Wabi, Holborn

Food At Wabi

Holborn is a funny place, a nowhere area between Covent Garden’s theatre land and the legal, news and financial districts of old London. It is surrounded by glamour without being part of it.

The logic for setting up a restaurant with five star aspirations there is that it can capitalize on its position as being at the hub of all the action. But it’s hardly Mayfair.

Wabi comes with good credentials. It is run by the ex-Nobu head chef Scott Hallsworth, and has Nobu’s ex-sushi chef Taiiji Maruyama running its sushi bar. Clearly deriving inspiration from the landmark Japanese restaurant, Wabi is a modernist space consisting of clean lines, soft colours and subdued lighting. For the drier months, whenever they are, there is an upstairs al fresco terrace overlooking Lincoln Inn’s Fields.

When you get down to the basement level restaurant, you are welcomed by some slightly officious greeting staff, which is in keeping with the strict timekeeping warning (you may lose your table if you’re 15 minutes late). As I was 30 minutes late, I was probably lucky to be served, even though the restaurant was only half full.

After enjoying a Japanese take on the classic champagne cocktail, the Northerner and I were taken to our table to try out the tasting menu – a seven-course feast accompanied by wine and a bit of sake.

All of the courses were good and some were outstanding. Highlights for us both included the yellowtail sashimi - smokey nasu and yuzu bubbles; the lobster and chips - kombu/butter poached lobster with uni, vegetable chips and yuzu-truffle-egg dip; and the aged rib-eye ishi-yaki - black beer marinated Wagyu, served sizzling with Japanese BBQ sauce. We had both tried Wagyu beef at several restaurants before, but in terms of flavor and texture, this stood head and shoulders above our previous experiences. The lobster dish was a mix of sweet crustacean flavours and crispy vegetable chips. The sashimi was melt in your mouth perfection. The other dishes ranged from good and intriguing (crunchy temaki cone with wasabi cream and charcoal onions anyone?) to more classic dishes like sea bass sashimi and salmon with lemon miso.

The biggest surprise of the evening was the sake, which the charming, and according to the Northerner, quite good-looking, cocktail manager, served us. I can’t remember which ones we tried, but they were delicious. It was a far cry from the hob-warmed, meth’s like drink of my youth.

The service is friendly and slightly formal. The crowd is more City than West End, so suits, and therefore men, are more prevalent. But despite these factors, the ambiance is relaxed. On top of that, Wabi is fun. Maybe it’s something to do with its location. Wabi has succeeded in bringing a bit of understated glamour to Holborn.