Dinings @ London

Let this post go out to my dining companion; who brought me here knowing I would love it, who always seems to know what I would order from ANY menu, and who generously picked up the check for this meal. Thank you. (Disclaimer: My horrendous photography obviously does no justice to Dinings)

“Everybody talks about Dinings,” my friend said to me. Here’s why.

Chefs Tomonari Chiba and Masaki Sugisaki hail from Nobu London, but left to found Dinings – a Japanese small plates concept adapted from traditional izakayas. The innovative menu shows European influences, but authenticity and freshness are never compromised under these chefs. They cooked their way to place Dinings at the top of Zagat’s “Best Japanese Restaurants in London”.

For a top restaurant, there is not a trace of pomposity here. The decor is utilitarian and there is no dress code (my partner even advised me to change out of my dress into jeans instead). The waiters are so friendly and knowledgable, eager to talk at length about the menu, from cover to cover. This is because Dinings has always pride themselves on making customers feel comfortable in a friendly atmosphere. Be forewarned that the space can get quite cramped, but I rather enjoyed eavesdropping on neighbouring conversations.

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First dish to arrive was our tartar chips, which are homemade potato crisps, filled with avocado, toro fatty tuna, vegetables and wasabi-jalepeno sauce. This is a signature of Dinings, and there are other variations of these chips if tuna is not your thing. Whatever you do, this is a must order. I had a conversation with my colleague the other day wholly on the chips at Dinings. (£8.50)

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The seabass carpaccio with fresh spring truffle and ponzu jelly, some say the best dish at Dinings (according to our waitress). Get used to it, because every dish here is decadent as hell. Check out the generous layers of truffle on top. The sour and tangy flavours whetted our appetites. However, we noted that if this dish were to come later during the meal we would not like it as much, because the sourness is very strong. (£19.80)

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Tuna tartare with fresh truffle was an off the menu item. Can you tell that I love my starters? (£17.80)

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Wagyu beef tataki with ponzu and porcini oil (£18.85) Picture below from zagat because my own picture sucks.

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Time for some hot food, because everything before this was cold. The grilled aubergine with sweet miso was a beautiful giant half piece of aubergine, great texture (firm yet melt in your mouth), cooked in sweet miso paste and served piping hot! This would convert even eggplant haters! I still dream about the flavour! (£6.70) We also got a miso soup with salmon that is not pictured, (£4.75).

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Seared yellowtail belly with yuzu kyosho (yuzu with a black pepper kick – another signature at Dinings) (£5.45)

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Scottish salmon “zuke” style topped with caramelized onion-soy-jam. (£4.95)

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Seared Yuzu-soy marinated Santa Barbara shrimp sushi topped with kizami-wasabi, which is a Dinings version of wasabi. (£6.45)

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Seared wagyu beef sushi topped with foie-gras and sweet soy (£8.45)

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I always have the best dessert at Japanese restaurants. Below is mustard shiso ice cream, topped with a pork slice. (£6.70) The mustard was mild, yet undeniable. So ingenious and one of the best things I’ve had in life. I like to think of it as a new age salted caramel.

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We booked 2 weeks in advance and the total damage was £150 after tax. Amazing meal and will definitely come back.

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Hashida Sushi @ Mandarin Orchard

Hashida Sushi is a fine dining sushi establishment at Mandarin Gallery. This is master sushi chef Tokio Hashida’s first restaurant outside of Japan. Choose from three lunch sets – $80, $120 or $250. For the higher end set lunches, you will get more premium seasonal fish, sashimi and others. We settled for the modest $120.

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We sat in a cosy six-seater room, and other people only joined us 1 hour later. So we had our chef all to ourselves! Our chef, Kimura Tomoo, was extremely knowledgeable, with years of experience at restaurants in Tokyo’s ginza, roppongi and akasaka areas. He very earnestly described every dish, ingredient and preparation method to us despite struggling with English at times. There were never ending stories, and so much to learn; for example the origins, the seasons, and the culture in Japan. His passion was an integral part of our experience at Hashida.

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By the way, see the knife there. That is an $8000 knife.

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To start with, we had a soya bean skin yudofu, with salmon roe and bonito jelly. Vegetarian monks used to eat this in ancient Japan, but without the roe of course. Very mild and clean flavours from the soya skin, complemented perfectly by the jelly and roe.

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Chawanmushi with scallop and white asparagus. It was soupier than usual chawanmushi. This soup was made from sakura leaf, since sakura is in season now. (Sakura starts to bloom from the south of Japan around this time, and proceeds upstate until it reaches the north in about May. During this season, Japanese enjoy sitting under cherry blossom trees and drinking sake, much like our Chinese mid-autumn festival, where we eat mooncake and drink tea.)

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The meal officially begins and sushi is served. There were 9 different sushi. The first sushi was ishikaya (striped sea perch). It is an amazing white fish with a bouncy texture, and you can taste the sweetness very subtly creep up on you.

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Kampachi (amberjack) has an almost rubber-like texture, like a firm jelly that is very chewy. Quite similar to the previous fish.

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Shimaji (Jack mackerel). Sushi is all about the balance of flavours. Instead of the usual wasabi in sushi, our chef replaced it with Japanese lime instead, because wasabi would be too strong and overpower the taste of the mackerel. The Japanese lime adjusts for the perfect balance of flavours.

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Maguro (blue fin tuna) you might think is uninteresting at first, but our chef used a special marinade to prepare the fish. It is made from soya sauce, Japanese sweet wine, sake, and others that I cannot remember right now. Notice how only the alcohols stuck with me. Hmm. Maguro is not my personal favourite fish, but I do love the dressing very much.

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Taira gai (pen shell clam), is an interesting type of shellfish that I would describe as a crunchy scallop. You can only find it in south Japan. It was served aburi style, and this was a dish that truly blew us away.

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Same kawa (a kind of small halibut) was also another noteworthy fish. Some people nickname it shark’s skin, because it looks like it on the outside. The texture was fatty and soft, like melt-in-your-mouth, but not too fatty as it still held a level of firmness.

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At this point, we were served some miso soup, a welcome warmth after all that cold food. This special miso soup came with a generous number of clams.Miso soup and its paste vary with each prefecture in Japan. This particular miso soup we had is said to have liver detox properties, which delighted us because heaven knows we need it. Our chef encouraged us to drink up too :p

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Ever the crowd pleaser, the appearance of uni ensued in about 5 minutes of photo taking. A truly decadent dish that needs no words at all. We all go a bit weak for uni don’t we? And to say they were generous with the portion would be an understatement. There was SO MUCH!

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Our final sushi was a chutoro, also a perennial favourite.

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The tiny unsuspecting yellow cube below is a tamago, but don’t let it fool you. Before we dug in, our chef kept proclaiming that it was a cake. And I didn’t really get it, until I actually sank my teeth in. It is a very special tamago, very sweet, with a sponge cake texture. Super fluffy like those Japanese cheese cakes. That’s why in the past, Japanese used to eat tamago as a dessert rather than as sushi.

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We have reached the end of our gastronomic adventure, but even the closing was epic. Japanese fruits – strawberry and melon were unbelievably sweet.

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If you are interested in going for dinner, it is omakase style. But you can speak to your chef if you have any preferences, allergies, or budget. It is useful to note that Hashida is a sushi restaurant, so there is little to no hot food served, besides maybe chawanmushi and aburi style sashimi. If you favour beef/duck in your sushi, you will find none here as fresh fish is the star at the restaurant.

A special mention to my dear friend, who generously treated me to this meal. I am very grateful you introduced me to Hashida. It is always a joy to dine with fellow foodies, and enjoy the finer things in life together. Good things are meant to be shared. In total, it was $290 for two people after tax. We are coming back again soon!

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