Andy Mossack samples Japanese Izakaya fare at 8 at The Londoner Hotel’s rooftop bar.
Saturday night and the cavernous lobby of The Londoner Hotel on Leicester Square was its usual busy self. Whitcomb’s, its signature Mediterranean eatery, was doing brisk business and The Stage was dishing out the Champagne as per usual. I, on the other hand, paid no heed to all this as I was on my way to the rooftop to sample the delights of 8 at The Londoner a Japanese Izakaya bar which translates as informal eating and drinking and is currently all the rage in Tokyo. Essentially it’s a form of Japanese tapas with cocktails and wine.
You can tell this is not your average cool bar as it has its own lift access in the far corner of the lobby closely marshalled by an all-seeing welcome host. With access granted, I was silently whisked to the rarefied air of the top deck, greeted as the doors opened, and escorted straight to my table.
It was certainly a memorable entrance and very appropriate, given that 8 at The Londoner is quite the memorable venue.
There’s the panoramic view for a start. The lounge & terrace area capped one end of the room, cossetted within retractable skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows for an inside/outside experience of London’s dramatic skyline. Capping the other end was the Shima Garden, a Japanese-inspired concept using living walls of green bamboo leaves framing comfy bench seating. All this surrounded a fire pit at the garden’s centre, very handy as the entire ceiling was open to the starry sky. In between these two extraordinary bookends were the kitchen, bar, and main seating for diners.
My table was tucked cosily in a corner of the main lounge, perfect for people watching, and being a Saturday night, there were a great deal of people to watch. A DJ was set up in the Shimla Garden throwing out what I would call a laid-back club vibe while the bar threw out a constant stream of Japanese cocktails, whiskies and of course, sake.
I channelled my inner Far East and kicked off with a signature whisky & manuka cocktail made from Toki whisky, house vermouth infused with hojicha green tea, elderflower & fennel, clear lemon, honey and pepper, and soda (£18). It was hands-down delicious and set me up perfectly to order some food.
While the extensive drinks menu ran to twenty-five pages including non-Japanese fine wines, spirits and beers, the food menu took up just two. Having said that, each dish I sampled was outstanding. Exceptional quality and full of beautifully crafted flavours.
The lighting was low and the menu font small, so I was somewhat gladdened that, like me, many other diners had to resort to the torch on their phones to read it.
The concept at 8 at The Londoner is sharing plates delivered when ready, as is the eating trend right now, and you’re encouraged to order three plates per person. So, my dining partner and I shared six, starting with grilled padrón peppers in ama miso jus (£7). This dish is a staple in Spanish restaurants, but the flavours of this Japanese version (often called Shishito) mixed with miso was off the charts delicious.
Next up was a signature platter of beef tataki with black truffle ponzu (£18). We ordered this after spying one on a nearby table and it looked very impressive. It didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Top-quality beef slices seared but left rare in the middle, as tataki should be, topped with thinly sliced spring onion and the citrusy tang of the ponzu sauce. An absolute belter.
The plates started coming thick and fast now. King prawns wrapped in a crispy filo pastry with wasabi mayonnaise on the side (£16). Not a drop of oil anywhere, just crunchy straw filo, meaty prawns and a punchy mayo. Hot on its heels came lobster tempura with ama ponzu (£32). A small pile of crunchy lobster bites with a tangy ponzu surprise underneath.
The last two came from the robata grill, a Japanese open-fire barbecue; sliced baby chicken roasted with lemon and miso butter (£18). Six slices of perfectly roasted succulent chicken as described, topped with sliced chives and with a thick wedge of lemon on the side. Probably my personal favourite. And last but certainly not least, three vegetable gyoza tacos with spicy avocado salsa (£12). Gyoza is traditionally a dumpling, but this take on it was a delicate miniature taco. Very tasty but made all the better by the spicy avo salsa.
We washed all this down with a delightful glass or three of Jean-Claude Boisset Pinot Noir, which admittedly broke the Japanese theme of the evening, but why let theme get in the way of a good red.
8 at the Londoner is not designed to be a place to linger in my view. It’s a perfect post-theatre or pre-club venue that is a total departure from the traditional west end bar culture. As per usual with The Londoner, it’s something completely different but carried out with taste and style. Another step forward in the rejuvenation of Leicester Square.
All food images (c) Andy Mossack. Interior images (C) Andrew Beasley
Tell me more about 8 at The Londoner
8 at The Londoner, The Londoner Hotel, 38 Leicester Square, WC2H 7DY
The Londoner is a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts
T: +44 20 7451 0156
Opening Tuesday – Saturday 17:00 – 1:00 Kitchen closes at 10:45 pm.