RAI is the new restaurant from chef Padam Raj Rai, who won acclaim for his Hot Stone in Islington’s Chapel Market. RAI is an immersive omakase experience located just off Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia. Chef Rai is originally from Nepal and trained in Japan before working as a sushi chef at some of London’s most lauded Japanese restaurants, including Nobu and Tsukiji Sushi. The new restaurant combines Rai’s superlative cooking with a new take on Japanese cuisine, all served in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible.
The intimate dining room is all natural wood and white tablecloths, the perfectly elegant and neutral background to show off the restaurant’s beautifully designed dishes. Guests enter the dining room via an open kitchen with counter seating overlooking the chefs’ intricate work. Each guest is greeted with a cheerful cry from the kitchen of ‘irasshaimase’ on arrival and ‘arigato gozaimasu’ on departure, setting the tone for how friendly, personable and proudly Japanese RAI is.
RAI offers an omakase menu, which is the best way to explore the menu and chef Rai’s cuisine. Brummell tried the five-course tasting menu with wine and sake pairing, which starts with a series of exquisite snacks: a delicately dressed oyster with caviar, a lotus crisp topped with tuna and a deftly prepared raw prawn. The first course of the omakase menu is a magnificent selection of sashimi served across a twisted branch to beautiful and dramatic effect. RAI is dedicated to the absolute finest ingredients, including soy sauce that has been aged for five years to make it umami-rich and complex. The divinely soft, melt-in-the-mouth sashimi is also served with real wasabi (the vast majority of the wasabi we eat in the UK is just dyed horseradish), grated at the table for both the spectacle of seeing a real wasabi root and the unbeatable freshness.
Next on the menu is a rich mix of salty, sharp and sweet: a hand-dived Orkney scallop served with parsnip, plum, sweet umeboshi, ponzu, citrus and kaiso salad. This is followed by a moreish and succulent 48-hour marinated Chilean seabass with broccoli puree, spicy miso, and pickled vegetables. The menu has the option of adding on a two-piece premium sushi omakase course, two delicate pieces of tuna sashimi, one topped with truffle and caviar and the other with sharp fruits and both made with special koshihikari rice grown in Japan.
Seared butterfish sashimi with a red jalapeño sauce came next – a rich and fatty fish in a spicy and fragrant sauce that marked a fabulous end to the savoury section of the omakase menu. An optional wagyu course can follow if you fancy a real treat with a remarkable Kagoshima A5 wagyu, kizami wasabi and ponzu sauce followed by a completely original wagyu chocolate made from 40 per cent wagyu fat, organic white chocolate, thyme, rosemary, pistachio, yuzu and mixed berries – a creamy, sharp and slightly savoury dish that is presented in a long colourful strip that invites you to dip in.
The sweet courses round off a true feast with a comforting and fresh dish of pumpkin, umeshu and coconut ice cream with yuzu foam, followed by elegant petits fours accompanied by a very special drink of chef Rai’s home-made rice wine, made by the chef and served with suitable ceremony.
A five-course tasting menu is £110 per person with £65 per person for the sake menu. The premium sushi omakase course is a £28 supplement, and the wagyu courses are an additional £69.
RAI promises a new style of innovative cooking and indeed the experience and menu feel fresh and exciting. The cooking is unquestionably top-tier – some of the finest and most exciting in London – and the restaurant is warm, welcoming and fun.