Editor's note: in August 2017 it was reported that the restaurant would relocate to the west end.
Sosharu is another outpost in the burgeoning Jason Atherton empire, having opened in March 2016. It serves izakaya style Japanese pub food. In charge of the kitchen is Romanian mechanical engineer turned chef Alex Craciun, who had worked at Maze and was sous chef at Pollen Street Social before working here. To his credit, Alex has actually worked in Japan despite not speaking the language, apparently turning up at the door of Ryugin in Tokyo day after day until they gave him a job. He also worked for a time at Kikunoi, having spent over a year in Japan in all.
The main Sosharu restaurant can seat around 75 diners at capacity. There is also a ten seat “inner restaurant” with its own name Kisetsu, serving an omakese menu around a counter. The restaurant décor is modern with a few Japanese touches, including a Japanese style toilet that opens its lid when you approach. The model here is far from the most elaborate available. The most sophisticated ones in Tokyo flush themselves, offer all manner of options via a dashboard resembling that of a Boeing 747, and on occasion try to engage you in conversation, which can be disconcerting. They could probably also beat you at Scrabble if they put their mind to it, so the one at Sosharu is just a gentle hint at what Japanese toilet technology is capable of.
Back to the menu, which has sashimi but not sushi, and various grilled items and hotpots. There was quite an extensive wine list that also featured a wide range of sake. Sample labels included Corbeieres Chateau du Vieux Parc l’Heritage 2014 at £32 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £11, Domaine de Fondrech Ventoux Cuvee Persia 2013 at £58 compared to its retail price of £18, and Vino Tondonia Reserva 2004 at £88 for a bottle whose current market price is £25.
Akami (lean) tuna was served in a block of ice, topped with a blob of wasabi and accompanied by bamboo shots. I was pleased to see that this was real wasabi, not the cheap coloured horseradish from a tube that all too many Japanese restaurants try to get away with. The wasabi here was from Japan and grated at the counter. The tuna itself was from Spain and had good flavour (14/20). I also tried temaki (a sushi hand roll) which had tuna, scallion, tobiko (flying fish roe) a little sushi rice and spiced mayonnaise in a crisp wrapper. This was very enjoyable, the mayonnaise not too hot to distract from the fish, the tobiko and green onion providing some contrast to the richness of the tuna (13/20).
Chicken karaage was not a traditional version of this popular comfort food dish. This one used a breadcrumb coating instead of Japanese cornstarch as an outer layer, but the end effect after deep-frying was still very enjoyable. A spicy mayonnaise was served to alongside as well as yuzu salt and other condiments. The frying tasted clean and the chicken was nicely cooked, the various condiments livening the dish up nicely (13/20).
Grilled scallop was served in a scallop shell on a bed of rice porridge with kinome (a Japanese herb) and citrus soy. This was the least good dish, partly because the porridge came across as rather mushy but mainly because the scallop, though accurately cooked, was not properly trimmed: part of the tough side muscle was still present on both scallops, resulting in a not entirely pleasant hard texture that distracted from the otherwise excellent flesh of the rest of the scallop (12/20).
The bill came to £40 for one person with just water (£4.50) to drink. If you had wine or sake and indulged in some of the larger courses then a more typical cost per head might be around £70. This is hardly a bargain, but the quality of the seafood here seemed better than in plenty of places, and Sosharu is certainly a very enjoyable place in which to eat. The Atherton empire has expanded greatly recently, and at times has seemed to stretch too thin, as in the disappointing Social Wine and Tapas, whose prices are distinctly antisocial. Sosharu is a much better experience, and has a chef who seems to be genuinely trying to recreate a little corner of Clerkenwell that reminds him of his time in Japan. The food is not trying to be traditional but it does manage to be enjoyable.