Until quite recently, launching a new restaurant in London was a fairly simple matter. All you had to do was serve pan-Asian cuisine. It didn't matter how unfashionable the location, if you added edamame to the menu your restaurant was guaranteed to succeed. Indeed, at one stage pan-Asian food was so popular it looked as though miso black cod was going to replace chicken tikka masala as the nation's favourite dish.
Judging from the reception given to Nozomi, a new restaurant in Beauchamp Place, this culinary trend is past its sell-by date. The reviews have been so hostile that the hot-headed owner, Marios Georgallides, has decided to fire more or less everyone involved and start again from scratch. Consequently, on the night I went there last week, the entire kitchen staff and front-of-house team were new--and this in spite of the fact that Nozomi only opened on July 2.
Part of the reason it has provoked the ire of my colleagues, I suspect, is because Georgallides has surrounded himself with floppy-haired aristos. Among those "involved" in Nozomi--whether they're investors or not is far from clear--are Prince Maximilian von Thurn und Taxis and Jacobi Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe. There are no fried potatoes on the menu at Nozomi, but unless you were born with a silver chopstick in your mouth you're quite likely to have a few chips on your shoulder by the time you leave.
Georgallides used to be the owner of Attica, a once-trendy nightclub, and a good two-thirds of the customers in Nozomi looked as though they weren't planning to go to bed much before 4am (and preferably not alone). It's the sort of place Prince William and Kate Middleton might drop into on their way to Bouji's or Movida--though probably for the vodka shots, rather than the food. Nozomi is a restaurant for people who prefer to ingest their carbohydrates in liquid form.
The décor is surprisingly tasteful, given how flashy the clientele are. It has one of those minimalist, cream-and-wood interiors that are sometimes described as "Japanese art deco". As you enter, you find yourself in a bar, with the restaurant located on a higher level reached by a small flight of stairs. Above that is a shushi bar and--as you'd expect from a restaurant started by a former nightclub-owner--a VIP lounge. I searched in vain for some cosmetically-enhanced ex-celebrities, but, alas, Mickey Rourke was nowhere to be seen.
It's probably too early to judge the kitchen at Nozomi, given that the staff had only been there a few days on the night I went, so I won't hold it against them that the yellowtail and toro sushi weren't available and that they couldn't meet my companion's request for decaf coffee. What they were able to produce--salmon roe sushi, lobster tempura, assorted maki rolls--was fairly run-of-the-mill, the kind of stuff you can get at any bog standard Japanese restaurant. The only sign of originality was the edamame which had been deep-fried in chilli oil. When my companion, who wasn't used to Japanese food, popped a whole edamame into his mouth and started chewing I thought he was going to pass out.
Will Nozomi be around in five year's time? Given the owner's poor management skills, that seems doubtful. On the night it opened, the restaurant was picketed by a disgruntled ex-employee and it subsequently emerged that the fashion designer Scott Henshall had threatened to take Georgallides to court to settle an unpaid bill. The fact that he's now replaced the entire staff, including the maitre 'd, suggests
he lacks the cool business head needed to survive in this world. Nevertheless, let's hope it at least stays open long enough to be featured on the next series of Gordon's Kitchen Nightmares, if only because the clash between Georgallides and the Glaswegian ex-footballer would be absolutely electrifying.