If you look up Sumosan Twiga on Googlemaps it labels it ‘Minimalist Japanese Restaurant’.
The only thing minimalist about Sumosan Twiga is that statement. Even its name takes some beating. Think of a Japanese restaurant and you think simple, monosyllabic motifs. Minimalist, one might say. Name aside, it’s not just a Japanese restaurant, it’s also Italian. Not fusion, however – they’ve not even attempted it – but, simply, two menus: one Japanese, one Italian. It’s not as crazy as it sounds; have you ever been out for dinner somewhere and you want one thing and your dining partner wants another? See? Makes sense now, eh?
But what of this culinary oddity; why the cryptic name? Why the diversely different menus? Sumosan Twiga is a meeting of minds, specifically those of hospitality entrepreneurs, billionaire business mogul Flavio Briatore and restaurateur Janina Wolkow, who, in a heady blend of desire and serendipity, and a chat one afternoon overlooking the bay of Monte Carlo, decided to merge their restaurant concepts in one – his Italian flair and her Japanese brand, Sumosan, already established in Moscow and Dubai.
The result is a spot of Monte Carlo sophistication brought to Knightsbridge. Set over three floors, an evening at Sumosan Twiga can easily accommodate all three. Upstairs, amid the opulence of embellished wood and mirrors, a seductive bar sets the scene at the hands of mixologist Dario. Awaiting my dining companion, I ask Dario for ‘something to set the evening up’ and moments later he proffers a Boulevardier, his spin on a Negroni. He’s read me well. I fancy I might flaneur amid the lights and libation hotspots of the Champs Elysees.
So far, nothing to suggest the minimalism that was alluded to. Perhaps downstairs, in the dining room, then. There’s a suggestion of monochrome, between the black wood floor and classical stucco, but again it’s graced with oriental orchids and juxtaposed with artworks from…Africa? Not so curious, given Briatore’s love of the continent. Indeed, about the name, ‘Twiga’ is Swahili for giraffe, Briatore’s favourite animal.
The open sushi kitchen prompted us to consider the menu; Italian on the left, Japanese on the right. It did feel curious, like flitting between left and right brain hempisheres. Yin and yang. Male and female. We settled on what many do; start with Japanese and go for Italian for the main. I could have gone either way for everything, really, some of these dishes sounded exquisite. And there was a real risk of over ordering.
We began delicately, with the hamachi tiradito, a truffle-infused yellow tail ceviche. We could smell the truffle from fifty paces and the dish burst with citrus. More raw fish in the shape of bite-size chewy crispy rice with pureed tuna tartare, followed by rich, spicy king crab gratin. A lobster salad came on a ball of lollobianco lettuce with a powerfully moreish miso dressing. And all that before the sushi roll, in this case chef Buba’s signature roll of seabass and roe and his ‘billionaire’ roll dusted with gold. We certainly weren’t going minimal on the food.
Dining in Mayfair you might feel you need to be on your best behaviour, watchful of snooty glances over starched tablecloths. Here, you’re encouraged to enjoy yourself. More importantly, we heard Italian voices. That Italian menu can’t be half bad, then. As the evening wore on, the first floor filled; tables of couples, fours, groups at the window banquettes. There was a sense of familiarity, not the formal. People had been here before, and were coming back as regulars.
The mains arrived, wheeled on a trolley. I can’t say I’ve never seen pasta presented in copper dishes and assembled in front of us; our waiter twisting linguine into a cone, spooning the sauce over it. “Aah, this smells of Italy,” he offered as he twirled, and placed both dishes in the middle of the table. Doing so made for sharing, we could dip in and out of each as we saw fit. I certainly couldn’t stick to the scorpion fish taglioni when the house special of strozzapreti with wild sea bass and lemon sauce was on offer. Complimented by a crisp white Rioja, we couldn’t go wrong.
So far, so not minimalist. But more was to come. As we twirled and chewed, sipped and slurped, an apparition arrived in pink shirt and trousers I’ve never seen the like of. If I told you they were lime green and printed with tropical flora and fauna I couldn’t do them justice. This was Alessandro Ristori, the evening’s entertainment. His band, The Portofinos, embodied the Beatles circa 1969. His guitarist had stolen Lennon’s white flared suit and the bassist strummed as loud as his Hawaiian shirt.
When he opened with an evidently Italian classic, there was some recognition in the room. Head-bobbing and foot-tapping as diners finished their meals. But there was almost an urgency to their eating now, as if something was about to happen beyond the lounge lizard act accompanying a convivial dinner. When he went into Be My Baby, the room erupted. Phones came out, capturing it for posterity. We hadn’t finished our scorpion fish pasta before the adjacent table was up and dancing. There followed renditions of Help Yourself (in Italian), Always On My Mind (actually rather good), more Elvis with Devil in Disguise (a personal favourite, to which I sang along), and the scene-stealing If You Think I’m Sexy, Alessandro venturing into the crowd, high-kicking, dipping and gyrating. People whooped and cheered. It’s no wonder he’s Monaco’s biggest star.
As he grabbed a martini from the bar, the respite from the first set gave way to desserts of a deeply eggy tiramisu and an iceberg of ice cream we struggled to make a dent in. And, as Alessandro took up the mic again, I was cursing the early night I’d given myself. The room whipped up, our espressos drained, we had to part company and, as we left, I heard the opening bars of Pretty Woman. I glanced back from the door. Alessandro was on a table. Waiters were unphased, nonchalantly steering glassware and crockery from his twisting feet. The room was lapping it up, on their feet and dancing. We were wide-eyed in wonder. Nowhere else could you get a dinner like this. As we descended the stairs and ventured back into the night, Alessandro’s crooning faded behind us, punctuated by the odd cheer, the occasional squeal.
Sumosan Twiga is not minimalist; it’s not only Japanese, nor even, simply, a restaurant. It’s an experience. I’ve let Google know.
Sumosan Twiga. 165 Sloane Street, London SW1X 9QB. For more information, including details of menus, the Late Night Lounge and even personalising your own event, visit www.sumosantwigalondon.com.
The restaurant has recently announced the guest stewardship of award-winning chef Reif Othman, whose CV includes the likes of One Rochester and Zuma Dubai and Miami, exclusively at Sumosan Twiga in August. Othman, renowned for his visionary dining experiences, celebrated at his most recent project ‘The Experience’ and Play at the H Hotel in Dubai, will be taking the helm as the venue’s Executive Chef bringing his culinary artistry to the Japanese menu exclusively for the month.