Sushi Samba. Splash the cash.
My FOMO has reached new proportions. I know that this is a mix of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian, pure con-fusion food but I’m not sure what that really means. Though I do know my nigiri from my sashimi, I’m not so hot on the churrascos and the anticuchos, so I have decided to plan in advance, otherwise known as looking up menu items online.
My sneak peek starts at the vast booze menu, anxiety-inducing in its degree of choice. I settle on sparkling sake, the lightweight’s tipple, with alcohol levels in single figures and prices which don’t frighten me, until I realise that they are for 300ml and not a wine-sized bottle.
Scrolling down onto the food, I note that we are already too late to order the Kobe Beef Ishiyaki, at a mere £1000 a kilo, as it needs to be ordered at least 48 hours in advance. I start to wonder what sort of people eat here. After 30 seconds in the restaurant, I think I know.
I am here with client G and his wife T. G has been wanting to visit for, oh, ever. C is not available and I risk asking my joint managing partner J.
As J and I go up to the 38th floor in the glass lift, amidst a group of strangers, I remark upon the clear view over the whole of London in the twilight. Just like the Luftwaffe had, when they bombed it, shouts J, apropos of nothing in particular. People look at the floor. It may be a long night.
The thronging, noisy bar is full of very young people, some barely out of their teens. We all try not to stare at the very young couple adjacent to us, elaborately entwined, sucking face. As they go, hopefully to get a room, they leave half-full cocktail glasses. We may or may not have appropriated them as our own. I do so hate waste.
You can eat at the sushi bar, although I do not see any reason why you would, unless you are deaf, can lip-read or have no desire for conversation. We go to the slightly less noisy restaurant and my eardrums rejoice. At twenty-four feet high, with floor-to-ceiling glass on three sides, there is a bit of a view thing going on. It is spectacular.
The 20 foot high tree on the outdoor terrace is rather Brazilian Carnival in that it is bright orange and draped with thousands of little lights and I confess that it appeals to my inner drag queen and I cannot say that I would not want one under any circumstances.
I am asked to order for the table and don’t even pretend that this doesn’t make me happy. I liaise with the waitress to make sure that I don’t over-order and off we go.
I would not bother with the Padrón peppers if this is to be your first experience of them. Not many on the plate and £6 for the privilege. On the other hand, the green bean tempura, with black truffle aïoli are little sticks of pleasure and I could have eaten all of them on my own. I almost did.
Glazed pork belly is sweet, crisp, chewy and luscious, with a hit of orange and pickled onion. I’d happily order it again. The tuna tiradito (raw fish in a spicy sauce) is the least interesting of our dishes and a tiny portion size. It looks pretty, but we demolish it in seconds. It is our first meh moment.
More successful are the sharp/sweet/savoury crispy taquitos, mini tacos stuffed with thinly-sliced sea-bass sashimi, momiji ponzu, apple oroshi, leek, lime, takuan and wasabi furikake. Yes, I know and you now understand why I had to bone up and I have done the big work so you don’t have to. Here it is:-
Momiji ponzu –a maple and citrus based sauce
Apple oroshi – this would appear to be grated apple
Furikake – a seasoning meant to be sprinkled over rice comprising seaweed, sugar salt and (ohmygod) MSG
Takuan: pickled daikon radish (you should know daikon by now, I’ve seen it in Prêt)
Also worthy of mention are the Samba London sushi rolls, with crab, tuna, salmon, whitefish, prawn, avocado, tempura crunch rice cracker, Japanese pickles, wasabi mayo, aji panca (a Peruvian red pepper) and a spicy mayo. All of that, rolled up into a mouthful of ker-pow. And breeeathe.I’m not sure that my palate can quite manage to differentiate between the various ingredients but it tastes great. It’s not fine or delicate but frankly, that isn’t the point here. The nigiri sushi are competent, but I’ve been spoilt by Tokyo and I’m afraid life will never be the same again.
I am not sure exactly what makes me order the organic red chocolate chilli peppers, Peruvian chili mousse, red pepper tuile, raspberry-red pepper sorbet and chocolate crumble. I want to see whether I can bring myself to like the chilli/chocolate combo, having tried it just the once and instantly regretted it. Here, balls of chocolate mousse with a slight chilli hit are remarkably tasty and despite myself I really like the raspberry red pepper sorbet, just on the right side of sweet. I also love the red pepper tuile. Who knew? It is visually exciting, in a tacky but nonetheless pleasing way. Like the restaurant itself.
It is at this point that G decides to ask the waitress her nationality. Guess, she says. He does. She’s Polish. They have a conversation about Krakow and its history. At this point J goes all WW2 and starts talking about the Schindler Museum. The waitress sports a fixed smile and suddenly needs to be elsewhere. It is time to leave.
Judgement: Sushi Samba appeals to those who want a little bit of glitz with their food; it’s no coincidence that other branches are in Miami Beach, New York’s West Village, Coral Gables and of course, Las Vegas. It is a quintessential Vegas restaurant and it’s not only the restaurant that is sky-high, the prices are pretty vertiginous too. It’s a slice of American glitz, slap-bang in a London market full of the understated and quietly trendy. Like Nobu on acid, it’s not subtle and has a party atmosphere which, for a restaurant with Samba in its name is not entirely surprising. If you like drinking with teenagers and tourists, you’ll love the bar, otherwise stick to the restaurant, do a lunchtime slot and take time on the terrace. Just don’t mention the war.