Oliver Maki, Dean Street, Soho
To stick to tradition or shed your scales to something new that no one has ever seen before. This is a dilemma that undoubtedly confronts chefs and restauranteurs alike when coming up with new ideas and concepts for their business. At Oliver Maki, a brand new sushi restaurant that has opened on Dean Street in Soho, they've decided to have the best of both worlds in combining authentic Japanese cuisine with a uniquely neoteric presentation.
I visited Oliver Maki to try their 'Out of the Box' Bento Boxes, served exclusively from Monday - Friday 12 - 3pm. Their name 'Out of the Box', certainly reflects their unorthodox presentation. The sushi is served here in transparent plastic drawer compartments that they call 'Jewel Boxes'. Organised and easy to find? Yes. How did I feel about serving myself by pulling my food out from a drawer? I'm not so sure. Flashbacks of stationery drawers that I would proudly stock with brand new sparkly gel pens and freshly bought 'Staedler' pencils instantly came to mind. (Remember those, 90's kids?) However, this odd flashback didn't taint my curiosity to try this rather methodical serving of award-winning Sushi.
The 'Out of the Box' Bento Box begins with a bowl of miso soup, warm, fresh and seasoned perfectly. From left to right, the Bento Box encloses a crispy beetroot salad, 3 pieces of Issai Maki, seafood ceviche, 3 pieces of chef’s special Maki, 3 pieces of chef’s special nigiri, salmon teriyaki or chicken teriyaki and special brown rice.
These compartments, tokened as 'Jewel Boxes' definitely enclosed some treasures. This might have something to do with the fact that the restaurant was created by Zeitoun brothers, two restauranteurs, who work closely alongside ex-Nobu Chef Louis Kenji Huang to create their unique dishes.
There's no doubt about it; the taste of food here is exceptional and the quality and freshness of the fish in the seafood ceviche must be celebrated. The ceviche was beautifully tender and was refreshing with its accompaniment of red onion, coriander, avocado and citric flavours.The chef's special, placed on top of the boxes, comprised of tuna, salmon and seabass ngiri. I ended up eating all three of these and not allowing my guest any. Sorry LondonStaged!
The teriyaki chicken had a mustard coating that clung to the brown rice and was very comforting. The tempura was heavenly, light and not oily; my guest and I were fighting over these.
Other unique features at Oliver Maki include their decision to use brown rice with their teriyaki dishes, something I actually preferred as white rice can be very filling when trying to get through an entire box of sushi. In addition, we noticed some unusual methods of presentation from other tables; a more artistic take on Japanese cuisine and I suppose it's simply not what people expect when they think of sushi.
The desserts at Oliver Maki deserve a league of their own. They were elegant, carefully constructed, delicate, like eating a piece of art and guess what, they tasted phenomenal too. The matcha tiramisu was really light, didn't have an overpowering flavour of matcha, the ingredients used were very fresh, I don't believe it had alcohol in it to soak the (I may be wrong) and the small amount on the top was an excellent combination of flavours.
Apple and Japanese Fig Sorbet
The sorbets were both really crisp, refreshing and very tasty. I loved their presentation but it was difficult to remember which one was which. Perhaps the garnish on top could be one fig and one apple or a different colour coding to be able to differentiate between the two. I assume the two small olives on top are signatures of the Zeitoun Brothers. The website states that they use their own Lebanese Olive Oil in some of their other Maki restaurants in the Middle East. I loved how they have touches of their own heritage and personality within the dishes.
I think it's easy to criticise a restaurant for its decision to modernise something that is honoured for its tradition. The Japanese, much like the French cuisine too are both so deeply rooted in tradition and conventional craft, that any attempt to synthesize this foundation with a more modern or experimental concept, will always be setting itself up for strict criticism.
Ben Norum wrote in his review of Oliver Maki for the Evening Standard that "Fusion food is the work of the Devil, many will tell you." However in a flamboyant and artistic neighbourhood like Soho where just across from Oliver Maki, you have the Urban and Artistic 'Chotto Matte' that seamlessly fuses together the best of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine, I think the decision to produce food that everyone loves with their own personal touches (those of which they justify too) should be commended, rather than slammed as 'trashy'.
This is a generation of 'instagrammable' food, new technology and who wants to visit another restaurant that serves food almost identical in taste and presentation to all the other Japanese restaurants in London. The most important thing is that the food tastes fantastic, is made to delight and impress and overall I think that London's food scene needs a bit more of this 'Out of the Box' element of dining.
To find out more about Oliver Maki,