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    London's Aaya Has Japanese Cool, Fabulous Food, Hidden Entrance

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    London's Aaya Has Japanese Cool, Fabulous Food, Hidden Entrance

    Post by sang_garuda on Sun Aug 17, 2008 7:37 am

    Are you recognized in restaurants?'' my guest asked as we arrived at Aaya, a new Japanese eatery in London's Soho. ``I suppose it's inevitable,'' I said with a shrug, then confidently gave the receptionist my usual pseudonym.

    She looked blankly at me, peered at the reservations, checked my name again and said there was no booking. Fortunately, there were plenty of tables. Aaya hides behind an anonymous facade on an unfashionable stretch of street near Piccadilly Circus and isn't another Nobu, where you need to make reservations weeks ahead.

    Owner Gary Yau is the brother of Alan Yau, who has won international acclaim for founding the Wagamama noodle chain and then Hakkasan and Yauatcha, the first two Chinese restaurants in the world to win Michelin stars. For all his success, Alan is self-effacing. Judging by Aaya, Gary is similarly modest.

    The entrance is difficult to spot and while the room is beautiful -- it's designed by David Archer Architects -- the look is more functional than flash. A counter runs the length of the ground-floor dining room while downstairs there's a sushi bar.

    The cuisine is contemporary Japanese, the kind of culinary territory explored by Roka and Nobu. Starters include tuna tartare with a spicy sesame dressing, and robata-grilled Kumamoto oysters with ponzu sauce. There's also a warm salad of an assortment of wild mushrooms, and a mini-selection of three Japanese appetizers.

    While everything is wonderfully fresh, it's the sashimi that stands out for its buttery, melt-in-the-mouth texture and the clean flavors. A selection of five pieces costs 18 pounds ($33.65) or you can go for five kinds of tuna, an explosively tasty selection of cuts and textures, including tartare.

    Sea Urchin

    Sushi starts at 1.50 pounds apiece and rises to 4.50 pounds for fatty tuna or seared fatty tuna, though the latter won't be to everyone's taste and wasn't to mine. Other options include prawn, eel, yellowtail, sea urchin and asparagus. Selections are 18 pounds for five pieces and 24 pounds for eight.

    Sushi rolls such as crunchy king crab, dragon or spicy tuna are colorful and well made. The presentation of the dishes -- by an all-Japanese kitchen crew -- has that combination of simplicity and precision the cuisine requires. The Japanese tableware, white and unadorned, is the perfect frame for such culinary artistry.

    The other joy, and far from incidental, is the price. The food costs less than you will pay at venues such as Sumosan or Zuma. The drinks are reasonable, too. The house sake, a 250-ml carafe of Fukuju ``Takumi'' from Kobe, is 9.50 pounds, plus there is an ungreedy wine list. There's iced green tea at 3.50 pounds and a bunch of Asian-inspired cocktails.

    Sake Carafe

    These are early days and not everything's perfect. The service on one lunchtime visit was all over the place. It took four requests and about 10 minutes to get a glass of Coke from the bar to our table -- a distance of about six feet -- when the place was almost empty. It never made its way onto the bill, though a carafe of sake we hadn't ordered did. (Who cares? I drank it.)

    On a busy Friday night, the service was smooth and on another quiet lunchtime, the South African waitress displayed a knowledge of the dishes that was highly impressive. Generally, the service is friendly and un-snooty. Aaya isn't a scene. It's a very serious restaurant that happens to be cool and fashionable, too.

    This isn't to knock its rivals. I had a fabulous meal at Roka last week and there are plenty of good Japanese venues in London, including Dinings, Saki and Chisou before you join the queue for a table at Nobu, where I'd be happy to pass an evening or two.

    But Aaya is special, and you don't need to be recognized to have a good time.

    Aaya, 66-70 Brewer Street, London, W1F 9UP. Telephone +44-20-7319-3888. No Web site, and do make a note of the address because the entrance is discreet.

    The Bloomberg Questions

    Cost? Sushi set lunch is 15 pounds.

    Sound level? Like rain drops falling on bamboo.

    Date place? Yes.

    Inside tip? Save your pennies and stick with house sake.

    Special feature? The sashimi.

    Private room? No.

    Will I be back? Yes.

    Rating? ***

    What the Stars Mean
    **** Incomparable food, service, ambience.
    *** First-class of its kind.
    ** Good, reliable.
    * Fair.
    0 (no stars) Poor.
    (Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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    Re: London's Aaya Has Japanese Cool, Fabulous Food, Hidden Entrance

    Post by Prodip2007 on Sun Aug 17, 2008 10:02 am

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