Kojawan in Paddington
As we declare our desire to try an Astropussy, our waiter can barely keep a straight face; the rest of the table erupts in quiet giggles. The resulting drink, a fusion of Bacardi Ocho, peanut butter and rice milk, is no less bizarre, arriving inside a porcelain figurine of a cat. At first it seems entirely at odds with Kojawan’s description as a “21st century izakaya”. A sort of informal Japanese gastrobar, an izakaya provides busy city workers with a chance to relax with a glass of sake and some great food. Perched on the 23rd floor of the Hilton Metropole, with cocktails starting at £13 a pop, this is about as far removed from a simple after-work eatery as you can get. Yet by the end of the evening, we find that description strangely compelling.
A feast of modern Asian cuisine emerges from the kitchen over the next several hours, each dish delivered to a good standard but with several especially notable examples. Slices of gloriously glutinous pork belly are perfectly complemented by the zing of ponzu. The initially generous plateful evaporates in seconds. The same combination of tender fat and citrus kick is brought out for softly braised beef cheek, this time with a splash of lime. That, too, disappears in moments. Seared octopus is cooked to perfection and given a wonderful depth of flavour by its smoked pepper oil dressing. A pork and green onion egg cake balances sweet and savoury notes perfectly, and makes a great transition into dessert. The flakes of Iberico ham it’s covered with are sadly wasted though, their delicate nutty sweetness overpowered by the rest of the dish.
The pancakes that follow are more traditional, topped with fresh fruit and white chocolate. It’s a classic combination and it works just as well as expected, fluffy pancakes sandwiching a generous filling of berries. A Peanut Butter and Mocha Block is similarly Western in flavour, but given an Asian twist by the light rice sorbet that accompanies it. The stand-out dessert though, is the Fish Waffles: pillows of golden brown pastry served with a heavenly honey whisky cream. Much like the other great dishes of the night, it balances seriously rich flavours with just a hint of fruit to cut through all that indulgence, in this case coming in the form of a tart blueberry preserve.
The big talking point of the evening is the Hot Cricket Balls. One diner’s eyes widen in horror as she realises that yes, those crunchy little specks she has been enjoying on her gooey fried balls of cheese are in fact insects. They do their job admirably, both providing a textural contrast and getting the conversation flowing. Like the entire evening, the restaurant itself and our experience there, they are somewhat surreal, but then that’s the point. In its own odd way, Kojawan perfectly captures the essence of the izakaya it draws inspiration from. It’s a place you go to escape from reality and lose yourself for a few hours, emerging with a smile on your face and a belly full of sticky rice. Though Kojawan’s influences are humble and the contrasting result borders at times on the ludicrous, the end result is the same: happy customers.
Photos: Oksana Dotsenko
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
To book a table at Kojawan, Hilton Metropole Hotel, 23rd Floor 225 Edgware Road London W2 1JU call 020 8088 0111 or visit here.