A butterfly reemerges from the old Cocoon?
London’s Regent Street is better known for its shopping than its dining. The few restaurants are divided between fast food joints and the odd cafe on one hand and expensive fine dining places on the other. Senkai is definitely one of the latter. Although this Japanese restaurant appears to be brand new, it’s actually a revamped and relaunched version of Cocoon, a pricy pan-Asian restaurant that sat on the same site. The pan-Asian menu has now been abandoned in favour of Japanese dishes and a fairly extensive raw bar.
Although Cocoon’s dodgy boudoir-ish purple and pink colour palette has been abandoned in favour of a more neutral and more characterless colour tone, the layout remains the same. A small lobby on the ground floor with a flight of stairs leading to a large, elongated dining room with room for dozens upon dozens of covers. The circular bar in the middle now serves as the raw bar where the sushi, sashimi and other raw seafood dishes are prepared. The joint was almost deserted on the Monday evening of my visit with Bleeding Gums Murphy, unsurprisingly, although that didn’t stop the staff from choosing a nauseating soundtrack of upbeat, clubby music.
The menu at Senkai isn’t traditional Japanese with contemporary dishes and even ceviches, a Latin American dish of citrus-marinated seafood, making appearances. We started off with a sea bass, mango, mint and chilli ceviche as I was intrigued to see how Senkai handled this often badly-made dish. The addition of chilli meant that the spice dominated the dish, leaving little room for the the citrusy flavours to come out. It wasn’t overpoweringly spicy though with refreshing hits of mint coming through occasionally. Sadly, the fish was too chilled to make much of an impression, while the slice of mango added little to the dish. It’s not bad, but Inamo does a better ceviche. Even that attempt pales into obscurity when compared to the ceviche I had at Tasquita d’Enfrente in Madrid.
More successful was the table-dominating shellfish platter designed for sharing. Highlights included the fresh, shivering, delicately sweet flesh of the sweet shrimp and the delightfully creamy oysters. The ark clams were disappointingly bland though, while the addition of cooked tiger prawns and cockles, while fresh and tasty, seemed like cheap filler in a platter otherwise dominated by raw seafood and fish.
Both Bleeding Gums Murphy and I were tempted to dive into the sushi and sashimi options, but decided to cover the cooked dishes instead. Cobai is a fish rarely seen on British menus as far as I can tell. I’ve never had cobai before so I’m not sure what it’s supposed to taste like, but here it had a neutral, almost bland taste allowing the sesame seed and coriander dressing to dominate. The firm white flesh is surprisingly tender which contrasted well with the crisp mange tout. It was allegedly cooked on a robata grill, a traditional charcoal-fired Japanese grill that’s uncommon in London. I say allegedly since I would’ve sworn the characterless fish was steamed rather than grilled if I didn’t know better.
Meat and vegetarian gyoza dumplings are available at Senkai and we opted for the vegetarian version filled with mushroom and kimchi. The mushroom was so heavily diced and sliced that we could barely taste it or appreciate its texture, while the kimchi was tame and bland – a cardinal sin. At least the dumpling skins were well done with one side crispy and the other side taut and slippery.
For dessert Bleeding Gums Murphy opted for the yuzu pannacotta. The yuzu taste was strong but rather generic and could’ve been almost any citrus fruit, while the pannacotta was a little too soft and squidgy for my taste.
More interesting was my selection of sweet mochi. A variety of flavours are available from which you have to choose three. All three of my mochi had soft, chewy room-temperature exteriors surrounding an ice-cold, sorbet-ish interior. Both the green tea and coconut mochi were boldly flavoured, although the borderline artificial taste of the coconut mochi meant it was in danger of becoming a Bounty bar-esque parody of itself. The mango and chilli mochi was the most interesting of the lot, with the sweet creamy taste of mango followed by a subtle spicy kick that’s strong enough to give a nice contrast between sweet and spicy, but not so so strong as to be overpowering.
Overall a successful dessert, but I still can’t help but wistfully look back at the sweet mochi I had at Shibuya in Las Vegas.
Service was polite and helpful, although Senkai was the first restaurant I’d ever been to where I was asked to stop taking photos. Although that hardly stopped me as you can see.
The raw seafood at Senkai is generally of a high standard, but the other, more inventive dishes vary wildly from intriguing and well done, to merely satisfactory to utterly disappointing. Although this might be forgivable at a lower price, at £62 per head this isn’t acceptable and I would expect a far more consistent level of execution. Even for raw seafood, there are likely to be just as accomplished alternatives elsewhere. You’re clearly paying for the central location, but even if you nab one of the few tables with a view of Regent’s Street this hardly seems worth paying for.
Address: 65 Regent Street, London, W1B 4EA
Phone: 020 7494 7600
Web: http://www.senkairestaurant.com/ (only a basic placeholder page was available at time of writing)
Opening Hours: call to confirm
Total cost for one person including drinks when shared between two people: approx. £62
Updated 21/08/2011 with link to photo of main a la carte menu.