26 November 2015

Let's Dance! Sushi Samba, Heron Tower, London

Let's dance, put on your red shoes and eat sushi...
Let's Dance, David Bowie...sort of

You look confused. I understand you think it's hypocritical that I write about my love for street food and independent restaurants, and hatred for chains but then here I am writing about Sushi Samba, one of the biggest, luxurious 'chains' (a wee chain of five) of restaurants around. The truth is I'm a food snob. That's it I've said it, I feel so much better with that off my chest. I know you would never know this to be true (who am I kidding you all knew!) but it is, I am a food snob and proud! This doesn't mean I turn my nose up at a cheap meal, only that I turn my nose up at meals which are poor quality and/or flavour (aka rubbish boring food). Let me present exhibit a, the £2 hot dogs I walked to the harbour in Iceland to buy almost everyday, yes it was cheap, which was great in Iceland, but it was also absolutely delicious (I don't want to spoil the surprise as I have a whole post on the food we ate in Reykjavik in the bag but let's just say best hot dog of my life).
Anyway to cut a long story short, Dan and I are food snobs. Which is why, we have wanted to go to Sushi Samba for ages, as they are famed for serving some of the best sushi London has to offer, with a South American twist (we're talking about Brazil and Peru here) that keeps it fresh and modern. That and the fact that Sushi Samba in Heron Tower is the second highest restaurant in London (preceded only by the Duck and Waffle, who are on the next floor up, almost 200m above street level)  with panoramic views out of the floor to ceiling windows that make up the outer walls of the dining room. To put it in perspective, you're dining above the Gherkin, St Pauls, the BT tower and the London Eye to name a few London highlights. With this view in mind, it makes it almost impossible to have anything but an amazing dining experience. And the lift to the top is guaranteed to make you never want to leave...or at least not go back down. So when Dan was told by his boss to take me out for a fancy dinner on the company card for working so hard (the world of Mad Men is an exciting and very generous one) he booked us in for a late lunch at Sushi Samba.

I seem to have this amazing ability to forget that I'm scared of heights, until it's too late and I'm already up high. It happens all the time, I'm all happy go lucky 'sure I'll come' to a theme park/Go Ape/stand on this glass floor which is 200000000m above the ground for your birthday and then I do it, remember, have a minor panic attack and act like a class a idiot (it's not my best look). This is how I felt in the lift, it's lucky the view is so good to distract you and food is waiting at the top otherwise I would have gone into full melt down (only slightly joking). Anyway I knew there was only way I'd be able to get back down and it would involve a considerable amount of Dutch courage to do it. So we stepped out of the lift, ears popping, ordered a cocktail at the bar and waited for our table to be ready.

Cocktails ordered, Dan went for a Nashi Martini, while I opted for a Chucumber. Dan thoroughly enjoyed his pastel cocktail, which was doing it's fruity mellow thing with the St Germain liqueur, Plum wine and lychee additions to a classic martini. I went for the Chucumber a mix of Hendrick's gin, cucumber water, maraschino liqueur and plum wine, partly because I can't resist a gin-based cocktail and I wanted something refreshing that wouldn't overpower the sushi we had planned. Yes that's right we (ok, I), had planned to a T what we were going to order. That's how excited I was for Sushi Samba, I'd already been through the menu picking stuff, consulting Dan and I'd even made a list because I panicked when Dan said we had a time restriction for how long we had the table. I'd love to say I'm spontaneous but let's be honest if we're going out for dinner together, chances are I've already looked up the menu online, and know what I'm having and what you're having too (it's all mind tactics oh you say you want the salad but look at that mound of mean that sounds delicious and so you...and's all about me). Which leads nicely on to when we found out Sushi Samba didn't have any gas and could only do their grill and cold dishes, and spontaneity was thrust upon us. 

Goodbye shrimp tempura, so long wagyu beef, sayonara pork belly. To be fair, Sushi Samba had rung Dan in advance and left a voicemail it just so happens we never checked it till we were already seated at our table. After the waiter explained the situation and apologised profusely multiple times, and the slight disappointment that we couldn't try some dishes that had been recommended to us by  friends had worn off, we panic ordered. Well and truly. It's lucky the waiter finally stopped us and told us we were ordering too much because I would have kept going. It is true, that even when he said we'd ordered enough, I was skeptical and asked to keep the menu, you know, just in case. While we waited for our food to arrive, we chatted, taking in the views while doing some city and people watching (CELEBRITY ALERT - we saw comedian John Bishop sit down for lunch).

Of course the views are incredible and it's hard to tear your eyes away, but the room itself is stunning. With it's black and white tiled chevron floor, floor to ceiling glass windows and curved bamboo structure, you can see it gets it's origins from stylish New York. With the concrete back walls and glass windows, it could be in danger of looking a bit cold if not for Sushi Samba's trademark orange furnishings, comfy brown leather chairs, copper accents and hanging airplants. Basically it's an instagrammers dream or, you know, my dream studio apartment, whichever appeals to you more.   

Samba London Roll with crab, tuna, salmon, white fish, prawn, avocado, tempura crunch, rice cracker, Japanese pickles, wasabi mayo, aji panca and soy reduction.
Crispy taquitos with lobster, avocado, aji amarillo, jalapeno, lime, maize and morado;
Yellowtail tiradito with jalapeno and lemongrass 
 Tuna Seviche with pomegranate leche de tigre, maiz morado, wasabi peas and basil

Shortly after ordering our food arrived, one of the good things about ordering cold dishes they make their way to you a lot faster. Food getting quicker to my stomach is something I'm never going to chastise. Although famed for their sushi we wanted to try some of their more fusion style dishes, so we opted for just the sushi samba roll to try a range of the fish they had to offer. This was definitely vibrant in vivid green and coral pink, and deliciously fresh. The different toppings of pickled vegetables, avocado and tempura accompanying the array of crab, tuna, salmon, prawn and white fish rolls were great and made each one special. Definitely a dish to order if you want to try an array of sushi. I'm not sure if Dan preferred the soy sauce or the sushi, he spent a good while before the food came just tasting the soy and oggling over how great it was (it's why we're a foodie team).  

We followed up our sushi with some crispy taquitos or tacos filled with succulent sweet lobster and avocado, mixed with aji amarillo (a strong chilli sauce), jalapenos, lime, maize including a purple kind called morado, and topped with a little lettuce and red cabbage. Oh my this was good, I really wanted to eat the second one (if Dan had given me a chance to steal his I would of). It had everything I love about South American style food; a chilli hit with a lot of freshness from the lime, and a great crunch. I would definitely order them again just for me, I don't want to be sharing with Dan or anyone, even you dear reader.

Then came the last of our raw courses presented as a tiradito and ceviche/seviche (is it seviche because it's sold by Sushi Samba, I don't know, do you?). Peruvian style dining and particularly ceviche have been one of the biggest restaurant trends this past couple of years, and I am hooked on it. We had some amazing ceviche at Pachamama earlier this year including a tuna and potato one (werid I know, but read about our experience at Pachamama here) so I was intrigued to try Sushi Samba's take on it. We opted for the tuna ceviche with pomegranate tiger milk (FYI it's lime juice not real tiger's milk), some more morado, wasabi peas and basil, as it sounded like an interesting take on a fusion ceviche with a rogue addition of pomegranate. First things first, isn't it the prettiest pink ceviche you've ever seen! Like all the fish we had at Sushi Samba it was so fresh, as in a ceviche the tuna had been marinated/cooked in the tiger's milk beforehand so it was tart from the lime juice but also had a nice level of sweetness from the pomegranate. I would have liked more wasabi but then I love a bit of heat. Dan didn't think it was as good as the ceviche we had at Pachamama but we certainly ate it all...then I used a spoon to gather up the last of the tiger's milk so I'm not complaining.

A tiradito is similar to a ceviche, in the sense that they both use raw fish, the one we tried was yellowtail, but instead of marinating the fish so it's 'cooked' they serve it sashimi style with a spicy sauce. This was a spontaneous choice for us, we didn't know what it was at the time, but weren't disappointed when it showed up. This is a true fusion dish in the sense that Japanese immigrants in Peru influenced the creation of tiraditos. I loved the strong spicy flavours, the sauce was rich but kept interesting with the jalapeno and lemongrass notes (I can't resist a dish with jalapeno in). My only complaint was I felt the fish was a bit too cold but it could definitely take a whack of flavour. 

Hamachi Kama with lime and su-shoyu; Poussin teriyaki with japanese-style mayonaise and yuzu koshu;
 Corazon de Pollo with aji panca 

Quickly realising we had ordered too much food, the hot dishes arrived. In a way it was kind of good that the restaurant could only do the grill dishes because otherwise we never would have got to try the Hamachi Kama, the neck of the yellowtail, which was served with lime, su-shoyu (a Japanese soy vinegar mix) and a courtesy bit of spiralized mooli. This dish was incredible, when Dan ordered it I was all 'but it's just grilled fish with soy it's going to be standard', let's get this out the way and say Dan was right and I was so wrong. The neck of the yellowtail fish is the juiciest, fattiest cut of the fish and you can tell, it was so flavourful it rivalled the whole deep fried seabass we had at Pachamama. The su-shoyu cut through the fattiness of the fish, it was just beautiful (I'm getting soppy). I would definitely recommend it if you're a fish fan and maybe if you're not (if there's a fish dish that could change you it'd be this).

We followed this up with poussin (it's basically a small chicken) teriyaki with Japanese-style mayo topped with yuzu kosho (a seasoning of yuzu peel, green chilli peppers and salt). This is my 'you must try this' dish, it was so tasty. The sweet moist teriyaki poussin (chicken) with the mayo and yuzu kosho I can't even begin to describe, is a dish I find myself reflecting on everytime I have a rubbish dish at the moment. It's like oh this is bad let's think about that amazing taste explosion of poussin (stop being fancy it's chicken) and the sour, citrusy mayo. This dish makes it really hard to try somewhere new, when all you want is to go back to Sushi Samba and stuff your face with teriyaki poussin (it's bloody chicken!!!), maybe don't try this you'll only hate everything else you eat for the rest of your life. It's not worth it (it is, it really is).

Two amazing dishes down, we were due for a dip and I'll be honest the Corazon de pollo and aji panca was ours. Corazon de pollo is the Spanish name for chicken hearts. Put your squeamishness aside for a second because cooked well these are delicious. We had some amazing ones when we stopped at this Brazilian restaurant in Liverpool after we watched LFC draw with Leicester earlier this year. It was just a random restaurant (whose name escapes me) that was close to our hotel and I was not expecting great things but those caramelised chicken hearts were so good. I'm not a huge lover of offal, but Dan is and with the memory of those chicken hearts in Liverpool upon us, we ordered Sushi Sambas version. The flavour was all there in terms of spiciness, but the little hearts were overcooked and as such dry, the accompanying huge maize pieces were slightly caramelised and tasted nice, but their texture was unpleasant and really hard and chewy. And that's all there is to say about this dish really (are you thinking you told me so because you hate offal? Me too. I blame Dan).

Passion fruit cake with green tea and white chocolate ganache, raspberry sorbet, coconut tuile;
Organic red chocolate chili peppers with Peruvian chili mousse, red pepper tuile, raspberry-red pepper sorbet and chocolate crumble

After the huge amount of food we'd already consumed, it was hard to imagine having any room for dessert and I was fully expecting our table to be swooped away from us as by now we'd surpassed our time limit. However, after being presented with the desserts menu, it was hard to refuse any of them, which led us to ordering not one but two puddings. Because you know if you're already full but committed to having one dessert you might as well go the whole hog. By now, I was starting to remember that I would have to get the lift back down so for good measure ordered an Eastern G & Tea for God speed while Dan opted for an Americano. I'm normally very anti gin and tonic, I just find tonic so bitter that it highlights the bitterness in the gin itself, maybe that's the point but I'm not down with it. However, this G & Tea was a very pleasant surprise, yuzu infused Hendrick's gin was combined with shiso (a Japanese mint variant), lychee and chamomile tonic, it was refreshing but with a good gin hit, enough to get me through the ordeal to come anyway.

Alongside my G & Tea, I went for the passion fruit cake with green tea and white chocolate ganache, the most delicious raspberry sorbet I've ever had, a coconut tuile, and fresh raspberries and passion fruit. First up the dessert portions are huge, Dan and I could have easily split one between us but we're incredibly greedy so we didn't. That being said I ate all of mine and could have eaten more because it was so lovely, passion fruit cake is a favourite of mine (weirdly one I've never baked, must correct that) and the green tea white chocolate ganache was heavenly smooth and sweet with a real green tea flavour not one of these pretend matcha muffins/doughnuts/cakes, it was the real deal. The sorbet was nice and sharp and cut through everything, simply put it was the perfect follow up to the rest of the meal. 

Dan on the other hand, just to prove when you think you know someone they surprise you, went for the chocolate and red chili (chilli?) pepper mousse with raspberry-red pepper sorbet, red pepper tuile and chocolate crumble. Why is this so suprising? Because he hates chocolate and fruit, he's told me this multiple times, even said it about my favourite brownie recipe (oh peanut butter and jelly brownies how I love you, recipe here), but he then went and ordered this dessert. In short, this dessert was intense. The chocolate mousse was spicy but delicious, I loved the texture and flavour of the red pepper tuile, you couldn't taste any raspberry in the red pepper sorbet which was just bizarre in how much it tasted like well red pepper. It went together nicely, but it was also so strong even with me on side shovelling away we barely made a dent in this bowlful. A third of the dish would have been the right amount, but more than that it started to get a bit acrid. Just not the kind of dessert you want a mound of, but then this could all be down to personal taste. 

And that was the end to our pretty amazing meal out, as expected Sushi Samba wowed with it's views and service, while producing some great food in the process. If you go, definitely try the passion cake, the poussin (CHICKEN!!!) and the Hamachi Kama (unless you don't like fish) you won't be disappointed. MISSING: the three follow up cocktails I drank at the bar outside before getting the lift back down kneeling on the floor with my eyes shut, but let's be honest no one wants to see me like that.

This week has been so stressful with work preparing for an inspection, I could use a bit of luxury dining! Do you have any luxury restaurant recommendations? I'm excited to finally meet Lisa from Not Quite Enough (who I interviewed last year, read here) for dinner tomorrow for a bit of Thanksgiving fare (p.s Happy Thanksgiving those of you reading from the USA). And on the subject of holidays, my calendar for December is pretty much full with Christmas and/or birthday plans. Of which, I'm super excited to go to Tredwells for brunch for my birthday (woo brunch!), my best friend Emily's Christmas carol service and then there's always more fondue. Have you got any exciting December plans, if so tell me about them and distract me from our inspection prep! I'm going to spend the rest of the day dreaming about Sushi Samba!

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