Imagine Nobu being located 38 floors up in the sky, and you start to get the idea of Sushisamba, a U.S. import that opened in London this month serving Japanese dishes with a Latin twist atop the Heron Tower, in Bishopsgate.
There are the glamorous greeters, the cool cocktails, the modern designs and the crowds of well-dressed people intent on having a good time, one way or another. The comparison is far from exact, yet there is a similar feel: It’s where fashion, food and fun cross paths and sometimes get well acquainted.
(Sushisamba originated on Park Avenue South in New York in 1999 and spread to Miami, Chicago and Las Vegas. This is the first overseas outlet.)
For a slideshow of Sushisamba views, click here.
The elevator that takes you toward the top of the 230-meter (755 feet) tower moves even faster than the money leaves your pocket when you arrive. Most cocktails are priced at 10.50 pounds ($16.50) to 11:50 pounds, which isn’t cheap but isn’t unreasonable either for somewhere so chic.
The design is bold and beautiful, reflecting the Brazilian part of Sushisamba, which serves a mix of Japanese, Peruvian and Brazilian cuisines. There’s a cocktail and sushi bar if you enter via the 38th floor, plus a terrace with an orange tree. (Meaning a tree painted orange, not one bearing fruit.)
This floor is also home to the restaurant, with another bar and a lounge upstairs. (On the top floor is Duck & Waffle, an eclectic British diner.) At Sushisamba, you may dine indoors or on the large terrace, weather permitting.
The views are outstanding. You look down on most of the 180-meter Gherkin and you can see across to the Olympic Park and beyond. Sushisamba is worth visiting for this terrace alone. The screen that separates you from over-familiarity with the street below is disconcertingly low. If you’re scared of heights, Sushisamba may be Hitchcockian in the terror it induces.
The menu is divided into small plates, robata, large plates and Samba rolls and you can eat well. The cooking of chef Jeffrey Kipp -- formerly of Daylesford Organic, Gordon Ramsay, Citrus -- is replete with big flavors, so even the rolls will come with an extra hit: some crispy onion here, chive oil there and maybe a dash of spicy mayo for good measure.
It’s difficult to go wrong with a selection of rolls, such as the Samba London at 16 pounds ($25) -- crab, tuna, salmon, yellowtail, prawn, scallop, wagyu, avocado, tempura crunch, wasabi mayo, aji panca, housemade soy reduction -- or the Sao Paulo, which features scallop, masago, red onion, tuna, salmon, shrimp, yellowtail, avocado, truffle, hacho miso soy and chive oil.
Among the small plates, the rock shrimp tempura (14 pounds) tasted great, though it was a tad soggy. I thought I’d better order some vegetables so I got wild mushrooms from the Robata and they were full of flavor, thanks in part to the yuzu soy they come with.
You might also go for black cod with miso and pickled green apples, or pork yakitori-style meatballs, served with slow-cooked egg yolk. It’s worth also remembering to order some rice, assuming a robust appetite that may not be entirely satisfied with the generally genteel portions.
Among the desserts, watermelon tiradito (Shochu-marinated watermelon, yuzu sorbet, yoghurt crumble, mint pearls) is inventive and refreshing. It costs 8 pounds.
As is the way in the floating world, it’s the alcohol that may push your bill skywards. At Sushisamba, the prices are no worse than at ground level in the City, where you can generally drink well or you can drink cheaply. My favorite compromise is the 2003 Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs, a British sparkling wine, at 59 pounds. (Decanter awarded it five stars, and 18.5 out of 20.)
Sushisamba is flawed. The bars get crowded and the service -- while polite and winning -- gets stretched. It can be noisy and your view may be blocked by people wanting to take photos. The management is allowing the terrace to be booked for private functions, which is annoying if you are not invited.
Yet I can think of few places in London I would rather spend a couple of hours on a sunny day than the large terrace.
The heat is on.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? About 40 pounds a head for food if you’re not hungry.
Sound level? 70 decibels and rising.
Inside tip? Table 26 is the best table indoors.
Special feature? Room with a view.
Will I be back? Yes.
Date place? Very much so.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sushisamba, 110 Bishopsgate, Heron Tower, London, EC2N 4AY. Information: +44-20-3640-7330 or http://sushisamba.com/LOCATION/LONDON
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70-75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland
Muse highlights include James Russell on architecture.