To kick off my birthday celebrations in style, two of my best gal pals (Josie & Grace) and I went for dinner at Sushisamba, located on the 39th floor of the Heron Tower. Aside from being a 5-minute walk from my office, it’s also an incredibly well-loved restaurant, due to its unusual & delicious blend of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisine, along with stunning panoramic views of London.
Once you’ve passed through the red ropes, you enter a glass elevator that whisks you up 39 floors at lightning speed. The time to appreciate the views of our beautiful capital as you ascend into the sky is short & sweet but, thankfully, the entire design of the restaurant enables you to do just that. Still, here is the view from the lift:
Service: Aside from the unacceptably long queues at the bar, the service that we received throughout our evening was excellent. And despite being told very shortly after we were seated that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures with a ‘professional camera’ in the dining room, a short & swift chat with the Restaurant Manager and a pinkie promise later, everything was back on track and my finger resting & ready on the trigger. Heads up – apparently you are not allowed to take ‘professional’ pictures of the dining room without permission from the head office in NY. From then on, our evening ran seamlessly. Our waiter was particularly great and utterly adorable; I know that’s not a particularly flattering word to use to describe a male, but he truly was very sweet and, of course, perfectly attentive. He also cottoned on to the fact that we were celebrating and provided me with a complimentary Happy Birthday macaron at the end of our meal; a far tastier free treat than I received at Bob Bob Ricard the weekend before.
Ambience: Sushisamba is a stunning restaurant; anyone that says otherwise simply wants to dislike the place. Both the bar space and main dining room have floor-to-ceiling windows, providing mesmerizing views of London in every direction.
There is an orange theme running through all of the décor, which creates an uplifting, fun atmosphere, which I personally find is so often missing from good quality restaurants. Thus, unsurprisingly, the bar area is always packed.
It’s also home to one of the highest outdoor terraces in Europe with a huge, stunning, structural bright orange tree sprouting out of the centre of it.
I absolutely love the tree, which has a fairytale-esque element about it, in my opinion.
The tree has also become somewhat of an international Sushisamba icon, even making an appearance at Sushisamba’s pop-up stand at Taste of London, a recent food festival in Regent’s Park (that blew my mind), albeit in miniature version:
Josie and I decided to get the party started and order some cocktails whilst waiting for Grace to arrive.
I had the chucumber made from gin, Japanese plum wine and Maraschino liqueur, shaken with freshly pressed cucumber water, lime, sugar and plum bitters (£13.00). As a big fan of the ‘au naturale’ G&T, I found this twist refreshing & tasty. Josie went for, shall we say, a slightly sweeter aperitif – the Shiso fine, made with Shiso-infused vodka, apple, lime, crème de pêche and Thai basil syrup, with a bleed of crème de cassis (£13.00). I can only describe it as ‘liquid pick-n-mix’; delicious, but perhaps not pre-dinner.
When Grace arrived we took our seats in the main dining room, which is hands-down one of the most beautiful dining spaces in London; the high, open bamboo ceiling, intertwined with dangling lightbulbs of varying heights, creates a spectacular setting.
^ I took this before the pinkie promise, so I’ve still kept my word!
The floor-to-ceiling windows make you feel as if you are sat in the sky in a suspended glass box. And observing the sunset that, on this particular evening, took us on a journey through numerous pastel colours before plunging the City into darkness, was a seriously magical experience.
I cannot fault the ambience at Sushisamba.
Food: Our delightful waiter handed us menus and succinctly explained the various categories of food to us. Before he dashed off, Grace made sure to join us on the cocktail wagon by ordering a cosmopolitan (£13.00).
We knew that our glasses would run dry before long, so we got ahead of the game by ordering a bottle of ‘El Muro Blanco Macabeo, 2013’ (£26.00) with our first round of food. Two years ago, Josie and I went on holiday to Miami together, where we first discovered (and fell in love with) Sushisamba. Here’s our blast from the past:
Oh how I miss that hair… Moving on, our absolute favourite dish during our (numerous) visits was easily the shrimp tempura, snap pea julienne, spicy mayo and black truffle vinaigrette (£14.00), so we made a beeline straight for it.
Slightly more generous with portion size in the US…
but taste-wise just as good as we remembered; the shrimp large, the batter perfectly crisp, and the accompanying sauces simply off-the-scale good! The black truffle vinaigrette was new to the party for us, but we enjoyed it just as much as the spicy mayo. I know it’s strange, but I also really loved the inclusion of peas in this dish; juicy & fresh pops of flavour, which provided delicious contrast to the heavier battered shrimp and thick sauces.
A signature dish at Sushisamba, and one that Josie and I also sampled in Miami, is the yellowtail, avocado and roasted corn miso crispy taquitos (£18.00 for 3 taquitos). The taquitos were divine. So light & moreish; you could taste the incredible freshness of all of the ingredients, which made for the most delicate & delicious bites. You could easily eat a hundred of these.
The last of our first round of small plates was the wagyu gyoza, kabocha purée, sesame and su-shoyu dipping sauce (£13.00). Beautifully presented, but perhaps a little style over substance, as the dumplings didn’t have a discernable texture, such as can be found at Eight over Eight (best gyozas in London, in my opinion) or Roka. The beef within was a little bland, and the accompanying sesame ‘dust’ simply bizarre and out of place on the plate. The overall finished product just lacked oomph.
For our next round we kicked off with the Samba London sushi roll; crab, tuna, salmon, white fish, prawn, avocado, tempura crunch, rice cracker, Japanese pickles, wasabi mayo, aji panca and spicy mayo (£16.00). Right off the bat, for £16 we all agreed that the roll could have been a fair bit bigger. For me, the tuna and salmon were the stand-outs of the selection but, still, none of the bite-sized pieces were anything particularly special. It was a good sushi roll, but not the best, and not worth £16.
The tuna ceviche, pomegranate leche de tigre, maiz morado, wasabi peas and basil (£12.00), and kuromitsu glazed pork belly, palmito, orange and pickled onion (£12.00), completed our second round.
The ceviche was the worst dish of the night. The tuna (once you found it) was served in small, hacked chunks, versus skillful, attractive slices. And, aside from looking seriously unappetising, the dish also faltered on taste; the pomegranate marinade totally overpowered all of the other elements which, sadly, was not even tasty itself.
The pork belly, on the other hand, was sensational. Really, truly, exquisite. Very different to the style served at Eight over Eight, and far superior to that served at Portland, Sushisamba’s had a chewy versus crisp layer of crackling, whilst the layers of meat & fat had fused beautifully to create the juiciest, most delicious, eye-rollingly-good, meaty mouthful. Alongside the shrimp tempura, this was the stand-out dish of the evening.
We had one more round of savoury, which comprised of another order of our favourite dish (I really wasn’t ready to say goodbye); the shrimp tempura (£14.00), and the tiger maki sushi roll; takuwan, wasabi tobiko, crab meat, tempura prawn, tiger prawn, wasabi mayo, beetroot yogurt, unagi tare (£16.00).
The tiger maki sushi roll was leaps & bounds better than the signature Samba London, both in terms of value & taste. Big pieces of shellfish surrounded by crunchy batter, fluffy rice, light seaweed and moreish wasabi mayo made for a real winner of a dish.
We finished the round with meat, or the lamb chops with red miso and lime (£16.00), to be precise. The lamb was a tad overdone for me, albeit still tender. Tasty enough, but nothing special, unlike the lamb chops from Clove Club (which won ‘Best in Taste’ dish) and Roka at Taste of London. I also disliked that some of the meat arrived sliced off the bone; if you order a chop then I think it’s fair that you expect a chop.
Stuffed with savoury, it was time to move on to sweet. By this point we had guzzled our bottle of wine and were in need of a re-fill; it was a celebration after all! Josie and I kept things simple (mostly so that we could keep room for food), by ordering two large glasses of the same wine that we had enjoyed with dinner (£7.50 each), whilst Grace had had her fill of food so ordered a liquid dessert in the form of an espresso martini (£13.00).
Whilst Josie opted for a chewable version and went for the assorted mochi, which is a soft Japanese rice cake filled with ice-cream, which came served with a warm white chocolate sauce (£9.00). Josie knows her mochi and, although I’m not personally a huge fan, I know the difference between when it is good & bad. Unfortunately, Sushisamba’s was BAD; the rice cake didn’t taste fresh and the ice-cream had crystallised. The flavours were also a bit off, with the mango one being the only semi-decent offering. A very poor dessert considering its simplicity.
I chose the chocolate banana cake with maple butter, plantain chip and vanilla rum ice-cream (£10.00). Due to the lack of light the picture does the dessert no justice, but it was very, very good. The cake itself was light & tasty, whilst the maple butter provided a delicious sickly-sweetness, offset by the complimenting ice-cream.
Fully satisfied, we asked for the bill, which arrived with a complimentary passionfruit Happy Birthday macaron for me, much to my delight.
Price: Our total bill was £274.50 including 12.5% service, for 9 savoury dishes, 2 desserts, a bottle of wine, 4 cocktails, and 2 large glasses of wine. The food itself was more than a little hit & miss, with some dishes at either extreme end of the spectrum; when a restaurant charges as much as at Sushisamba, I must say that I think it’s inexcusable to get the food as drastically wrong as they did with the tuna ceviche and mochi. That said, some of the dishes were exquisite, and for the unrivalled surroundings & service that supported the dishes, I was content to pay the price. Just.