Published 5 January 2022
by Henry Southan
“Have a look around, you can touch anything except for the knives.”
CODE caught up with award-winning chef Endo Kazutoshi, at his restaurant, Endo at the Rotunda. The magnificently designed restaurant is on the top floor of The Helios building in White City. The Michelin-starred restaurant serves up a 20-course tasting menu to ten lucky diners each sitting.
It was my grandfather’s sushi bar that he opened in 1940 that got me interested in becoming a chef. Traditionally it’s always the first son who takes over the family business, so I was taught from an early age by my mother as it was intended that I would take over the restaurant. While I couldn’t learn to use knives when I was young, I did learn about the culture. There is a lot to know about the culture of sushi. Sushi is about being in front of guests and hosting, this is something I was taught since around eight years old.
My father unfortunately passed away several years ago, but before that, I remember my parents visiting a private sushi bar I was working at in Tokyo. I cooked them the best sushi you can get, usually £350 per person. They said it was good, not great, just good! I asked them why and they said, “because it’s not my sushi, and my sushi is the best!” I now understand this, sushi is such a personal thing.
No, never. I never even considered that I may work outside of Japan! It wasn’t really my choice either. My master sent me to Spain, and from there went to London.
You can’t really compare; every city is completely different. I’d say London does the best Japanese cuisine in Europe. In Japan, food is very personal too. I might serve the best sushi in a restaurant in Japan, but if someone doesn’t like me for some reason, they wouldn’t eat it.
I’ll let Noemi (General Manager) take this one as she explains it so well.
Noemi: The way we do hospitality and service is genuine, it’s honest. We’re not pretending to be something we’re not. We genuinely care about our guests’ satisfaction, care, love and respect rather than it being forced and robotic.
Sorry about that, I have to check everything. We have 20 courses on our menu, and I check every single one of them. We start at 10am preparing for the dinner service. You can probably see why I don’t eat fish on my day off!
Beef. Or skewered chicken. Definitely no fish! I went to St John restaurant recently and they recommended their turbot, I said no, I just need steak and wine!
Absolutely not. I‘ve been married to my wife for twenty years and have only cooked three times! Before we got married, my mother showed my wife inside our family fridge and told her “no mayo, no ketchup, just soy sauce!” It’s crazy.
Very important. Suppliers are like our engine. Without great ingredients, we can’t open. The relationship is very important. For me, it doesn’t always have to be what’s the most local, but it’s the ingredient quality itself that matters. That’s not to say we don’t use lots of local produce, but it’s not the only factor you should look at.
For example, with the tuna, I know the entire story of this fish; the age, sex, what time it was caught. I travel to Heathrow airport myself to collect it.
This is the same for our sake too, I have very good relationships with breweries back in Japan, and whenever I am over there, I will visit.
So the designer was Kengo Kuma, an amazing Japanese artist. We had a conversation and a year later he asked to meet at my Tokyo office, where he showed me five incredibly detailed models of the dining room and asked me to choose which one I wanted! It gave me real confidence when opening the restaurant that the guests would have this ‘wow’ moment. The table we’re sitting at is actually made from a sacred Japanese tree, so we cover it with blankets during the day.
Lockdown was shocking. The first couple of weeks I found it a good time to sleep and relax as we had been so busy. I had a call from someone from the fish market saying that fish prices were 90% down because no one was buying it, so I thought we could put together bento boxes to deliver to NHS hospitals. Over 2000 bento boxes we sent, and I’d also volunteer at The Felix Project every Thursday cooking for 200-300 homeless people every week.
I never cry right, especially in front of people. The day this was announced was the first time in many years. I called all my fishermen, crying on the phone thanking them for their work. It felt like a trophy for all of the work we had been doing as a team.
Fundamentally it has to be our sushi rice. The rice comes from my farm in Fukuoka.
For me, St John is great. You could probably find me there on a Sunday.
image credit: @FoodStoryMedia2021