it, and will likely be around for some time. Even if the London outpost of this mini-chain is both nowhere near as good as the New York one and perhaps a little late to the London scene, you have to appreciate the coup exacted by the owners to have got their restaurant located in one of the most stunning places in London. Even if the Shard is taller and has more dining options, Heron Tower has only one, with Sushisamba sitting proudly at the top, 38 floors up. One arrives there after a breath-taking ride in their glass fronted lift, enough to set the pulse rising and build the anticipation. The views don’t disappoint and nor did the food. Guests have many options beyond admiring the view: there is a bar with open roof terrace, the main restaurant and an additional lounge, one floor up. The décor unsurprisingly has a nod to the trendy, a stunning light feature dominates the main dining room and there is ‘posh-graffiti’ on some of the walls. I also liked the slightly more homely touch of trailing plants on the walls of the room. Onto the food, and one is in familiar territory here, a cross-over of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian influences. The expression ‘tyranny of choice’ springs slightly to mind when viewing the menu, a selection of small dishes, raw options, grilled items, large plates, samba rolls and more conventional sashimi are available. Confusingly, no indication is given on the menu (nor by our server initially) over how many dishes it would be appropriate for our group of four to share. Eventually we left it to our server to choose for us, and even if somewhat humiliating, all credit to the person in question for providing us with a wide and varied choice that was more than ample. It would also be hard to fault any dish, either in terms of taste and complexity or presentation. We particularly rated our crispy yellowtail taquitos, the black cod, and the ‘Samba London’ rolls, the latter being the restaurant’s take on a traditional California roll, but comprising crab, tuna, salmon, wagyu, avocado and a few other things too. This was all accompanied by an adequate bottle of Pouilly Fumé (chosen by a colleague). My one criticism of the concept – and don’t get me wrong, the setting, food and general experience were all superb – was that when many small dishes brought to the table as they are ready, this is inherently disruptive. Our server tried to be discrete, but did not fully succeed; with the bringing and taking away of dishes (on one occasion we actually got the same one twice by accident), topping up our glasses etc., our conversation was somewhat impeded. My advice: go, preferably in the evening and with friends rather than for a business lunch, but do go. Even better, get someone else to pay. With these views, there is a pricey tag attached!