confession, to start. I have been a sushi swerver for most of my life. I can handle veggie Itsu smothered in hot sauce, and on occasion tuna ceviche at a meal where the menu is out of my control, but I’d never usually voluntarily choose sushi. Even a private tasting at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, featuring the freshest fish prepared by the world’s top sushi chefs, didn’t convert me.
But Sushisamba does, with indisputable (and photogenic) flair. On a beautiful June evening, our softly spoken, besuited waiter Sylvain encourages me to try the signature Samba London sushi rolls, featuring tuna, yuba (dried tofu skin – bear with me) and – usually my bête noir – salmon. I can’t refuse. And luckily, I don’t. Almost too pretty to eat, the substantial twin columns arrive neatly decorated with dots of bright pink beetroot and yuzu dressing. A sushi-loving best friend is persuaded by my unexpected appetite for my portion to share hers – the California rolls – which means I must now concede crab can be more than palatable too. But I’m getting ahead of myself. To arrive at this point in the meal, you’d need to have entered the private glass lifts that make ears pop and eyes widen as you whizz up to the 39th floor of Heron Tower in Bishopsgate, to reach Sushisamba. It has the highest outdoor dining terrace in Europe, with panoramic 360-degree views of the city. The restaurant's others outposts are equally show-stopping and can be found in Covent Garden, Dubai and Las Vegas.
When he seats us – we start in the main dining room, then head outside for dessert with a view – Sylvain asks what occasion we’re celebrating, confirming one of the reasons why this place is booked out months in advance. People come here for meals to remember. We’re sitting next to a glammed-up pair of young women beaming at each other (and into their phones as they snap the Insta-worthy dishes), families with three generations present and a large group merrily toasting a guest of honour. Birthdays, anniversaries, life’s big occasions, long-overdue catch-ups with friends – all the better for celebrating somewhere that makes a big effort to be memorable.
Inside the main dining room, a striking bamboo lattice grid arches over proceedings, dotted with lights (extra magical when the sun goes down), but all designed to ensure the view takes centre stage, with floor-to-ceiling windows and no decorative elements above head height. Choose a cocktail – try the signature Samba Sour and Tangerine Spritz – and sip as you get on with the important business of spot-the-landmark. We award ourselves extra points for some more obscure sightings, like our friend’s houseboat by Tower Bridge, a tall block of flats near our first houseshare and the distinctive All Saints Spitalfields boutique with its banks of sewing machines.
Begin your meal by setting the tone with a couple of aperitivos – it’s clear Sushisamba understands the importance of dips and sauces. And we’re not talking Kettle Chips-enhanced-by-hummus here. Plantain chips and green bean tempura – both great in their own right – are given an almighty kick thanks to incredible aji amarillo (sweet yellow chilli pepper dip) and black truffle aioli. I’d never usually consider an aperitivo the best part of a meal, but could eat these, with dip, every day.
Hot on their heels come the crispy, crunchy taquitos, yellowtail tuna with avocado and roasted corn miso – served on a very heavy 'Samba London' stamped brick – and soft, moreish wagyu gyoza with kabocha purée and sweet soy. All disappear within minutes. I have to admit that I’d wondered before coming if Sushisamba might have taken its foot off the gas after a decade in business. The dishes do come with the price tags that you’d expect from a place like this – packed day in and day out, with an almost unbeatable view and hard-to-bag tables – but it’s a fact: the food is delicious.
Sylvain appears once more before the aforementioned showstopper sushi rolls arrive, bearing a bonus course from the robata section of the menu, which he says we must try – fresh ingredients prepared over a traditional Japanese charcoal grill and served as small plates or ‘anticuchos’ – Peruvian skewers. Chilean sea bass – as (good) as I expect it to be – comes with Peruvian corn kernels ten times the size I’d expect them to be. Its china plate features a distinctive curving pattern which Sylvain explains reflects the wave motif found on the promenade of Copacabana beach.
If you have space, and time left before the next eager Samba lovers arrive to fill your table, the mochi dessert is pretty as a picture; soft Japanese rice cakes filled with ice cream in vanilla, chocolate and raspberry hues, with dollops of warm white chocolate sauce and biscuit triangles. The Zen Garden, meanwhile, is as generous a pudding portion as you'd be able to eat. Bergamot tea biscuits, ground up, form a sandy beach upon which sit chocolate lychee peach stones – dig down to unearth yuzu curd. I finish my last mouthful, gaze out at the blazing sun as it starts to sink below the horizon, and start thinking about what occasion will bring me to Sushisamba next time.
SUSHISAMBA, Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AY, sushisamba.com