The Wordrobe’s editor Sophie Ritchie takes a tastebud trip to Ukai, a fun fusion find in the heart of Notting Hill
Surrounded by the bustle of Portobello market’s eclectic hub of stalls and strolling shoppers, Ukai is a Japanese-inspired restaurant that comes with a suave (and somewhat unusual) Italian twist.
Inside, the dark wood panelled interiors are a world away from the hectic streets outside. It’s calm, charming and most importantly, friendly. I feel welcome immediately, settled in to my seat with a smile and the offer of a drink.
Prior to its Ukai days, the building played host to The Market Bar, a 1980s boho hotspot for music and dance. They’ve kept the 19th century facade the same – but the cuisine on offer is an entirely different form of entertainment.
Alessandro Verros is the man behind the menu. Having trained at ROKA, the brand’s high standards are emulated in his own dishes. Think Japanese delights that come with Italian influences. I can’t spot any carbonara sashimi, but there’s plenty of sushi, dim sum, tempura, hot robata treats and intriguing fresh salads. The Italian influences spill into the desserts here too – black sesame panna cotta, anyone?
We opt for a selection of dishes to sample the menu and its highlights, which are brought to the table as a procession of mouth-watering treats. The edible action commences with a Kampichi Salad (£12), a deliciously light serving of thinly sliced cobia sashimi, paired with zingy yuzu truffle and a speckle of rocket.
We also try the Mixed Seafood Salad, a mix of fish, fruits, and veggies including avocado and dragonfruit. It’s a fresh and exotic mouthful, arranged delicately on a stylish ceramic plate. The contrasting textures work well together, providing a refreshingly zingy bite.
Next, onto a neat quartet of supple seared scallops (£9) served with orange tobiko. If you like zest, Ukai is the place to find it – the dishes are packed with it. We also devour the Salmon Kushiyaki, hot skewers of tender salmon cubes and shisho dressing.
With our appetites now wide awake, it’s time to sample the sushi. After all, it seems like sacrilege to visit a Japanese restaurant without getting our rolled rice fix. A great platter of vibrant rolls arrive, spread out across the table upon more impressive tableware. There’s great attention to detail in the presentation from Alessandro’s dishes and the sushi rolls are no different, with gleaming pink tuna and spurts of colour.
I’m stuffed now… but there’s the lure of dessert. Alessandro prepares us a new, exciting creation – a slab of matcha tart with thick crusts, paired with a hefty scoop of chocolate ice cream. The matcha is a little overpowering for my taste, but fans of decadence would be in luck.
The Wordrobe verdict
I’ll stick with the savoury for now, which Ukai excels at. Fresh and authentic, I might have just found my favourite new Japanese haunt.
Make it happen
Where: 240 Portobello Rd, London W11 1LL
Bookings: Click here or phone: 020 7792 2444 to make a reservation