What: An intimate, 10 seat Japanese omakase restaurant that's just launched on South Molton Street in London's Mayfair. While the cooking is firmly rooted in Japanese tradition, Roji puts British produce front and centre with seafood primarily sourced from Cornish waters; vegetables from Nama Yasai farm in East Sussex; and wasabi from The Wasabi Company in Dorset, billed as the only growers of wasabi in the UK.
Who: Roji is the first solo venture from husband and wife team Tamas Naszai and Tomoko Hasegawa, who are both experienced Japanese chefs. Naszai, who originally hails from Hungary, has previously worked at London restaurants Tokimeite and Sake No Hana. He has also been a two-time winner of the Japanese Culinary Art Competition. His wife Hasegawa also worked at Tokemeite, as well as at L'Abysse au Pavillon Ledoyen in Paris, and Ginza Shimon in Tokyo. The pair have launched Roji in partnership with the Saga Japanese Restaurant Group, which also operates sushi and izakaya restaurant brand Chisou in Knightsbridge and Mayfair, Sushi Atelier on Great Portland Street, and Gochisou in Chiswick.
The food: The restaurant offers a seasonal, eight-course omakase menu for a flat price of £150 per head. Set over two hours, with two sittings per evening, the menu is delivered with momentum. The first six courses are served within an hour and followed by a more leisurely sushi course that sees an extensive selection of nigiri served one after another before a single dessert course closes the meal. Naszai and Hasegawa have clearly spent an extensive amount of time developing each dish. This is seriously considered cooking, with a focus on using traditional Japanese techniques to let the ingredients sing. Dishes on the launch menu include eel served on a bed of glutinous rice; clear soup with a Scottish crab cake and fig leaf; and a hand-dived scallop tempura that's fried in seaweed. The nigiri selection changes based on what's available from the restaurant's suppliers and can include seared belly of trout; lobster served with a reduction of lobster dashi; and three different cuts of tuna, all taken from the same fish. Dishes are served on crockery sourced from small family producers in both Japan and the UK, with plates selected for specific seasons and dish ingredients.
The drink: The omakase menu can be paired with a super premium sake offering that's supplied exclusively from Tengu Sake and includes many hard to find varieties including bottles from the Noguchi Naohiko Toji’s Sake Institute in Ishikawa. Nogushi san, now well into his 90s, is widely considered the 'god of sake brewing' and is experimenting with vintage nama sake brews. The drink's list also includes a selection of organic or biodynamic wines sourced from small European family producers; and cocktails. Interestingly, Roji doesn't sell any bottled or branded soft drinks, instead using a homemade range of colas, tonics and syrups to create its own.
The vibe: The design at Roji takes inspiration and draws on the diverse range of traditional Japanese Zen philosophy inspired by simplicity and naturalness. The restaurant is intimate and minimalist with wood tables and floors, soft lighting and neutral walls. Additionally, the sushi counter and open kitchen allow Naszai and Hasegawa to engage with diners throughout service, discussing dishes, ingredients and preparation techniques during each course.
And another thing: Roji translates as journey or path, but can also mean back or hidden alley. True to its name, the restaurant is accessed via a 'hidden path' off South Molton Street, with guests required to ring a doorbell in order to gain entry.
56B South Molton Street, London, W1K 5SH