Japanese-Latin American fusion is not a blindingly new concept, but it’s a concept that works. As a die-hard fan of Japanese food, I don’t necessarily need the Latin chillies, root veg and lashings of lime that crop up between mouthfuls of sushi at this type of restaurant, but getting a spectrum of flavours and textures in one place is always a perk.
The latest to jump on the sushi-meets-ceviche train is Nakanojo, a new Japanese-Peruvian hangout in Chelsea with a colourful, edible-flower-spangled menu of sushi, tacos, ceviche, and robata skewers. It’s calling itself a “nikkei izakaya” â that is, merging the concept of nikkei cuisine (Peruvian ingredients shaped with the delicacy of Japanese chef techniques) and the izakaya, an informal Japanese watering hole similar to a tapas bar.
Unrelated to the restaurant but crucial to the vibe, I arrived for dinner there just 30 minutes after the announcement of the death of the Queen, more than a little stunned to find myself on the King’s Road at the very moment London was once more home to a King.
It wasn’t a downer for long. Nakanojo’s interior is instantly youthful and a feast for the eyes. An explosion of faux cherry blossom greets you at the entrance; jewel-coloured velvet bar stools line a bar overhung by imitation jungle foliage; while on the far wall a swirling, animé-inspired mural features octopus tentacles and blue-haired maidens.
Despite the news, the restaurant’s atmosphere quickly revealed itself to be informal and relaxed. This is the sort of place you could pop in for a delicious mid-shopping trip bite or an after work cocktail pepped up by some edamame and chicken skewers.
A huge menu is illustrated with colour photography of each dish – far from traditional, but it really helped us hone our choices, which was no mean feat, since everything looked tempting.
After grilling friendly young staffers for their favourites, we picked out a selection of sushi rolls and nigiri, cod korokke, pulled pork pibil tacos, black cod den miso and some charred greens, adding two glasses of white wine from the ample list.
Fun takes on the fusion theme we spotted included a ceviche-filled sushi roll, blistered padron peppers sprinkled with soy and yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit), and meats marinated in an Andean anticucho barbecue glaze. Sushi fans and sharing groups will delight in the pretty platters of mixed maki and nigiri.
Unusually, perhaps, for a high street Asian restaurant, everything delivered on its glossy menu photo. Korokke were cloud-light and packed with cod flavour, brought out by an inkblot of black truffle sauce.
Tuna taki maki rolls featured ruby-red, fresher-than-fresh slivers of fish spiced up by breaded prawn, chipotle aioli and a sprinkling of crunchy furikake; while the black cod was almost translucent and luxuriously buttery, melting in mouthfuls of yuzu-and-jalapeno-spiked joy.
An avant-garde sounding salmon and truffle nigiri turned out to be just lightly touched with the pungent funghi, with plenty of fresh salmon flavour shining through. Even the charred greens prompted full-mouthed eyebrow raises and nudges between me and my partner. Everything is given just enough delicate seasoning and texture to become not just passable but memorable.
The best thing about this tempting menu is the amount of light and healthy but irresistably described dishes: veggies can get involved with a sweetcorn and tofu ceviche, slivers of sashimi and tataki are sprinkled with elegant leaves and edible flowers, and meaty tacos are reimagined with portobello mushrooms infused with coriander and sesame.
With dishes at around £9-28 (the latter being the black cod), a multi-plate order would quickly mount up, though wallet-conscious diners could stick to the simpler sushi rolls and snacks such as edamame and miso aubergine. Those stopping off for a quick bite might want to plump for the £19.99 three-course set lunch menu.
Though the hum of liveliness that comes with an established audience is yet to set in at Nakanojo, perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to visit outside of an actual period of national mourning. Celebrate for me with some of those tuna rolls.
Nakanojo, 356 King’s Rd, London SW3 5UZ | 020 7349 8877 | nakanojo.com