Our Top London Restaurants: January

Hashtag Life’s  Top London Restaurants this January featuring two of London’s new openings; The Ivy’s latest opening with a Japanese twist: The Ivy Asia, a new gem straight from LA: Mexican Restaurant Madera at the Treehouse Hotel, and lastly, not a new kid on the block, but one of London’s most iconic and most talked about venues: Sexy Fish.

Sexy Fish

Whilst everyone will have an opinion on Sexy Fish, in the words of the vivacious, hospitable manager Amr whom we met and spoke with endlessly on our recent visit to the Mayfair hotspot: “its where it all begins.” I truly understood what his summary catchphrase of the restaurant meant. On arrival, you don’t know whether to look around at the art, the people, or the intricate dishes floating by overhead on their way to tables. Given its name, interiors and prime location on Berkeley Square, I expected its crowd to mimic this exactly – this was was the first surprise. We sat down to a daytime array of tourists, families, shoppers, and small casual groups of diners. A vast contrast from the night time crowd who come to p.a.r.t.y, Sexy Fish is also able to masterfully swing the pendulum the opposite way, for a calm, refined, relaxed daytime affair. With art by Damien Hirst, Frank Gehry and Michael Roberts, the look and feel is mid-century glamour and opulence. Everything looks and feels – well – sexy, including the menu which I hadn’t expected to be as vast as it was. Peeling our eyes away from the stunning interiors which seem to constantly cocoon you into a state of daydreams, we chose a small but diverse selections of some of their signature plates; 

What Did We Eat? 

BEEF & BLACK TRUFFLE TARTARE

With an entire section dedicated to “Tartares” on the menu, we opted for the beef & black truffle tartare, which ironically being the first, and one of the two best dishes of our visit. The tartare arrives as a patty already marinaded in the egg yolk and “ume boshi” – a puckery-tarte flavoured Japanese marinade made from plums, with an inch or so of large truffle flakes spread heartily over it. Instructions are to scoop up the soft beef and crisp truffle with the thin vegetable crisps served alongside it, and savour each mouthful of this extremely box-checking dish. 

KING CRAB & CAVIAR & SIGNATURE SEXY FISH MAKI

From the Maki Selections, we opted for the King crab and Caviar which at £21 and one of the pricier rolls, is worth it, offering creamy small parcels well packed with flavour, and meaty chunks of king crab – which can often irritatingly be a rarity in the world of crab rolls!

We also had to try the Sexy Fish and Yuzu roll, when it’s named after the restaurant, and for a riceless roll it is packed in instead with hearty chunks of fresh fish full of light, cool, seafood flavours. 

SIGNATURE DISHES

From the Signature Dishes, we ordered the Wagyu Gyoza and the Black Cod – a dish I have had so many times yet always default to ordering at any Japanese restaurant. Of the two, the Black Cod is one of the best I have had in London; flakey, not drenched in miso, yet not dry in the slightest, not charred at the base, but not undercooked either – a really well put together plate. The Wagyu Gyoza is a different comparison all together; it is a small dish for a “Signature Plate” and is all about rich, slow to enjoy flavours instead. It’s really a dish to savour slowly, in order to fully appreciate, or else you find yourself swallowig whole Gyoza mouthfuls and missing out entirely on the tightly packed in taste of these dumplings. If you succeed, you’ll find that the Tarragon Mustard and Black Truffle notes evolve with each mouthful, whilst a zesty lemongrass flavour is attached to the wagyu meat. 

Whilst the menu is far more vast, with such steep variety to cover, you will always find seasonal ingredients, unique Japanese flavours, marinades and reductions, and fresh fresh produce. If thats not enough for a couple of visits; add their inventive alchemy of drinks, and an ambience to boot come each evening, and you’ll find yourselves in for not only a treat but a show. A must visit at least once for all Londoners, and visitors. Sexy Fish

Madera at the Treehouse Hotel

Marylebone has earned itself a real title amongst the London food scene, for perhaps the most understatedly impressive foodie haunts of the city. It is actually my view that it would be very difficult to find a bad restaurant in Marylebone. With that said, when a new venue opens, its in for some steep competition. Rising high above the city with unique vantage points of some pretty magical views, is Madera on the 13th floor of the aptly named Treehouse Hotel, London. A cosy, quaint, unsuspecting looking hotel from the outside, the elevator doors open to unearth a hip, spacious, beautifully designed ‘den in the sky’ – what this restaurant feels like is a speak easy, a Manhattan dining space, and a breathable London city bar, all in one. The design is impeccable and has accounted for all sorts of occasions and diners, and comfortable, fashionable interiors for both day and night. Rooftop views, bamboo, ample foliage, an open kitchen, central bar, and both booths for privacy, windows for a view and round dining tables for groups cement this as the novel new space for style and atmosphere. But what about the food? Think inventive Mexican cuisine; colourful dishes and hearty portions without too much guilt (just some, because you can never escape tortillas, no matter how you may try – and why would you want to?!)

So what did we eat?

TAQUITOS & QUESO STARTERS

Again, the menu here is extremely vast and worthy of revisits to really get a feel for. It’s split into starters with Mexican classics such as (of course) guac and chips, but also more fun options such as the queso fundido a blended selection of melted cheeses, roasted pasilla chile, and mushrooms – an addictively moreish, winter-warmer of a dish. 

We also opted for the Taquitos al Gusto – everyone loves a taquito. They’re a smaller version of a crispy-shelled taco which pack in tonnes of flavours in one mouthful. Heaven. The ones at Madera come chock-full of such flavours with: chicken, jalapeño cabbage, manchego cheese, chipotle cream, pickled onions and a dash of salsa. An unmissable dish. 

CEVICHE TRIO OF HALIBUT, SALMON & AHI TUNA

Next on the menu comes the Raw Bar section offering a selection of Ceviche. As a huge ceviche fan, I opted for the ‘trio’ delivering a compact taste of each the halibut, salmon and ahi tuna. If I would order one again it would likely be the ahi tuna which bursts with flavours of pomegranate and leche de tigre, and is softened by cucumber and avocado slices.

Skipping the salads section which had healthy but inventive options such as the “Mexican Fattoush” and “Caprese Mexican” which comes temptingly drizzled with truffle oil, we opted for one dish from the “Rocks” section and another from the Mains.

GRASSFED LAVA STONE, CARNE & JOSPER GRILLED SALMON

The Rocks dishes, come served on a hot lava stone, sizzling with a meat or fish. We opted for the skirt steak – additionally impressive because Madera have taken the care in their quality to serve grass fed or organic meat – and it shows in this dish. Soft, succulent, juicy strips of meat continue to cook on the lava so eat them quickly! Marinaded in a light herb garnish and accompanied by rice and beans, its a simple but extremely textured and well flavoured dish. 

From the mains, the josper-smoked salmon was a show stopping dish. Again, prime quality wild-caught flakes of this soft salmon crumble in each mouthful and are highlighted by the habanero mango salsa accompanying it, and a bed of rice beneath it which has soaked up all the jus of the salmon and it’s garnish making it such a comforting, filling, dish which oozes with flavour at every angle. 

I would like to say we had the (literal) stomach for dessert, but at this stage of the meal it was a foregone wish. Given that Madera has won us over for a return visit on it’s savoury merits, we would gladly add the sweet to the test, with tempting selections such as the “empanada de manzana” – a cinnamon apple pie dough with vanilla ice cream, or the “Madera churro” of warm cinnamon and banana churros, with salted caramel ice-cream!

Organic ingredients, innovative flavours, reclined and jazzy interiors, and beautiful views merit this LA born restaurant as an ostensibly successful and impressive addition to the London food scene, and one I will be personally  recommending to friends and family. MADERA at The Treehouse Hotel

The Ivy Asia, St Paul’s

Where is there a better, more reliable, and more aesthetically satisfying ambience for brasserie style dining in London, than the Ivy?  The Ivy with an Asian twist… in the heart of the city! The distinguishable brand, synonymous with class and style, has done it again, and this time with an interior design, and iconic view, to wow even a would-be-critic. Open seven-days a week for all day dining, there is rarely an empty table – and for good reason. It can be described as this decade’s answer to Sushi Samba. In the venue which once hosted Jamie Oliver’s Barbecue, the interiors have transformed this space from floor to ceiling. Whirls of colours fill the ceilings, whilst bright green semi-precious stones tile the floors, and ong leather couches stretch around the dining hall divided into smaller tables. Whilst it is of course catered for the allure of city-workers and all therein that follows suit (pun intended), this restaurant draws from the Ivy group’s penchant for stunning, encapsulating interiors which would be wasted if not enjoyed by all those looking for a special day out, a celebration, a memorable evening, or even date night. Whilst this atmospheric venue is a sensory experience of its own, the food rises to the task and doesn’t disappoint in comparison:

What did we eat?

BLACK TRUFFLE, PRAWN AND PORK DUMPLINGS

We sampled a light selection of dishes here, ranging from the black truffle, prawn and pork dumplings – the standout flavour of these is definitely the truffle, to the yellowtail sashimi also garnished in (you guessed it) truffle, a beautifully tangy dish, which is softened and balanced by the fresh flavour of the sashimi itself.

SNOW CRAB MAKI

Presentation is king at The Ivy, and it certainly succeeds with its Maki rolls, of which we opted for the moreish and really appeasing snow crab roll. One of the winning dishes, was the seared beef tataki; a succulent dish accompanied by a barbecue glaze and sticky rice, and three types of onion. 

BLACK COD & SESAME SOY BEEF SIRLOIN

The Ivy hosts an impressive roster of ‘large dishes’ and one we would be curious to try in the future would be the duck lobster and lychee rice, or the lobster with shiso leaf butter, as unique and creative dishes. We opted instead for a generously portioned black cod dish, and the beef sirloin with sesame and soy – traditional choices which never disappoint and keep their aromatic flavours packed well into each dish. 

With a focus on Japanese food’s best creations; sushi, sashimi, tiradito and robata, and a menu as expansive as the stunning interiors which host it, you will be spoilt for choice when dining at the Ivy’s newest in a long chain of successful restaurants. A top tip would be to opt for ‘quieter’ dining times (if such a thing exists in London anymore!) for added attention and a more relaxed, slow paced meal, allowing you to really take in the stunning views this memorable venue has to offer. The Ivy Asia

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