Through the doors of Parisian soba specialists Yen's new London restaurant, in luxury development 190 Strand
Yen has that kind of understated elegance that I would absolutely love to exude, but will never quite achieve thanks to an inbuilt fondness for fairy lights, glitter and too much eyeliner. I try, but the ‘minimalist glamour’ aesthetic evades me every time. Not so at this Japanese newcomer, set in an impressive space behind an unassuming facade just off the Strand. You enter into a bar area that’s comfortable and accommodating, smiley bartenders and exotic cocktails abound, and it’s all rather lovely and civilised, but it’s when you ascend the ‘floating’ maple staircase and enter the, quite frankly enormous, dining room that you really think to yourself ‘wow’.
Sybarite is the architectural agency responsible for the design, and with an abundance of bamboo, muted tones and sleek, functional furniture, the room the London-based firm has created is utterly striking – impressive without being in-your-face, enormous windows poised and ready to flood the space with summer sunshine when the time comes, and a ceiling so high that you feel quite tiny as you take your seat.
So, what about the food? We already knew we were going to eat well – Yen’s sister restaurant, in Paris, is well-known for its sparklingly fresh sushi and handmade buckwheat soba noodles, and both have made the trip across the Channel successfully. The restaurant’s soba specialists, Maruno Hidenori and Katsuki Sakurai, make the noodles from scratch twice daily within a glass-fronted space in the corner of the dining room, and it’s a pretty painstaking process. To be honest, I’d never really given much thought into the craft that goes behind noodles, but I lingered a little TOO long, hypnotised by the rolling of the dough, over and over, before it’s cut into fine strands that have just the right amount of bounce and chew.
In addition to the noodles, there’s of course sushi and sashimi, of which shimmering slices of mackerel and podgy pieces of clementine-coloured salmon were highlights, as well as lacy tempura prawns, black cod, red miso-grilled chicken, and super-silky house-made tofu, white as snow before being doused in soy and sprinkled with spring onion to produce a soft, saline mouthful that’s cooling, comforting and made me think twice about an ingredient I usually eschew in favour of, well, pretty much anything else at all.
Leaving the civilised cocoon of the restaurant and stepping out into a drizzly winter night, I vowed that 2018 will be a year when I will be more ‘Yen’. Literally seconds later I clapped eyes on the giant Christmas tree outside Somerset House and sprinted up to it to take a photo. There’s still some work to do it seems.