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UKAI (Restaurant)

Picture of UKAI in Notting Hill, London

240 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 1LL
Cuisine: Japanese
Tel: 020 7792 2444 | Email to UKAI | Transport: Ladbroke Grove | Write review

UKAI Review

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Top 10 things you need to know about UKAI:

1) You like to consider yourself a bit of a maverick. The only rules you abide by are your own. Kudos and muchos respect for those kindred rogues who dare to do things differently, eh? People like Alex Verros, for example. He’s the charming, knowledgeable head chef at UKAI, trained in the art of Japanese food at Nobu and Roka. But now he’s loose and he’s become a culinary renegade armed with Mediterranean ingredients.

2) UKAI on Portobello Road is undoubtedly a Japanese restaurant (one of the best you’ll find in London): dishes arrive beautifully presented on a bed of leaves; Japanese artwork and foliage adorns the walls; lampshades filter light into the room through heron-shaped stencils; a love story, written in Japanese, circles the ceiling; Anna, the waitress, diligently tends, ever present, constantly polite, always smiling.

3) Delve deeper, however, and you’ll notice small differences. For example, the Italian onions and olive oil you’ll discover whilst picking apart the meaty, skewered sea bass are traditionally absent from Japanese menus. The way this half baked, half steamed fish runs riot over your taste buds is testament to Alex’s assured cooking. Dip the tempura in the spicy sauce at the bottom. It’ll help to prove the point across (thank us later).

4) Equally, take the fairly ordinary scallop: familiar firm, compact texture, but this little favourite is jazzed up at UKAI with fresh herbs, chilli and a drizzle of yuzu sake. Alex, you are speaking our language.

5) A note about sake, whilst we’re there: order only in combination with food (preferably warmed). Some rules are simply not for breaking.

6) Having come this far through the exciting menu, you’ll already be rightfully acquainted with the white tuna tataki drowned in sesame seeds, peanuts, coriander, and truffle. The spicy crab spider rolls will have made known their reason for being included in the chef’s specials. You would’ve made light work of the crispy baby squid, dipped in tahini-based sesame sate sauce. And your Instagram feed will be gathering exponential likes thanks to the teasing picture you posted of the giant-sized, fresh sashimi on ice, flanked by its own Bonsai tree (the white, soft, butter fish; the dark purple tuna; and the dense, oily, pink salmon: shared on social media first, devoured hungrily second).

7) UKAI is favoured by grown-ups. Couples in jaunty hats cosy up next to the fire in relative privacy. A pair of elegantly dressed professional ladies make colour comparisons between the large bowl of fresh-from-the-ocean seaweed in front of them and the deep green leather banquettes they sit on. A retrospective background playlist keeps heads bobbing ever so slightly.

8) You should skip dessert. It’s anticlimactic given the wow moments that came before it.

9) Plus, Alex and his business partner (who is mixing the drinks) have more adventures for you in the front bar where there’s live jazz on Saturdays, soul on Sundays, RnB on Fridays and a mojito that’s better than all other mojitos you’ve previously drunk thanks to the Japanese substitute ingredients contained therein. Therefore, grab a booth or a bar stool and prove that the night is as young (at heart) as you are.

10) For your final drink, order the Suntorian whisky cocktail, served with a thin slither of oak. With glass in hand, salute the painted mural of a reclining Amy Winehouse above the robata grill. Here’s to the rebels like Amy and Alex doing what the F they want in this life, and hopefully the next!
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Venue ID: 25651

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