Judging by my recent visit to South Kensington’s slick new hotspot, Ramusake, London’s ferocious appetite for casual dining and sharing small plates shows no sign of abating. In fact, I often wonder if the city’s traditional, white linen fine-dining scene is in danger of becoming moribund, as the market seems to be obsessed with the mantra of informality and nibbling on bite-size portions in a bar/club environment.
Ramusake is the latest entry into this firmament of restaurants, complete with a nightclub and cocktail bar. It has already become a hit with Princess Beatrice, Guy Ritchie and Cressida Bonas, who popped in for Maki rolls before the place officially opened. There were even whispers that Ramusake might steal some of the celebrity thunder from Chiltern Firehouse, another A-list favourite. The ingredients are certainly all in place: casual dining, an enviable location and, of course, the endorsement of those who apparently matter most – film directors and royalty!
But regardless of who can attract the most celebs, Ramusake’s credentials are nonetheless impressive. The duo behind this project are Piers Adam and Scott Hallsworth, two guys who know a thing or two about giving punters a great time. Adam is the man responsible for running the two nightspots Mahiki and Whisky Mist. He joined forces with Hallsworth, formerly a chef at Nobu, who now runs Japanese restaurant Kurobuta, another massively trendy London haunt.
I arrived in the middle of Christmas Party season, and sure enough, we were eventually sat opposite a large table of raucous Ford models out on the Christmas lash, so to speak. Initially though, we were given the option of enjoying a soothing cocktail in the snug little corner bar area. Expect to be greeted by your friendly mixologist Rosco, a Geordie man about town who knows more about mixing a good cocktail than Hugh Hefner understands about underwear. Indeed, the cocktail list, rather than the food offering is arguably the main attraction at Ramusake, including an extensive list of sake and familiar faces given a 21st century makeover. An unseasonal Bellini sharpened our appetites, complete with a dash of Tears of the Peach Momoshu to give it that Japanese twist.
That said, the food is far from an after-thought in this cosy, impeccably designed basement space. The interior takes its lead from a Japanese institution – Izakayas – which are essentially urban bars that serve food, and undoubtedly optional extras depending on what takes your fancy. Hiring Louise White of W Design Studio had clearly paid dividends; the venue has an effortless urban cool about it, with tables reasonably spaced out although it’s admittedly hard to avoid your neighbours’ conversation. White is transparently a fan of the Big Apple as Ramusake speaks more of a New York East Village space than a London restaurant, with wood panelled ceilings and flooring, soft lighting and cute glass lampshades dangling from above.
The staff seem to have been strictly selected based on looks and were in fact far more attractive than the bevy of models sat opposite. Waitresses wear double denim and headscarves, while the largely Italian waiters dart around the restaurant all in black – I’d never felt so unattractive in all my life. Our affable waiter proceeded to bring a selection of snacks and starters – sweet potato and Soba-Jo fries, beef fillet tataki with onion ponzu and garlic crisps and yellow tail sashimi with kizami wasabi salsa. The fries were dangerously addictive and sure enough, a second helping was soon called for. The beef fillet tataki was similarly exquisite. Then came one of my favourite parts of the evening; fried chicken kara-age sliders with kimchee mayo, pickles and mayo.
Ignoring the sound advice of our waiter to stick to four dishes each, we ordered a few choices from the Robata BBQ section, with a bottle of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc to wash it down with. The wine list is actually the only underwhelming thing about the place, quite short and not particularly interesting. I guess they want everyone’s focus to remain on the sake and cocktails.
Preparing to leave, most of our fellow diners remained glued to their tables, prompting me to question whether they were waiting for a missing course. But of course not, how silly of me, they were anticipating a night on the tiles, which gets grooving after 11pm. This after-dinner service, branded The Den, keeps the party going to 3am on Friday’s and Saturday’s, hangover included.
So a visit to Ramusake silences the naysayers who claim that a restaurant can’t be all things to all men, which is precisely what this Japanese eatery offers. For a modest membership fee: sip cocktails, dine or boogie the night away depending on what takes your fancy. And unlike many of its A-list conscious competitors, even mere mortals are encouraged to enjoy a night at Ramusake.
Ramusake, 92B Old Brompton Road, South Kensington, SW7 5LR. Tel: 0207 842 8518. Website. Membership is £250 per year, per person.