Words: Jamie Tabberer; pictures: provided
"That's The London Pallidum, isn't it?" I ask my dinner guest, gazing at the stunning façade of the building opposite - all rich detail and elaborate lighting.
"No, it's Regents Street," he replies, referring to London's most handsome strip, dating back to 1819.
I gasp: despite my 12 years as a Londoner, and knowing the buzzing streets of Soho like the back of my hand (or so I thought), I've completely lost my bearings.
Such is the effect of Aqua Kyoto's atmospheric and partially heated and covered roof terrace. You see London through new eyes - because, five floors up from the hubbub of nearby Oxford Street, you don't know which way is east and which is west.
Located within the storied former Dickins & Jones building, this blockbuster Japanese restaurant is accessable via a discreet hotel reception-style area from 240 Argyll St. So discreet, in fact, that in all these years of walking by, I've never noticed it.
Perhaps I was too focused on meandering through the throngs of tourists queuing for Wok To Walk and waffle carts. A swift elevator ride whisks you away from all that stress, and the moody interior of the restaurant, finished in glossy blacks and greys, is immediately calming.
We were served almost throughout by the same friendly and attentive member of staff, who demonstrated a razor sharp knowledge of the menu. I did call on a few waiters to interact with me (I'm that person) who weren't quite so on it: one spilt water on the table while serving it into my glass; another apparently forgot to bring me the pen and paper I'd asked for. (When requested from the aforementioned server, it was brought promptly.)
I mention these small grumbles about service simply because there's little else to criticise. The food was fantastic: all vigorous, crunchy ingredients and visual splendour. On the latter note, I don't just mean the expertly-constructed and super-fresh sushi; even our salad was beautiful to look at, populated with colourful heirloom tomatoes and crisp lettuce in a beautiful shade of pink
The centrepiece of my meal was a pan-fried duck breast: a rich meat I, as a rule, haven't ordered in Soho since 2010, when my palette finally transcended the area's all-you-can-eat buffets. (It's always too chewy and bony!)
However, the chefs at Aqua Kyoto chefs cook with such confidence - and theatre - in full views of the diners that I decided to give it a try. A tender hunk of meat served with a small helping of sharp, firm chard and a delicate gravy made for a simple but winning dish.
My favourite course, however, was the fabulously light shrimp and vegetable tempura to start, served with perhaps the tastiest thing I've eaten in recent memory: a spicy chilli garlic sauce of velvet-like texture.
We finished with the restaurant's nature-inspired signature dessert, 'Forest Floor': a fine, biscuit-like chocolate crumble served with Yuzu oba leaf cream, almond praline, chocolate and sour cherry sorbet. The dish epitomises Aqua Kyoto's grasp on finely-balanced flavours and artful presentation. I could have done with the dish being about a third bigger, but thought the portion sizes were otherwise pretty adequate.
Three more compliments to finish: the cocktail menu is elaborate and extensive, I want to own some of the robust, earthy crockery I ate from, and the four Mochi ice cream balls thrown in for good measure at the end? Exquisite.
For more information about Aqua Kyoto, click here.
The Attitude February issue is out now.