While the ground floor at Japan House epitomises Japanese minimalism with its glass walls, white floors and stark furniture, those who venture up the spiral staircase to the restaurant are met with an altogether warmer ambience.
As diners are shown to their tables they’re greeted with a whooping cheer of “Irrashaimase!” from the team of chefs in the open kitchen. The term means 'come on in' or 'welcome' and whilst it's a customary practice in Japan, to those unversed in the culture it's an endearing, albeit startling gesture.
The decor here, whilst still markedly simple, incorporates subtle design features that lend more interest to the space – notably a black metal lattice screen dividing the bar from the restaurant, an unusual black slatted ceiling and handcarved wooden furniture.
The menu is extensive and a little overwhelming, but the enthusiastic staff are only too happy to explain the dishes on offer. We were advised to go for a robata omakase and a sushi omakase to try a variety of dishes, although it soon became apparent that the difference between the two is minimal.
We began with the daily appetiser, a dainty Japanese sashimi salad combining cubes of raw fish with radishes, seaweed and chives atop an unidentifiable but moreish sauce. It was a strong start and perfectly matched with a glass of saké but we'd barely rested our chopsticks before the next course arrived.
The lids of two wooden bento boxes were theatrically removed to reveal a treasure trove of unfamiliar ingredients beneath. The contents of each compartment were explained to us at lightning speed and forgotten within seconds. There was a bewildering roulette of flavours and textures but it made for a fun dining experience as we dipped and dived into each compartment sampling generous wedges of fresh sashimi, and an assortment of Japanese osozai sides that ranged from the brilliant to the bizarre.
Mains are divided between another smaller sushi box, and a hot black rock topped with a selection of the daily robata meats and tempura spring onions. We were disappointed that the sushi was entirely nigiri – some rolls would have been a welcome variation – but the chicken and lamb from the robata were perfectly tender with the delicate smoky flavour of charcoal.
Desserts comprise a choice of three; we swerved the akira pudding with its ominous sounding 'tofu jelly' in favour of the matcha chocolate fondant and the matcha mille crepe cake.
We were pre-warned that the fondant is served at room temperature without a molten centre and indeed it was more like a rich, smooth ganache topped with a matcha sauce and served with a mochi ice cream ball. The crepe cake however was a bona fide delight – light and creamy with the perfect amount of sweetness to balance out the grassiness of the matcha.
Given the steep prices, we felt that our meal at Akira was missing the wow factor but, that said, we only just skimmed the surface of what this restaurant has to offer. Next time we'll be back to try the noodle soups and donabe clay-pot dishes.