Aqua Kyoto (and its sister Aqua Nueva) are the first European ventures of the Asian Aqua restaurant group, who run several restaurants including the excellent Hutong in Hong Kong. There has been no shortage of investment in the premises, built as an extra floor on the roof of the old Dickens and Jones department store near the top of Regent Street (but note that the entrance is in Argyll Street). There is an attractive bar area, and a sprawling dining room next to this with an open central kitchen. There is an elaborate red lantern decoration above the kitchen area, and a roof terrace for nice weather.
The menu covers the usual main categories of Japanese cooking, sushi/sashimi, yakitori (grill), rolls, noodles and tempura. Individual tuna maguro sushi was priced at £6, crab tempura £7, chicken teriyaki £6.50, with more exotic dishes naturally pricier, with 180g of wagyu beef at £60. All the investment made in the building and the décor mean little if the kitchen doesn’t deliver, and unfortunately this was happened at this lunch.
Tuna sushi was adequate but salmon was an odd grey/pink colour and was quite unpleasant to taste (8/20). Eel, one of my favourite things, was cooked so poorly that it was practically a mush underneath the skin (8/20). Tempura of prawn featured flaccid tempura batter, unevenly cooked (9/20). A pretty looking tian of prawn had layers of papaya, cucumber and crab caviar but was served fridge-cold, numbing what taste there might have been (10/20). A dish of scallop and salmon tempura featured woefully overcooked scallop (8/20). Perhaps the best dish was a very ordinary chicken teriyaki with rather tentatively seasoned sauce (11/20), which by comparison with the rest of the dishes appeared to be a culinary masterpiece. Service was perfectly decent.
The level of cooking on display today was simply inexcusable, and I can only hope that the restaurant owner looks long and hard at what is going on in his very expensive kitchen, and takes corrective action. This is a restaurant which is clearly aiming at the Nobu and Zuma crowd, but while the décor is very smart, the cooking is on a different, much lower, plane of competence at present from these places.