The highly anticipated Sushi Samba arrived in the daunting Heron Tower a week ago. Having booked about 2 months ago, this has been a long time coming. I’ve been to Sushi Samba 7 in New York, many times and believe me, London had a lot to live up to. The essence of the New York one is perfect. While it’s more upmarket than other sushi restaurants in the area, giving it a bit of an edge, it’s aware that it’s in The Village and can’t be too exclusive as it’s on 7th and Bleecker not Perry and Bleecker if you understand me. What I mean is that it’s leaning towards the dive bars, late night pizza places and student haunts and while a mere stone’s throw, it isn’t conversing with the town houses and boutiques that are just ever so slightly west. Therefore, you have an eclectic mix of young and old, tourists, business men and artists all coming together for the love of fusion, ambience and great food. Fly across the pond and somewhere along the way they forgot what it was all about.
Hop in the lift to the 38th floor which zooms at a hugely accelerated pace, and you are greeted by one of the many clipboarded hostesses that are all wearing the same slinky, orange dress. As smiley and well presented as they all seem, later on they proved they had no customer service knowledge whatsoever. The bar area inside is nice enough, nothing spectacular. The focus is on the raw bar, but you can’t see what the chefs are preparing as the wooden border goes up just too high. The bar over to the right is pushed into the corner and if you angle yourself just right, behind the massive staircase and a few oddly placed pillars, you can see the breathtaking view; Tower Bridge, Gherkin, The Shard, The Thames.
The Outside bar, is chaos; broken bottles on the bar, empty cigarette packets, loads of empty glasses with a seemingly well staffed bar. Service is hard to come by, they’re all looking down, talking to each other and not really paying attention to the task in hand ‘Excuse me, do you have a drinks menu?’ ‘No, you’ll have to go inside for that.’ ‘So, you don’t have a menu out here?’ ‘Hang on (rolls eyes)’ Then a couple of minutes later she threw a couple of menus on to the bar. Wading through the gluttonous sea of ugly mouthed, suited city boys was an atrocity I’d rather not repeat. The general demeanour of the clientele had about as much charm and grace as someone throwing a brick through the all glass wall. Unfortunately, sitting on this outside terrace on the 38th floor entitled me to simply look at a conservatory roof from the floor below and in the distance, look north to what could have been Mongolia, suburban Texas or anywhere. Why on earth the bar, or any seating for that matter is not South facing, so this investment wasn’t all in vain, is beyond me. The photo below is that same view, but from the inside of the restaurant.
I had a ‘Nina Fresa’ which was pretty tasty (Ketel One Vodka is shaken with freshly squeezed lime, grapefruit and guava juice and sweetened with strawberry puree and simple syrup. Served ‘up’.)
We were initially showed to our seat in a corridor, I politely declined, looking through the glass to the side of the outside terrace at the back of city boys or, on the other side, a white wall, whilst a constant stream of customers pass through, was not what I had in mind when booking a table at the top of the Heron Tower. We waited…and waited…and then were seated in the restaurant, as opposed to the periphery, but our view was now of the conservatory roof I so fondly described earlier, and some sort of crane like contraption blocking any minute side view I might have once been able to have. I settled for it as realised fighting it would have been futile.
Next, I’ve worked in restaurants, expensive ones, cheap ones and I know the drill. Step One: Establish the clientele. This is a simple test to determine how much attention bad waiters will give to said patron. The water question. Still or sparkling. They might as well ask, ‘How much money are you going to spend?’ I have no qualms with responding to this by saying ‘tap’. The next is asking if you’d like any edamame, tempura etc etc. This is before you have even seen the menu…I again declined. The reluctance of handing over the menu is strange, you can’t even find it online.
After deliberating, we chose the Poussin and four different Samba rolls; BoBo Brazil, Neo Tokyo, The Samba London & the last one was a mixture, like a Rainbow Roll. Presentation was good, not quite as spectacular as NY, but credit where credit is due, it was good and very colourful, for London, sorry. The tempura crunch was salty with just the right amount of crunch and the fish was good although wasn’t that flavoursome. The Wagyu beef roll was lovely and very decorative, with a good smoky taste to the meat. The most simple thing however, the base for all of this which is so often overlooked is the rice. To quote Jay Rayner when talking about Sushi Tetsu ‘It is all detail…the rice is exactly how you always wish it might be and so rarely is. It is the right side of just warm.’ Samba had cold rice that was not fresh and Rayner’s description is so spot on as not only does fresh, warm rice accentuate the taste of the fish, it’s soft texture and freshness are so much more appealing than rice you know has been kept chilled for a while. For around £15 a roll you expect the best of the best. The Poussin was really nice; smoky, soft chicken with a delicious barbecue style and slightly spicy sauce, great as something a little different on the side.
Samba New York gets the rice just right, the fish is fresher, the crunch, crunchier. They are also a lot bigger! Photo below is from Samba NY to compare and we had very similar rolls, so that the comparison could be more accurate.
After dinner we walked out onto the other balcony, where a few people were drinking (you aren’t allowed to eat out there) and in one small corner of this balcony is the view you’ve been waiting for. It was amazing to see, it’s just a shame they didn’t design the restaurant in a way so it could be enjoyed by all it’s customers.
I wouldn’t say it was an amazing experience, it was lacklustre if anything. And for those prices you can go to Sushinho for a much nicer atmosphere and keep your feet firmly on the ground, which is maybe what Samba should have done…in more ways than one.
Rate: 3.2 (London)
Rate: 4.8 (New York)
020 3640 7330
Sushi Samba 7
87 7th Avenue South
New York, NY