<Photo by Jack Hardy>
Ever agonized over the perfect place to go on your first date? The right choice can affect on how well it goes – the wrong choice can end up in tumbleweed silences and a polite handshake goodbye. Well no more, because food writer/single girl and new Grazia Daily columnist Tess Ward is on a mission to roadtest the perfect restaurants you can take a date to.
Tess Ward is a food writer, Le Cordon Bleu trained chef and host of West London’s exclusive tailor-made cookery programmes. She is also a twenty-something singleton, on the hunt for the best date-night eateries in our new weekly column. We will follow her from her awkward first date icebreakers to the third date clinchers, with a lot of tartare, steak, linguini and cocktails between. If you are looking for a spot to wine, dine, schmooze or snooze, the newest food trends, best rooftops, dark corners and vodka martinis, check here every Thursday for a nibble of the action…
‘This week was a rather unusual choice for a first date venue - the unraved about sister restaurant to Yashin Sushi Bar, Yashin Ocean House in London’s South Ken. I dislike choosing a restaurant based on raves alone, but in this case I should have taken the silence as a sign and gone with my initial intention to take my date to Yashin, a spot I have known and frequented for years.
We arrived, albeit a little late, as is almost customary for me, profusely apologizing. It was only me and my date (to spare his blushes I shall call him Mr Tall Dark And Handsome, or Mr TDAH for short) plus a rather optimistic staff of twenty in the room. The ambience of the place scored a four out of ten at best, only put there by some strategic, mood-enhancing dimmers and clever table arrangement.
<Yashin Ocean House Interior>
Wafts of miso and home-smoked salmon, slung up on butchers hooks, a sushi counter display of fish, and displays of little patisseries gave our eyes and nose a good feed before Mr TDAH and I had even sat down. The neighbouring tables with dining occupants were certainly few and far between, a mix of young smart casual thirty somethings, a botoxed party of uncreased white-shirt-wearing West London women, plus a couple of locals.
The icebreaker and menu:
Definitely not a cocktail sort of joint, we stuck to what we knew. After a round of hot and cold sake was ordered, we set to work trying to decipher the vast clipboard of a menu full of superb looking, yet all completely foreign dishes.
The hovering waitress was at hand to help throughout. Attentive to the point of sitting on our laps. It got a little too much and after one awkward, unintentional thigh graze moment and I had to put my foot down - no more tucking in the napkin! From my experience, good table service certainly draws a fine line between irritating harassment and gentle attentiveness. I’m not sure this waitress had quite nailed it.
For starters we settled on a couple of Cappuccino Miso Soups, Cod Cheek with Chilli Amazu, and Hoba Yaki: beautifully plump grilled prawns of a boba leaf and some edamame with a remarkable yashin sand. In true sharing plate style, the food came out when it was ready.
The cod cheek, was certainly delicious yet forgettable amongst the other courses of the meal; the prawns much the same. The edamame however were superb. The flavour of the sand was earthy and deep, (not dissimilar to that of porcini mushroom) a lovely contrast the bright green beans. The Cappuccino Miso was another spectacular creation, a rich earthy miso soup with a pleasing moustache full of froth on top - near perfection if the froth had not sat cold on top of the hot broth. No doubt the temperature contrast was intentional, but a continual heat throughout would have been more pleasing.
<Yashin Ocean House Interior>
Not great, infact it was almost too dark to make out the menus. From a dating point of view the darkness would have been a definite plus, but in a less then bizarre twist of fate, I was sat below the only spotlight in the restaurant, allowing for the high possibility for a jowely chin to occur. And I know for a fact it did, thanks to a rather hilarious-looking selfie my paranoid self took when Mr TDAH was in the loo. I think I would have rather dealt with the halogens at McDonalds.
The next food to the table was a platter of the Omakase Sashimi, a selection of the best and freshest fish of the day (pictured below). The assortment included Tuna with Ponzu Jelly, Mackerel With Cucumber, Salmon, Sea Bass and another fish (which I can’t quite recall), all garnished with varying garnishes of cod roe, and other appetizing jellies and sauces. It is a bit of a niggling dislike of mine when sharing plate restaurants bring the hot food out first. Invariably sits on the edge of the table getting cold waiting for the other dishes to join it. A definitely brownie, sorry, sushi point for Yashin Ocean House, that they got it the right way around. Oh yes, and the fish was might fine too.
The dish to order:
The crowning glory of tastebud tantalisers was definitely saved until last. Cooked to perfection and served with butter soft foie gras was the Cornish Wild Sea Bass With Yuzu Miso. Whoever thought of pairing white fish, smoky miso and rich pate is a genius. If there had been any left I would have asked for a doggie bag. Unfortunately my date polished off his lot too. (Note to self, don’t take men with big appetites out in future. I could have done with the packed lunch the next day.)
Food prices were varied, but reasonable for sushi, considering the postcode. As it was a first date, I was hoping for something with a little buzz and energy. If this restaurant choice reflected anything about me or my personality, I imagine the excitement of a rubber would not be a far off comparison. Let's hope my date isn’t as ‘constructively’ critical as me and I get asked out again.
What kind of date it is good for:
Aside from the library-esque vibe, the restaurant could not be knocked for food quality, presentation or service. It may not be the best place for a first date ice breaker - any gaps in conversation was deafening silence - but if you’re looking for a spot to take a longterm boy/girlfriend, the in-laws or a quiet post-cinema bite, it would definitely come up trumps. But will there be a second date with Mr Tall Dark And Handsome or did my 'jowely' chin make him he run for the hills? We shall see - check back next week to find out!
Yashin Ocean House, Old Brompton Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 3RN, 0207 373 3990
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