By Abi Blasi
After the Second World War many of the Japanese aristocracy lost their titles and fortunes. But their palaces weren’t lost – the Seibu Group bought these stately homes, turning them into luxury hotels. That’s why, in Japan, Prince hotels are a household name.
And now they’ve reached Britain. The recently opened, five-star Prince Akatori (meaning ‘sunrise’) is the first European branch, nestled in affluent Marylebone, in what used to be the Arch Hotel. TOKii (meaning ‘when’) is on the ground floor, a relaxing space that feels intimate: booth seating, low lighting, minimalist design and the odd vase of cloud-like fresh flowers. It smells heavenly, perfumed by diffusers with a specially designed smoky scent.
Head Chef Gary Durrant, who also headed up the restaurant’s previous incarnation, Hunter 486, trained at the Savoy and French and British Michelin-starred restaurants. Japanese chefs were brought over to train the restaurant’s existing staff, and the menu offers sashimi, sushi, tempura and robata. A lengthy wine list starts at £26 per bottle, or you can opt for sake or beer.
The sushi and sashimi is excellent. The tuna stands out: dark ruby in colour and meltingly tender. Tuna tartare was a comfort-food triumph, combining avocado, cubes of tuna, miso, lotus root crisps and some beetroot sticks. Blackened miso cod was rich and buttery, with a mass of sweet, sour, and creamy notes, and an almost bewildering number of ingredients, including caramelised onion, beetroot strands, lotus root crisps, miso, that grilled Padron pepper and a moderately spicy red chilli. We almost came to blows over who was to get the most of the rare Wagyu beef, grade A5, served with a tart citrus ponzu dipping sauce that I’d happily pour over everything I eat.
For dessert my chocolate fondant, peanut brittle, salted caramel and coconut milk ice cream was the kind of dish that you remember occasionally and sigh in happiness. My companion fared less well, as she found her macha and chestnut roulade with vanilla custard to be almost savoury. After dessert, we tried the small, wood-panelled Malt bar, where the cocktails are divided into elemental sections: earth, water and fire, and each original and beautifully presented, such as my companion’s twist on the Margherita, entitled ‘the Reason for Being’ (tequila ocho blanco, homemade kumquat wasabi jam, yuzu juice, umeshu), served in a beautiful lotus leaf glass. The cocktail menu also gave us a chance to invent a new insult: ‘butter fat washed copper dog’ (this from a fire cocktail called Old Kodo).
With subtle Japanese cooking, handy bar with original cocktails, and a low-lit, intimate atmosphere that’s a hiatus from the hubbub, TOKii is London’s latest Prince Charming.
Throughout September, TOKii will be participating in Eat Out to Help Out. Get 50% off food up to £10 off per person, Monday – Wednesday, until 30th September.
50 Great Cumberland Pl