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Restaurant Review: Wazen, King’s Cross
October 30, 2015
Diamond in the rough would be an apt description of Wazen, the latest Japanese restaurant to hit London’s dining scene. The gentrification of King’s Cross has led to many culinary attractions moving into the neighbourhood, though Wazen is situated in a rather different area: its neighbors are hostels, kebab and chicken shops. Depending on your perspective, this could be a stroke of genius – or a risky gamble – from the owners.
Named after the traditional Japanese table that carries the same name, Wazen aims to offer diners an all-round Omotenashi restaurant experience, which translates as “the spirit of Japanese hospitality”. The décor inside is minimalist to the extreme, with solemn grey walls and sturdy wooden seating. It lacks a distinctive centerpiece, be it a bonsai tree at the entrance or a Japanese mask on its walls, but it seems this was all part of the plan, perhaps the owners wanted to draw attention solely to the food. And in this area, Wazen certainly sparkles.
The restaurant proudly declares to “dish up beautiful plates you won’t find anywhere else in London,” and we found it hard to disagree. Starters were a selection of small taster dishes, traditional with a twist. A simple dish such as Agedashi Tofu presented dumpling-style with five different types of premium mushrooms and a dashi foam isn’t likely to be an everyday sighting on the city scene, and indeed the taste was incredibly delicate and refreshing.
The Salmon Zuke could easily have come across too salty given that it is prepared by soaking the fish in soy sauce. Here, the flavours remained concentrated without becoming overpowering, well contrasted with a spot of yuzu mayo (yuzu makes such regular appearances on chef’s menus that it could very well be described as the new matcha). Chicken Kakinotane – breaded with rice crackers – was perfect for pairing with Kirin beer, while the Wazen Salad with an exotic assortment of roasted beetroot, golden beetroot, daikon and other appetising ingredients was a vegetarian’s dream dish (and yes, it also features yuzu dressing).
The restaurant also displays a chalkboard detailing the freshest seafood offerings of the day in terms of sushi and sashimi. Aside from being fresh and beautifully presented, we could really appreciate the years of training the sushi chef had undergone to master his art: all the sushi was served traditionally, with great precision, in long, thin strips, each not more than 1 cm in width and never overburdened with rice. Main courses were a little more limited in terms of options, but showed an equal deftness of touch. We sampled the Chicken Nanban, which had a delectable combination of nanban and tartare sauce that was crying out for a bowl of white rice to soak in.
On the night of our visit, we noted that almost every table was experimenting with sake. The best way to do so is with sake “flights” – with each flight consisting a series of taster sakes. The drier Sohomare Karakuchi was ideal for pairing with starters, whilst the big, fruitier Omachi made a great accompaniment to the Chicken Nanban main. If you are as methodically passionate about your food as head chef, Toshimasa Tanahashi clearly is, then a visit to this new King’s Cross restaurant comes highly recommended.
Words by Baldwin Ho