Glossy, pretty and oh so vacant
Tourist guide books often note that London no longer has a high-rise rotating tower restaurant like Berlin’s TV Tower or Toronto’s CN Tower. While thankfully true, this doesn’t mean London is short of skyscraper restaurants – far from it. There are plenty of places where you’re paying more for the view then you are for the food. Sushisamba lies just one floor below Duck and Waffle in the City’s Heron Tower, but couldn’t be more different. As if the panoramic views of the capital weren’t enough, the main dining room has a vaulted ceiling quite unlike any other, while an incandescent tree lights up the drinking balcony.
Sushisamba’s charms then start to slowly seep away, like dirty bath water down the drain. The multi-level bar, where you can eat at the counter, feels like a claustrophobic ocean liner despite the high ceilings. The braying clientele of city boys, wannabe city boys and Sloane rangers off the reservation, all in varying states of drunken dry-humping, not only explains the deafening noise but is also probably the cause of the haunted glassy-eyed look of hollowed-out resignation in the staff. Most of the ones I spoke to responded to my queries with monosyllabic grunts or with thinly-veiled brusqueness.
Dining as part of a large group, I nonetheless tried to keep an open mind amidst all this socioeconomic carnage. But being subjected to the Shoji set menu tested my patience, even when bearing in mind Sushisamba’s stated objective of blending Japanese, Peruvian and Brazilian cuisine. Things started off with sensibly salted edamame and roasted corn nuts which tasted like a cross between popcorn and peanuts.
There was some creamy, tender beef in the wagyu taquitos, but it was hard to make them out. Not only because of their small bittiness, but also because the wagyu was buried underneath an avalanche of avocado mush and spiced mayo. As if that wasn’t enough of a distraction, the crispy taco shells obscured the beef even further. Pointless.
It was a similar story with the tuna where the fish had been smothered into anonymity the kimchi-like sauce, a pointless foam and a whole heap of other ingredients including wasabi peas, pomegranate and corn nuts. If less is more, then all this overwrought complexity counts for nothing.
Deep-fried salt cod balls were much better. An oil-free exterior hid a dense, meaty and lightly salted but distinctively fishy interior.
I’ve never seen the appeal of teriyaki and the version here didn’t change my opinion of it. Mildly moist and tender slices of poultry (allegedly poussin) had a generically sugary sweet glaze that will appeal only if you have the sensibilities and discretion of a child with a Wagamama’s loyalty card.
Although the lime and ponzu glaze was entirely inconsequential, large fillets of hamachi were still pleasing thanks to the fresh, meaty flesh.
Tender, fatty and charred rib eye steak was, for some reason, accompanied by rather tame slices of chorizo that was only modestly fatty and spiced. Scattered alongside were tender but otherwise unremarkable slices of wagyu beef.
Served alongside the platter of meat was some sticky and sweet coconut rice as well as some oddly firm, chewy and extra large corn kernels which were far more enjoyable than many of the other dishes served thus far.
The surprisingly limp salmon nigiri and boiled, butterfly prawn nigiri weren’t bothering with. This made the citrusy undertone to the tender white flesh of the yellowtail nigiri (almost certainly of the same hamachi breed as the grilled fillet of fish above) all the more welcome.
The Ezo futomaki rolls allegedly combined soy-marinated salmon, asparagus, sesame, chives, tempura crunch, soy paper and wasabi mayonnaise. So many ingredients to so little effect. Moderately less forgettable were the similar Tokyo Sky Tree tuna-based futomaki rolls. The mild crunchiness imparted by tempura flakes and crumbs maintained a minimum level of appeal.
In comparison to the panoply of savoury dishes, there was just one dessert. The modestly flavoured passion fruit cake was nonetheless pleasurable thanks to its light fluffiness which contrasted neatly with the sharpness of the raspberry sorbet and the distinct coconut flavour of the tuile. The only downers on this plate was the muted white chocolate and green tea ganaches.
Nothing I say will dent the popularity of Sushisamba. If you’re heavily minded to scale a skyscraper just for the view despite the thinly-disguised gimmick food, then chances are you’re a lost cause as it is. I was always prepared for the appeal and value of Sushisamba to be limited to the view and decor, but I was still taken aback by just how scattershot the £70 Shoji menu was. There are some good dishes in there, but at this price you can do so much better in London. You’d better really, really want to see the bright lights of London from up above to put up with such cynical money-grabbing mediocrity.
Address: 110 Bishopsgate (aka Heron Tower or Salesforce Tower) London, EC2N 4AY
Phone: 0203 640 7330
Opening Hours: Sunday-Monday 11.30-01.30 and Tuesday-Saturday 11.30-02.00
Total cost for one person including soft drinks: £85 approx.