London restaurant of the week: The Aubrey in Knightsbridge
Knightsbridge just got a new destination restaurant in the form of The Aubrey at the Mandarin Oriental. With a whimsical design that feels more like a night of immersive theatre than a dinner date, this gloriously eccentric izakaya is like no other Japanese restaurant in the capital, where you can expect your opulent black cod and dainty sushi dishes to come garnished with a sprinkling of ants. For its fanciful, over-the-top hedonism and knockout cocktails, The Aubrey is our London restaurant of the week.
Entering The Aubrey, the ‘eccentric izakaya’ at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, through a traditional Japanese noren curtain, I struggle to recall Bar Boulud, the Daniel Boulud place that was here before. Design studio Brady Williams (Fischers, Café Anya) have transformed it into a labyrinthine warren of wood-panelled rooms, not one square inch unadorned with tassels, gilt, and 19th Century-inspired japonisme. This is the surest sign yet of the direction in which luxury dining is going. Out goes the named chef, in come the DJs, white-jacketed bartenders, and designers (the chef doesn’t even get a namecheck on the press release). It isn’t so much restaurant-going as immersive theatre.
So, you could say I’m taken aback by just how good the food is. The cocktails I knew would be something special (The Aubrey boasts London’s first ‘omakase’ cocktail bar). The Mort d’Artur, with chartreuse, shochu and clarified coconut, is a sublime drop, as it should be at £19 (I nearly went the same way as Artur when I saw the prices. The least expensive wine is £50).
The first indication that the mystery chef is a culinary genius comes with the gomae, a spinach and sesame salad I’ve eaten often in simple Japanese restaurants. This one is silky, positively luxurious. Leeks, red miso, and shiso vinegar, another humble vegetable dish, hits the same heights. Crab croquettes here with soy bechamel and charcoal chicken karaage are izakaya classics done with flair.
This being Knightsbridge, there are haute ingredients galore just the way the hedgies and high-rollers, footballers and financiers like it. Saikyo miso sablefish, black cod by another name, is not a dish I typically enjoy, but this version is knockout, as is Ibérico secreto blackened on the robata. Even when I reach the point where I can eat no more, I find myself spooning wagyu and bone marrow fried rice straight out of the serving bowl; scraping the white miso soufflé bowl clean.
The sushi, dainty edomae style, are excellent too, though some may be put off by the garnish of ants. Talk about eccentric. This ‘eccentric izakaya’ is like no izakaya I’ve ever experienced. Eccentric doesn’t cover it. Hedonistic, opulent, dramatic, fanciful, fun, now that’s more like it.