Can conveyor-belt sushi ever deliver in the evening? Harry Cockburn finds out
K10 recently gained some notoriety when the FBI released email exchanges between two bankers accused of rigging the Libor rate. The bribe offered for committing the crime? Cash, or lunch at K10. “K10 it is”, came the reply.
So, being the choice of the self-styled “Lord Libor” himself, the restaurant has a lot to live up to.
It is somewhere in the network of narrow streets behind Liverpool Street Station, where the cold edifices of innumerable office blocks cast a permanent shade across the bars and businesses stuck ignominiously at ground level.
On a winter’s afternoon, figures in business attire fade in and out of the shadows, passing through enormous glass doors into unknown offices, heads bowed as they gaze into smartphone screens.
Inside, tiny saucers glide in and out of view; transparent pods containing brightly coloured cargos land while others are whisked away, and elsewhere, clouds of vapour rise from a central control area.
It is this lustrous land of smooth surfaces and floating discs that you must adapt to if you ever fancy rigging a global market worth $450 trillion: a mid-priced sushi restaurant with nifty stainless steel conveyor belts ferrying aromatic fishy tit-bits around a bright dining space.
Inside, the seating arrangements aren’t designed to induce a lengthier stay. The high bar-stools are by no means uncomfortable, but for dinner they are somewhat Spartan. And sitting alongside the (albeit charming) conveyor belts means that should you have a companion with you, the two of you are required to sit on the lofty perches side by side, rather than opposite one another.
The effect heightens a sensation of voyeurism the restaurant offers customers – watch and be watched. Ahead of me the floor-to-ceiling windows offer a panoramic view of the dark streets outside; to my left I have a clear view of food preparation in the restaurant’s open kitchen; and all the time the tempting little dishes of food whirr around their track, flirting with one customer after another.
The air is fragrant, and though I am a stranger in this colourful land with locomotive scenery, I am relaxed. Good things are coming my way.
Barely concealed envy courses through me as something meaty that was gliding my way is derailed by another customer – a lone City worker having a feed before returning to his office to commit shameful global fraud. Perhaps.
By 7pm fewer than 10 seats are occupied. Perhaps among its core clientele, conveyor-belt-delivered sushi is regarded as more of a lunchtime foodstuff than dinner fodder.
I turn my attention to the inexpensive wine list and after a short conference, my companion and I select a bottle of Reisling. It is an immediately uplifting tonic, with a ringing zestiness that proves itself a straight-forward sounding board for delicately flavoured food.
A waiter begins lifting food-laden saucers from the conveyor and parking them in front of us. I unsnap my chopsticks, and begin delving into some of the little slivers of animal. Thin slices of beef carpacio in a sweet and sour sauce are matched in quality by slices of smoked salmon with a salty aroma of the sea.
Seared tuna with miso sauce looks funky and we enjoy it, but it has the least flavour here.
After the belt-driven introduction to the food, we decide to branch out and order hot food from the kitchen. I opt for the gothic-sounding black cod, which arrives sizzling on a little bed of leaves, and my accomplice has heard good things about the soft-shell crab.
It’s worth noting that these dishes are the most expensive items on a very modestly priced menu, coming in at a very reasonable £7.50 each. Lord Libor was a remarkably cheap date, it would seem.
The cod is the standout dish with succulent meat and a nicely crisped exterior. The soft-shell crab suffers from a somewhat heavy ratio of batter to crab, and though the dipping sauce it is paired with was passably tasty, it doesn’t shine.
Meanwhile, the restaurant remains on the quiet side. While K10 no doubt does a roaring lunch trade, the physical accoutrements are simply not designed with evening dining in mind.
Nonetheless, we require little persuasion to remain seated, and even decide to lengthen our visit, slowly emptying an earthenware jug of hot saki – a winter speciality.
As we eventually depart, I feel a sense of abandonment as we leave the little multi-coloured food pods that continue their forlorn voyages around the empty room.
On the other side of the road a small pub is busy. We cross Bishopsgate among throngs of people to find further refreshment elsewhere. K10 may have a strong gravitational force during the day, but at night, the sense is one of alienation.