Originally published in CityAM on 26th April 2016.
I have, over the years, learnt to read the restaurant warning signs. There is an inverse relationship between the height of a meal and its value. Has the restaurant got a view? Careful. Need to take a lift? Alarm bells. Cable car? ABORT, ABORT! Generally, hotels don’t fare much better, and art galleries are a certain dud.
Kojawan, a new venture by Bjorn Van Der (Greenhouse, La Noisette, Eastside Inn) and Omar Romero (Rhodes Twenty Four, Rosewood), is on the 23rd floor of the Hilton Metropole Hotel. It’s their version of an Izakaya. a Japanese gastro-pub in the West London sky. You get to the restaurant by wandering through the hotel lobby and taking a lift. They have art, specially made, on the walls.
Everything I had read about Kojawan confused me. The name itself – an awkward portmanteau of Korea, Japan and Taiwan – didn’t make much sense. Its location, on a roundabout at the end of the Edgware Road, didn’t make sense.
And the descriptions in the PR bumf: “A relaxed drinking and dining space-age art gallery with a zany futuristic vibe” that dishes up “imaginative Asian-fusion snacks and drinks served in a space-age hotel setting with panoramic views” were so nonsensical I wanted to go full Godzilla on London and all the ridiculous concept restaurants within it.
So, expecting something overpriced and underwhelming, I make sure we arrive early enough to see the sunset over London – at least there will be a view to enjoy. As the sun dips below the horizon, the sky fades from blue through pink, and the room seems to launch itself gently into the night. The atmosphere and the buzz of the city outside creeps in and I realise I’m enjoying myself.
Bar snacks include strips of Korean Fried Chicken served with ‘K-chup’ and a buttery hollandaise so thick I have to bypass my desire for a long life to finish it. Crispy sesame wafers come with a warm chilli pork dipping sauce that gently tickles the back of the throat.
Cocktails are carefully made and presented in a way that’s fun, without being gimmicky. We drink an Astro Pussy (a boozy rice milkshake) from a Maneki-Neko – a lucky, waving porcelain cat – and a Nikironi (a classy Japanese play on a negroni) cooled by an asteroid made of ice.
We move to the dining room for more of the same. From the raw bar the cobia blue sashimi served with wafer slices of breakfast radish and a citrus soy dressing is as bright and modern as the surroundings.
A generous pile of deeply charred octopus from the grill, smothered in smoky red pepper oil comes alive with a squeeze of lemon; its link to Asian-fusion is unclear, but the taste is irrefutable. Beef cheek with chilli, ginger and sesame, cooked long and slow, holds form just enough not to yield under the pressure from eager chopsticks. A plate of various styles of kimchi includes cabbage, pineapple and baby cucumber but will, I’m told, change with the seasons.
A fusion twist on spaghetti vongole sees fat udon noodles paired with clams, Parmesan and fish flakes that appear to dance under the hot pot lid. It’s delicious – as satisfying as any version of the Italian original.
We finish with PanTako – fluffy pancakes filled with white chocolate, berries and crispy coconut – which could be a meal on its own, but shared between two it rounds things off nicely. Our waiter’s invitation to get stuck in with our hands is fitting – this is a pudding to pick up and chomp.
There are a few dud moments. A stone bass poke feels clumsy, with too much rice, and falls flat against the brightness of everything else, and curling a frozen lime topping onto the only beer you serve seems a strange way to run a pub, Izakaya in-the sky or otherwise.
Service is excellent. Everyone seems genuinely happy to be involved, which they’ll claim, I think, is down to an end-to-end commitment to sustainability. If I remember rightly, the staff have been grown offshore in organic farms then shipped over on ice from Peru, the fish on the raw bar are paid a living wage, and there is, consequently, no service charge expected (unless you want to slap down some cash, in which case they’ll take it).
Kojawan is a confusing sky-high retro-futuristic art-gallery in a hotel with a view – but it’s fun and it’s fairly priced and that’s good for London. For the first time in my restaurant-going memory, I took the lift down and left on a high.