The first impression you might have as you ascend the spiral staircase to Kojawan is that it’s kitsch, because it is, but that’s exactly what the intention was when it came to designing this dining space. The modern white, almost sci-fi, décor fuses futuristic and retro elements with inspiration taken from Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Expect swivel and pod chairs, subtle neon lighting and pop artworks, not to mention the giant sake bottles you’d see in any izakaya in Japan.
Rather than reflecting traditional Far Eastern eateries, this is designed to represent one straight from Blade Runner-style modern Tokyo; and if it was, it’s likely you’d expect it to sit high above the skyline, so it’s apt that Kojawan is on level 23 of Hilton London Metropole.
If it’s the quirky décor you notice first, it’s the view through the capacious windows that comes a close second; from the hotel’s location on Edgware Road, the top floor affords far-reaching views across much of London, which are especially impressive when the city lights up after dark.
The menu’s aluminium cover and anime-illustrated pages command plenty of attention, too. But of course it’s what’s on the menu that matters most. Here, a slightly different approach is taken to the classic three courses or small-plate-sharing concept. Courses are separated into Booze Food, Raw Bar and Charcoal Oven – all small-plate portions – and Fire Stove mains, then dessert.
The menu leaves a lot to the imagination, so dishes do need to be explained, but luckily, the wait-staff at Kojawan are outstanding in this regard. The Booze Food plate that stood out most was the Spicy Crab Dumplings, in which crisp, almost snap-able, light pastry is filled with spicy crabmeat, and accompanied by a chilli ginger dip.
Then there were the Hot Cricket Bombs. Based on the classic Japanese street food Karaage, although more closely resembling Takoyaki, these slightly doughy deep-fried balls incorporate a mild cheese and the dish’s key ingredient, crickets. Despite their high sustainability credentials, insects aren’t many people’s first choice of protein, but these worked surprisingly well, especially dipped in the citrus butter sauce.
From the Raw Bar, the Cobia Blue tartare – like the crickets, this white fish was chosen for its remarkable sustainability – is laid on top of a sweet umami miso sauce, topped with a delicate pyramid of Osietra caviar and finished with sprigs of samphire. The succulent Stone Pass Poke, meanwhile, came on a bed of satisfyingly sticky rice with slices of hot green chilli, seaweed flakes and a hint of sweet pickled plum.
On the Charcoal Oven list, it was the beef cheek that came most highly recommended. Slow-cooked for eight hours before being chargrilled, this tender meat seemed to melt in the mouth, and was balanced by a chilli, ginger and sesame dressing. The chargrilled octopus – served with lemon and a picante red pepper oil – was just as succulent, this time due to being marinated with cinnamon and cloves overnight.
Next came the main, or Fire Stove, plates; a bowl of unctuous udon ‘Fat Noodles’ and clams were brought to the table, having soaked up the flavour of sake, topped with fluttering bonito flakes for a little show. With this, I chose the lobster and black bun, which came in the form of sushi. Despite being wholly unexpected, this tender lobster sushi roll, with doughy black bun underneath and grilled cheese on top, brought the ingredients together well.
Both the desserts and cocktails are equally as representative of the Far East. While the Bloody Mary comes with togarashi and a seaweed ‘cigar’, desserts showcase the flavours of classic Asian sweets, from green tea and lychee to black sesame.
Clientele here are a mix of hotel guests and Londoners; some come for the views, others for its unique style, but all of the focus seems to ultimately fall on the food.
Words by Lauren Hill