Tuesday evening and it’s time for dinner at Sushisamba. My first visit to this much talked about restaurant, perched on the top of London’s second tallest building, Heron Tower in Bishopsgate, in the City.
I’ve come from the International Wine Challenge, where I’ve been tasting lots of wine all day, followed by a quick beer with fellow judges. I’m not really dressed for the occasion, but the two door guys let me in, and direct me to the outside lift, which rockets me up to the 38th floor in about half a second. It’s almost worth coming for the lift alone: theme park quality ride without any queue.
We gather on the roof terrace, which is the highest open terrace in Europe, apparently. It’s also being experienced on one of the most perfect April evenings you can imagine – beautiful blue skies and balmy temperatures, and we realize that we are very lucky indeed.
We are there to have dinner, of course, but the reason for this dinner is that Bruno Paillard is present. His Champagnes have been chosen by Sushisamba as their house pour, and unlike many such arrangements, no money has changed hands in this case. Bruno has also supplied Sushisamba with some nice large format back vintages, and we are going to try them.
Sushisamba is technically a chain restaurant, but of the most exclusive kind. It was started in 1999 in New York by serial restaurateur Shimon Bokovza, and has since spread to five locations. London was the first outside the USA, and complements Sushisambas in Miami (2), Las Vegas and New York.
I’ve been chatting for a while to Bruno, but then I realize that Shimon (pictured above with Bruno) is also here. ‘Would you like to speak to Shimon?’ Of course! I’m introduced to him and he is charming and clearly very smart, and we have a nice conversation. He says he’s chosen Champagne Bruno Paillard to be his house pour because he wanted something drier. He finds many Champagnes to be too sweet. Bruno explains later that his house will soon become the only one that’s exclusively labelled extra brut, meaning that none of the Champagnes have a dosage higher than 6 g/litre. They’ve already been below this level for six years, and the next step will be to change the labelling.
‘I feel humbled that Shimon has made this decision,’ says Bruno. ‘The idea is that these are Champagnes to accompany great food, and they are associated with Michelin-starred restaurants, but you don’t need to have a Michelin-starred restaurant to serve Bruno Paillard Champagnes.’ He adds quickly, though, that he’s still very keen on being listed by Michelin-starred restaurants.
Then it is time for dinner. We move up a floor, to the smaller dining room on the 39th floor. The views are breath-taking from wherever you are sitting in Sushisamba, because three of the walls are composed of floor to ceiling glass. The décor is just perfectly in tune with the overall feel of the place, and it fits in with the location. When you are on the top of a modern skyscraper in the City, with the attendant views, you need to go modern and vibrant. Wood panelling and soft furnishings won’t work.
The food? Now this is not a gastronomic destination. It’s more of an experience. But if this were a gastronomic destination, without the experience element, I think the food might be taken more seriously, because it’s really good. It is innovative in a good way, describing itself as a unique blend of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisine. This sounds gimmicky, but there was a coherent stylistic thread that ran through the dishes we had. I notice from the full menu, which is very small-platey (making it possible for hungry people to rack up a substantial bill, and don’t forget the 12.5% service charge when you look at the prices), that there are lots of safe meaty havens for the culinary unadventurous. But what we had was pretty innovative and delicious, and the style of the food fitted very well with the feel of the restaurant. They’ve pretty much got it right.
What Shimon gets is that there’s much more to eating out than just the food on the plate. It really is about the whole experience, and Sushisamba is – if you are not too snobby and foodie about it – a really great experience.
So, the wines. Champagne from start to finish, and it works with this sort of menu.
Champagne Bruno Paillard Brut Première Cuvée NV France
Tight and fresh with nice citrus fruit and a hint of pithiness. Very pure and quite a dry style with nice focus and finesse. 90/100
Champagne Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs Réserve Privée Grand Cru NV France
Stylish, pure and a bit toasty with nice freshness and purity. There’s a hint of toastiness here with lovely pear and ripe apple fruit. A dry, fruit-driven style. 91/100
Champagne Bruno Paillard Rosé Première Cuvée NV France
Fresh with a hint of cherry fruit s well as strawberry and citrus.Lovely precision on the palate, which is fruity with red cherry notes. Taut and precise. 91/100
Champagne Bruno Paillard Le Mesnil 1995 France
Disgorged April 2008. Rich and a bit creamy with subtle toasty notes. Stylish citrus and pear fruit with some richness and a bit of pithiness. Still quite youthful with hints of wax and nuts. Linear. 92/100
Champagne Bruno Paillard NPU Nec Plus Ultra 1999 France
Barrel fermented with 4 g/litre dosage, disgorged January 2012. Lively, fresh and focused. Quite pure and linear with precision. Still tightwound and pure with some crystalline fruits. Has potential for development. 92/100
Champagne Bruno Paillard Le Mesnil 1990 France
Disgorged April 2007. Distinctive with hints of iodine and herbs alongside the citrus fruit. Pure, fresh and linear with a distinctive herby, toasty, resinous edge, a hint of cabbage and keen lemony acidity. Fresh. 91/100
Champagne Bruno Paillard Brut Assemblage 1996 France
Disgorged April 2008. Linear and toasty with pure citrus fruit. Fine and expessive with a refined toasty character.Tight, pithy and refined. 93/100