I have a friend called Rugby Jamie. Everyone ought to. He’s not called Rugby Jamie on account of being a sporting gentleman (though, thanks to his extensive knowledge of martial arts, he’d be more than handy in a brawl) but because I needed to differentiate him from my other tribe of Jamie-friends. Thus we have Married Jamie, Christian Jamie, Gay Jamie, Rugby Jamie and more besides. If one of them was called James it would have made my life much easier.
Anyway, Rugby Jamie and I were debating the other day which cuisine we hadn’t tried recently. Amidst the more outré suggestions – Arbuturian readers, consider yourselves spared a review of a Kazakh all-you-can-eat buffet – we both realised that we hadn’t visited a Japanese restaurant lately, and so we decided to head down to Trafalgar Square to try the much-acclaimed Watatsumi restaurant, which opened recently to a chorus of approval. Belts were loosened, comfortable clothing donned and we prepared for a feast.
I’ve always been slightly lukewarm about Japanese food myself, ever since visiting what was supposedly New York’s finest establishment and munching disconsolately on a sea urchin. However, Watatsumi sensibly offers a far more accessible and enjoyable experience, meaning that those of a culinarily unadventurous nature will be as pleased as those for whom sashimi and nigiri are everyday parts of their diet. We started off with a couple of cocktails, something rather lovely called a Bonsai Breeze which featured apple, ginger beer and gin. A nibble of scallop nigiri was the perfect match, with fiery wasabi of gratifying strength.
Being something of a coward when it comes to the finer points of raw fish, I opted for vegetarian gyoza for a starter proper, with cabbage and shitake mushrooms. It was delicious, perhaps slightly overpriced at £9, but it slipped down as easily as a fireman on a pole. Rugby Jamie, a more adventurous cove, chose salmon sashimi. I wasn’t allowed any but judging by the grunts of satisfaction and the muttered “Issgood” at the end, he seemed to enjoy it. It was washed down beautifully by a crisp, light Singerreidel Veltliner, Austrian and proud of it.
Seeking to exhibit our latent manliness, we both ordered steak for our main courses. Mine was a rather beautifully cooked rib-eye with miso sauce, an interesting take on the conventional lump of meat. Rugby Jamie had the bavette, an appealing but often overlooked cut (Jason Atherton serves it at Pollen Street Social) that was beautifully cooked and stylishly presented. A side of sautéed vegetables and rice added some welcome starch to the dishes, and a more than drinkable 2007 Malbec saw us make strange, unnatural purring sounds that had other diners mistake us for unusually large, hearty cats. Dessert of chocolate fondant and sorbet wasn’t especially Japanese, but delicious nonetheless, helped on its way by some lovely Muscat.
As we emerged, replete, into the evening air, Rugby Jamie leant forcefully towards me. I braced myself, expecting an attack of some sort. He had the look of a man who meant business, and he’d just been awarded his blue belt the previous weekend.
“That”, he said, with an air of high-minded satisfaction, “was really very bloody good.”
I honestly couldn’t agree more.
Watatsumi, 7 Northumberland Avenue, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5BY. Tel: 020 7036 8520. Website.