There are some streets in London which are unavoidably synonymous with their established resident businesses – the punishingly enlarged high street super-stores of Oxford Circus, the proudly outdated pre-war gentlemen’s tailors of Jermyn Street, the noisily self-aggrandizing theatres of Shaftesbury Avenue – and Charlotte Street is justly acknowledged for its over-abundance of unusually appealing restaurants. It’s therefore no surprise that Nizuni, at number 22, has a great deal of competition. Fortunately it’s a Japanese restaurant of remarkable quality.
Nizuni’s ground floor encourages a calm, almost meditative state: everything is hushed, reverential, polished. It’s like wandering into the secret forest alcove of a surprisingly tasteful Oriental water spirit who, as luck would have it, happens to be an excellent itamae chef.
Telling touches of thoughtful preparation precede us – dark little cast-iron pots filled with still-darker soy sauce guard each table, complete with a matching footrest for chopsticks. The menus are another pre-meal treat: mini hardback binders filled with the details of sushi, at once formal and playful.
The starter emerging with the strongest note of recommendation has to be the hamachi usuzukuri – razor-thin slices of yellowtail soaked in truffle oil, showered with white radish shavings and crowned with a languid quiff of avocado mousse. If this sounds overly complicated, the flavour is anything but: cool, sharp and zingy.
Beef tataki, a carnival of pear gherkin, bursts of citrus-drenched mixed leaves and slices of seared pink beef, carries its flavours harmoniously, while passable but somehow profoundly un-Japanese pork belly kebabs, butaniku kushiyaki, are a little too sweet. But ika karaage, deep fried squid with wasabi mayonnaise, is diabolically moreish. With light and fine batter the consistency of dusted flour, it miraculously avoids any trace of oiliness. Dry and crunchy, the tempura comes to life with a touch of the indispensable wasabi mayo.
The cocktail menu brings further surprises. The trademark Nizuni Cocktail is the undeniable highlight, a tight crush of colourful citrus carnage, as if the Battle of the Somme had occurred during a particularly raucous Mardi Gras. The whiskey sour lacks requisite punch but the Rosia Li, with raspberry-infused vodka, is sweet without verging into fructose sickliness.
The Nizuni Selection arrives in a rustic, rotating wheel of sushi, sashimi and maki, with the individual parcels, wrapped in their ribbons of rice, resting atop a yawning banana leaf. Enormous chunks of salmon and tuna taste fresh and fleshy; the maki rolls, studded with golden sesame seeds and immaculately presented, ooze a rainbow of flavours, and the sushi is a synthesis of vivid textures: an attractive anthology of the cuisine.
Japanese desserts benefit from being light and delicate, adding to the sense of balance and refinement created by the preceding dishes. The closest we come to outright indulgence is a crumbly yet surprisingly dense chestnut cake, partnered with a well chosen dome of green tea ice cream. The real treat is the Nizuni ice cream selection, which includes the interesting red bean and the description-defying black sesame ice cream, incongruous as a chunk of coal, which inverts everything you thought you knew about your own tastes. It’s the most subtle ice cream flavour I’ve tasted and leaves us wanting more. Not only does Nizuni hold its own amongst the bright lights of W1, it gives Charlotte Street another restaurant of which to be truly proud.
22 Charlotte St
Tel: 020 7580 7447