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Aaya

66-70 Brewer Street, London, England, W1F 9UP, United Kingdom

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Note that in January 2009 Aaya went into administration, after just seven months of operation. It has now been replace by Hix W1  The notes below are of historical interest only.

In the heart of Soho, Aaya has an attractive, minimalist interior. There was a high ceiling, a long, carefully illuminated bar along one side of the dining room, and just about everything was either black (the chairs) or white (the rather odd robes of the servers) or cream (the walls). The menu was split into the usual Japanese sections for different styles of cooking, though at least they translate them: braised, soup, steamed, fried etc. It is quite easy to over-order, which indeed we did, as there are plenty of appealing items.

The wine list ran over two pages, starting at £18, and has plenty of sensible choices from around the world. Turckheim Riesling 2005 was listed at £29 (retail price about £6.50), Monte Real Gran Reserva 1978 at £74 for a wine you can buy for around £20, as examples, so mark-ups were quite high. Beer is £3.60 a bottle, which these days seems reasonable in London.

Crab with ponzu jelly (£7.50) is a clever idea and attractively presented, the crab itself rather ordinary but the jelly giving subtle acidity and a nice contrast of texture (14/20). You would have needed to be a detective to find a wild mushroom in the “warm wild mushroom salad” (£7.50), which was uninspired and full of button and oyster mushrooms (11/20). Better was an attractive plate of tuna sashimi (£18), with assorted styles of tuna including the pink fatty belly tuna (15/20). Mixed tempura (£9) was also quite good, the batter reasonably light (14/20). 

Chicken teriyaki was moist but the chicken had little flavour (12/20). Pork belly (£8) was a distinctly unimpressive piece of belly pork that was far from tender (11/20). Sushi prawn and scallops were badly over chilled when served (11/20) though a piece of eel sushi (£2.50) was tasty (14/20). A spicy tuna roll (£6.50) had a nice chilli kick (14/20). Overall the food was generally very good, but I was worried by the number of dishes with problems.  

Service was less than slick. Dishes initially arrived in a great rush, and until we asked them to slow the pace down we were running out of room on the table. Prices were a little lower than Zuma and Nobu, but unfortunately so was the quality.

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  • Bellaphon

    Right I did come back and it’s now officially the 2008 winner of the London Restaurant Awards category of Oriental Restaurant of the Year. Yes it’s good, even more so with the introductory set lunch menus during these belt-tightening times (all within £15.00 without booze). My set of eel was good enough to be profoundly salivating and one of the companions’ tempura set was deemed utterly delicious and the batter entirely ethereal. My observation with my daughter’s choice of sushi was immediately impressive; there was something about the way these morsels were prepared and moulded, it somewhat reminded me of the way that they can only be achieved in kitchens that cater for some supreme being alone. The rice in the sushi set was perfectly cooked (not easy with London’s hard water) and the fish perfectly fresh (not bad considering Billingsgate doesn’t start trading till 48 hours later). À la carte selections were equally enthralling. The tuna katsu tataki and and soba noodle maki rolls were perfectly administered and accomplished. Subtle hints of El Bulli and the Fat Duck can also be found here, intensely flavoured accompaniments of tiny chunks Soy and Ginger jelly found scattered in these dishes. But my standout was the Saikyo miso baby back ribs, lusciously melt in the mouth before you can even dictate the full name of the dish in words. Finally, decent puddings do actually exist at an oriental restaurant! Aaya has obviously done their homework on this issue with their Shiso pannacotta and Poached Pear with Sake Jelly. The Green Tea Ice Cream was proclaimed by my daughter as grown up food for little people; near sugarless but perfectly satisfying. Service was cool and charming, come to think of it I think all the staff members were nothing but. I would have conceded and given this place a total upgrade to 5 stars from my first review. Unfortunately no, this was due to the poorly stained teacups and the Tatami mats used to decorate the high, high ceilings. These mats are meant to stepped on and not hover above the diners’ heads, I’ve been told it’s counter productive and insulting. Oh well, these two things aside I wouldn’t be surprised if a Michelin star is awarded soon.

  • Alex Chambers

    I thought this was significantly better than the far more expensive Sake No Hana. Although not at Roka level, I found it a very pleasant experience at a reasonable price for the area. Sushi and the King Crab were notably good.

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