At first glance, Hot Stone appears to be just another low-key Japanese local. Classic minimalist interiors are matched with faux cherry blossom trees climbing the walls and cutesy chopstick stands in the shape of animals. But cheery staff (who, Nobu-style, offer a Japanese greeting in unison to everyone that comes through the door) and the skilful output of the kitchen lift Hot Stone well above the generically Japanese and prove that there’s more to this Islington gem than meets the eye.
Guests can watch the chefs' work by dining at the counter or choose to sit at a handful of tables towards the back of the restaurant. As the name suggests, hot stone dishes are the thing to try – sizzling slabs of granite heated to 400 degrees which arrive at the table with your choice of protein, with diners left to cook the food to their liking. We opted for the luxe, startlingly tender A5 Japanese Wagyu, but we could have had Australian halal picanha Wagyu, certified Kobe beef or a seafood mix of scallop, king prawn, tuna and salmon.
If that doesn’t appeal, there are plenty of other dishes which impress. Take the supremely flaky black cod (another nod to Nobu), marinated for 48 hours and slicked with homemade miso. Sushi, meanwhile, exquisitely presented in smart wooden boxes with freshly-grated Japanese wasabi, ranges from the classic to the contemporary: yellowtail, eel or seared fatty tuna with king prawn truffle, say, or a maki roll involving A5 Japanese wagyu and homemade goma sauce.
Just five minutes’ walk from Angel tube station, Hot Stone is well worth a look for anyone looking for an intriguing and intimate alternative to central London's party crowd of frenetic, fast-paced modern Japanese. And while it's by no means a cheap eat, prices are not outrageous for the high quality of the ingredients (fresh 100% Japanese wasabi features prominently), while the short and straightforward list of saké and international wines is worth exploring.