101 Wood Lane, London
You reach Endo by its private lift, whisked up in velvety silence like a minor Bond baddie on the way to his fate. Once inside the rotunda, ‘a stand-alone cylindrical space resting on the top of the BBC helios building’, you enter a world of exquisite hyperbole. Above, billowing white sheets. Ahead, a 16-seater sushi counter snaking through the room, hewn from 200-year-old hinoki wood, ‘sourced from the mythical forests of Tochigi’ and planed down after each service to keep things forever pristine. And beyond that, huge plate-glass windows, gazing out over the inky west London night.
Endo’s 16-seater sushi counter snaking through the room, hewn from 200-year-old hinoki wood, ‘sourced from the mythical forests of Tochigi’ and planed down after each service
There’s an otherworldly feel here, less high-end sushi restaurant than some secret society, presided over by the eponymous Endo Kazutoshi, culinary ringmaster and third-generation sushi king. There’s no doubt he’s the boss, standing behind the counter, slicing tuna with a firm, elegant flourish, or working the rice in his palm. It’s no bog standard rice. Of course it’s not. Rather Yamagata rice, the cooking water shipped in barrels from his home town. Apparently this ensures the perfect pH balance. Nigiri sushi at Endo level is as much about the rice as it is the fish. And here each gently scented grain, blood-warm, can be individually felt on the tongue, just firm, seasoned with a whisper of home-made vinegar. The rice is every bit as memorable as the stuff on top.
Around him glide white-coated assistants, as quiet as he is garrulous. They paint sauces onto raw flesh, sprinkle toppings, wipe surfaces with obsessive zeal, devoted disciples to their master. Endo works with individual fishermen across the country to ensure they provide exactly what he wants. They work for him, and him alone. ‘My menu matches the fishermen,’ he says, as we eat a chowder made with Japanese olive oil and a single Brittany clam. It’s rich and intense, but blessed with a primal purity, as if we’re slurping down the bivalves’ very soul.
There’s Cornish crab, studded with sea urchin, ethereally sweet, wedged between two slices of sweet white bread. His take, I suppose, on the katsu sandwich. And monkfish tempura, proper tempura, cooked before us, so the batter barely coats the fish, rather wears it like a Lanvin silk dress.
We eat sea bream nigiri, put into our hand by Endo. That human contact, the dialogue, all adds to its allure. The fish has the slightest crunch, like jellyfish, or cartilage, but so much more subtle. Everything here is discreet, balanced, artfully thought out. No gesture or action is wasted.
And every minuscule detail matters. Nori seaweed, for example, unlike any I’ve eaten before, clean, light and nutty, hand-toasted over a charcoal grill, then filled with ten-day aged otoro tuna. This gives it a unique richness and depth. Scottish scallops, shimmeringly fresh, are wrapped in the stuff, with a splodge of caviar, and a whisper of real wasabi, so much more delicate than the neon-green norm. The flavours dance cheek to cheek in an eternally loving embrace. But as fine as the scallops are, it’s that nori that’s the star.
Everything here is discreet, balanced, artfully thought out. No gesture or action is wasted. And every minuscule detail matters
There are 18 dishes in all, each as thrilling as the last. Wagyu beef from Gunma in Japan, the sort that is more buttery fat than meat, and melts in a molten meaty puddle on the tongue. Dutch eel wrapped in nori, otoro with English white asparagus, grilled razor clam with seaweed butter. We sit for the most part in rapt awe, struck blissfully dumb by Endo’s art. This is easily the best sushi and tempura I’ve eaten in London. Even better than Umu. The absolute obsession with harmony and balance, ingredients and the season.
Of course, such perfection and purity come at a price. It’s £180 for the set menu, which is hardly given away with a packet of scampi fries. I’ve eaten less well, though, at three times the cost. Because the whole dinner is one magnificent symphony, made up of individually harmonious movements. On their own, the dishes delight, every mouthful possessed with the very quintessence of each ingredient. But as a whole, Endo dazzles. This is revelatory cooking, verging on the sublime. Prepare to be astounded.
£180 per head