BACKGROUND Chotto Matte opened in Soho last September, and serves on-trend Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine known as “Nikkei”, a fortunate consequence of Japanese immigration to the South American country in the late 1800s.
The enterprise was set up by Kurt Zdesar, who was hired by American chain Nobu (also specialising is Japanese-Peruvian fare) in the 1990s to launch its London outpost, and later founded of the Ping Pong dim sum chain of eateries.
Master sushi chef Tetsuya Kato (who used to slice and dice for the Emperor of Japan himself) works behind the raw bar, while executive chef Jordan Sclare oversees the menu.
In case you’re wondering, Chotto Matte means “What a minute” in Japanese.
THE RESTAURANT The first thing that struck me when I arrived at Chotto Matte was what an improvement it looked to the Giraffe fast-food outlet that came before it – mainly because they had opened up the front to the street allowing for al fresco after-work cocktails under the warmth of overhead heaters. (Terrible for the environment but a necessity in England.) The vibe was happy and continental – it almost gave me that holiday feeling of being out on a warm summer’s evening somewhere overseas.
Given that many Japanese restaurants can be starkly minimalist (see Nobu London), Chotto Matte is a lot more lively, urban and colourful. According to Chotto Matte’s publicity blurb: “The interiors are designed to evoke a sense of modern day Tokyo offering guests a multi?layered experience that blurs the boundaries between modern and traditional aesthetics.”
Tokyo-based graphic artist Houxo Que is responsible for the glow-in-under-UV murals in the basement (where the pitch black toilets are located), and Londoner Tom Blackford painted the giant graffiti walls (behind glass) on the ground and upper levels. Having lived in the Japanese capital for a year, it was an approach I approved of, although its execution won’t appeal to everyone.
Andy Martin Architects took on the job of transforming the expansive, three-floor space. The ground-floor comprises a sweeping bar cut from lava stone, a raised dining area for 55 people, and the raw bar for eight eaters at the back. A spiral cedar-wood staircase leads up to a 100-seat dining room with a ten-person Robata grill and a ten-spot sushi bar.
As with every “cool” new restaurant opening in London, you can expect to share small plates, see filament light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, and listen to loud DJ sets that create a club-like atmosphere by the end of the night. (The clientele can get a bit raucous too.) Unlike every “cool” new restaurant opening in London, you can make reservations.
Unfortunately, Chotto Matte seems to be living up to its name of "Wait a minute" – my friends and I waited for a considerable amount of time for almost everything we ordered. Firstly, Eloise, who arrived first, was standing at the bar for a good ten before the bartender finally got around to serving her a glass of prosecco. To make matters worse, she then incurred a 94p “service charge” on top of the price of the drink.
The food and wine was also slow coming out and, at one point, when we were still waiting for our wine after 25 minutes, a complaint to the front desk was required. It then materialised that they had swiftly changed our (sweet but inept) waiter for Victor, who was much more on the ball and very charming. But even then we had to wait another ten minutes for the bottle to arrive.
THE FOOD I began with a cold and cloudy Moshi Moshi Madre cocktail, which, served in a martini glass with a purple pansy floating on top, looked pretty but tasted sickly sweet (Bombay dry gin, Akashi Tai sake, elderflower liqueur and lemon). I stuck to Kirin Ichiban beer for the rest of the night.
The menu begins with a message from Kurt Zdesar: “We have four cooking stations in our restaurant: sushi bar, barbecue, sautée and tempura. All ingredients are responsibly sourced. Our food is served on small plates and we recommend four to five per person.
“All dishes have been designed to be shared in the centre of the table. Our waiters will organise the order of the dishes to be served, adhering to our philosophy of first eating colder, light-flavoured dishes, graduating to hotter, fuller flavours and ending with sushi.”
The menu is several pages long so it’s hard to choose – for this reason it’s tempting to go for one of the nine-course Nikkei sharing menus. These range from £40 to £60 per person depending on the dishes included, and have to be ordered for the whole table.
We handed control to our waiter, who started us off with some fresh edamame (green soy beans in the pod) with sea salt (£3.25), and a portion of cassava and sweet potato chips with yellow tomato salsa and guacamole, which was so delicious I wished it was a bigger portion (£3.25).
Next came the corn, green bean, avocado and spring onion fritters with daikon sauce, served as a trio on a rectangular turquoise plate (£7.95); a zesty tomato, red onion, purple potato salad delicately arranged on a long blue platter; and a circle of mixed vegetable tartar topped with a beetroot crisp (£5.75).
Then there were nuggets of wild prawn tempura with huacatay (a spicy green herb sauce from the Andes) and butter ponzu (a Japanese citrus dressing) for £14.95; seabass ceviche with sweet potato, Peruvian corn, coriander and chive oil (£7.25); and Nikkei yellowtail sashimi with coriander, jalapeno, black salt, lemon, lime and truffle. This was overpoweringly zesty and didn’t quite work with the perfumed truffle.
The feast continued with soft chunks of lilac miso aubergine mixed with sticky sweet apricots, puffed soba and sesame seeds (£7.25); slices of Nikkei-barbecued chicken with a garlic egg sauce; and tender Anticucheria-chargrilled octopus marinated in Peruvian aji panca and aji amarillo with tangy yuzu and purple potato (£9.95). Sides were of quinoa salad with pomegranate and soy-fried brown rice (both £3.25).
The flavours were exciting and surprising – at once zesty, smoky and spicy (thanks to Peru), and umami savoury (thanks to Japan). Not everything was a hit, the giant corn on the cob being one. This proved so controversial that the couple next to us turned to ask if we had tried it, as she thought it was “the most disgusting thing ever,” and just “unnecessary calories”.
I tried some (she handed me the plate so I felt obliged), and I didn’t think it was that bad – just watery chunks of flavourless corn. Overall though, I think the mix of cultures worked well, with snappy ceviche sitting alongside delicate sushi. The challenge is choosing well.
Dessert (£6.50-£7.50) was hit, although I couldn’t imagine it was traditional Nikkei cooking. We shared the pineapple “toban yaki” – juicy fruit baked in black corn syrup topped with a crumble and vanilla ice cream – and the salted caramel fondant, which was excellent. We also each had a chilled cup of plum sake (£15), which was very pleasant.
VERDICT The food here is exciting and the presentation eye-catching, but despite it’s funky, laid-back vibe it’s not a cheap night out, particularly because it is easy to loose track when ordering lots of small plates to share. If you are considering meeting clients here, be aware that the music can get quite loud and that the service isn’t what it should be. If it is something less formal, you could have fun.
OPENING HOURS Mon-Sat 12pm-1.30pm, Sun 12pm-12am.
PRICES Hot/cold appetisers £5.95-£14; tempura £7.75-£14.95; sautée £6.25-£15.95; Nikkei barbecue £5.25-£19.50; Anticucheria barbecue £5.25-£11.95; sushi per piece £1.50-£4.50. Nine-course Nikkei sharing menus £40, £45 or £60 per person for the whole table.
CONTACT 11-13 Frith Street; tel +44 (0)20 7042 7171; chotto-matte.com