Japanese chefs have made their mark in Paris, where they run some leading French restaurants. But Sugimoto, 35, is a rarity in London. He’s the first Japanese-born chef to take charge at any leading European restaurant in the U.K.
“He was a rising star in Paris,” said Marlon Abela, a restaurateur who bought the Square in March. “I love Yu’s approach to cuisine. His philosophy is Japanese and everything is impeccable—there’s a certain Zen-ness to it—but the execution is 100 percent French.”
Compatriots in London generally lead Japanese restaurants, such as Yoshinori Ishii, who holds two Michelin stars at Umu.
Sugimoto was born in Chiba, about an hour east of Tokyo, and began cooking for his family as a teenager. He was inspired by his father, who liked to cook. He worked at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo before moving to France. He spent about nine years at Le Meurice, where he was head chef for more than than four years, first under Yannick Alleno and then Alain Ducasse.
He says he plans to modernize the cuisine at the Square, creating light dishes using less butter. The standard menu, which costs £95 ($127) will move to four courses from the current three late this month or early in October.
The Square’s former co-owner, chef Philip Howard, plans to open his own restaurant, Elystan Street, in Chelsea on Sept. 27. The cuisine will be more British than French.
“My whole adult life has been associated with the Square, but now I want to do something that is much more accessible, simpler, yet still highly ambitious,” Howard said. “It’s exciting to be a person who has put his ego to one side, and to use my abilities as a cook to produce food that is right for the place and the time and the moment.”
While he will serve some meat dishes, including grouse in the opening weeks, the focus will be on fish and vegetables, with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
“It is food that is absolutely and unashamedly what people like to eat: Caesar salad, crab and avocado salad, carpaccio of sea bass, things like that,” he said.
The Square, 6-10 Bruton St., W1J 6PU; +44-20-7495-7100 or squarerestaurant.com Elystan Street, 43 Elystan St., Chelsea, SW3 3NT.