Following a year that Japan would sooner forget, it is a wonder that she still manages to produce and inspire some of the best cooking across the globe. Standing proud at the Trafalgar Square end of Northumberland Avenue is Watatsumi – a sublime Japanese offering found in very English surroundings. The area is receiving a glut of gastro-destinations with the recently opened Corinthia Hotel at the other end of the street, which houses no less than three restaurants. Watatsumi is a fine addition to the area, sitting in a splendid marble hall which would be fantastic if the restaurant was full, however with only a few tables filled when we visited, it felt very empty. So in the absence of a restaurant buzz we opted for Japanese serenity and ordered some excellent cocktails from an inventive cocktail list – a Bloody Mary with raw wasabi and a Sakura which was a healthy dose of bananas, fruit juice and cinnamon.
Although we chose to be seated at a table, there is the more casual option to hang out and people watch, while sitting at the Raw Bar and sampling the range of sashimi, nigiri sushi, maki, temaki rolls and tartars.
The menu is designed for guests to have the orthodox starter, main course and pudding which was helpfully explained by our friendly waitress. I, however, had other ideas, having mentally committed to several dishes before I had even arrived at the restaurant. While looking at the menu we tucked into some tuna tataki and fish karaage. The tuna was as fresh as we could have hoped for, with a fragrant spicy miso sauce to dip into, while the karaage revealed slithers of spiced deep fried salmon that was a delicious way to treat the fish.
While I should be eating healthily, each time I step into a Japanese restaurant, I seem to be drawn to the dishes that have had a close encounter with the deep fat fryer. And I would encourage you to do the same here. The Watatsumi crispy calamari is outstanding. Forget any experiences you may have had with a floppy rubber ring falling out of its bready jacket – these little golden halos of wonder are as crisp as you’ll find this side of Tokyo, and have a magic seasoning of chef’s secrets that result in spicy little explosions in your mouth. Served with ponzu sauce, this was so good that we ordered it twice.
Main courses offer as much meat as fish with Wagyu beef, Gressingham duck breast and the Fuji burger catching my eye, but we stuck with the more familiar miso-glazed roasted black cod and Yuzu garlic prawns. Having previously worked at Nobu, the chef has brought with him the ability to execute a sublime sweet and silky blackened cod that is as good as his former employer’s offering. The large prawns are theatrically presented on a long thin plate mounted on a heap of spicy garlic sauce – delicious.
I had to listen to my stomach and stop ordering at this point, but there was still plenty on the menu that I wanted to sample, but we can save those dishes for another day.