You might say that Kurt Zdesar knows a thing or two about Asian fine dining. The London restaurateur earned the first Michelin star for an Asian restaurant in the UK for Nobu London, then worked with Alan Yau on the launch of Hakkasan, a brand which, like Nobu before it, has since grown into an international powerhouse, with outposts in New York and Miami Beach.
Zdesar’s next project is called Chotto Matte, slated to open in September in London’s Soho district, and it sounds like another sleek reimagining of Asian cuisine. The restaurant will feature four areas on three floors, with a loung, sushi bar, robata grill and full restaurant, not to mention ambitious sake and Japanese whiskey programs. Zdesar reveals even more in the latest installment of Just Back From.
Where are you just back from (where did you last travel to)?
Tokyo, I went there to find some inspiration for my next project, Chotto Matte.
Business or pleasure?
Well as much as it was for business it is always a pleasure. I love Japan and am always excited to visit.
As obvious as it might sound, a special moment for me is waking up at 3am to eat sushi and drink beer at 4am in Skidji Fish Market. Something more unusual and entertaining was the discovery of a tiny place called Toki Bar. In the early hours of the morning we traipsed across town from Roppongi Hills to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai. This area is a network of narrow passageways packed with hundreds of tiny shanty-style bars and eateries the size of broom cupboards. There I discovered Deshikosan, the owner of an eight-seater bar. I suspect that by his talent he is actually an artist first and a barman second. He served drinks and in between played his guitar, singing (the most energetically I have ever witnessed) his own compositions. Such a wonderful guy. So much fun and a great way to meet and interact with the locals.
I tried hard to think of a lowlight but honestly Tokyo is such an exciting city that is constantly buzzing and so diverse. The people are so polite, honest and friendly. The food is awesome. The only lowlight I guess was leaving.
What airline(s) did you fly and how was it?
Air New Zealand. It was my first time with them; their business class was excellent. The staff were the best yet. I believe I have been converted (sorry, Richard [Branson]).
Where’d you stay and what’s your mini-review of the place?
The Okura Hotel just outside Roppongi. I have fond memories of this hotel from my first vist when I came to Japan with Nobusan back in 2000. I Love the design. It looks and feels like you are stepping back into the ’60s. The staff are very friendly although no one speaks English, but that’s just how I like it. A bit of sign language and a few laughs and no newspaper!
I could never stay in a hotel that doesn’t have staff wearing gloves to press the lift buttons for me. Luckily, here they have just that! The beds are big and the rooms are tight but that’s the norm in Tokyo.
What was your best meal on the trip?
Wow, that’s a hard one. But I would probably say the first meal, not because it was the best, but because it was exactly that, the first meal. We got off the plane, checked in, then ran to nearest sushi bar. I had been counting down the weeks, days, hours to that very moment!
Did you get to do anything non-food related, and if so, what?
We were on the hunt for graffiti artists for our new project, and therefore spent a lot of time in circles I normally don’t get involved in. We went to a lot of underground exhibitions and galleries and met some really interesting people with a cult like following. Very different, very cool.
Did you do any shopping and bring something back and if so, what?
I brought back lots of samples, catalogues and traditional kimonos for my kids.
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