With Brighton’s ever-evolving food and drink scene meaning new restaurants, bars and cafes are opening across town at breakneck speed, I am rarely as excited as I was when I heard that a new Japanese izakaya specialising in robata and cocktails was due to open on Preston Street. Essentially from the description of the place, if I wrote a tick list of my favourite things, Kujira would pretty much nail the lot.
We booked an early table at 6.30pm on a Friday and were lucky to to have booked well in advance as the dining area is pretty bijou (estimate 20 covers) and was already buzzing when we arrived.
The first thing to note is the chic decor; the place is the perfect balance between upmarket and casual with bright flowers and vibrant neon lights contrasting the otherwise low lighting and black and gold interior.
We are shown to our table and presented with a phemomenal cocktail menu which included a unique selection of cocktails, with just as many unfamiliar ones as classics served with a twist. I kick off with the refreshing and zingy South East Junos, a concoction of vodka, calpico and yuzu topped off with champagne, while my dining partner Natalie opts for the aromatic and punchy ‘Gentle Monster’ – an unusual twist on the classic amaretto sour, combining amaretto, egg white, lemon, and a hot hit of wasabi.
Whatever the cuisine, my favourite way of eating has always been small plates and tapas – I mean, what’s not to love about sharing your food with friends and loved ones (plus ordering more dishes means sampling more off the menu)?! The menu at Kujira is large but not overwhelming, perfect for picking a few plates from each section. I was delighted to have some guidance on recommend dishes to order from the friendly team.
We decide to start with a selection of dishes from the Kombachi section of the menu, ordering edamame, agedashi tofu and sweetcorn tempura. The edemame were steamed and then blackened and served with sake and sichimi and were absolutely incredible, and reminiscent of the flavour of roasted chestnuts. Meanwhile, the agedashi tofu was served in the most amazing tentsuyu sauce and the sweetcorn tempura almost tasted like an upmarket variation of a well known fried chicken takeaway.
The next dishes to arrive were the duck, severed in a sticky teriyaki sauce topped with sesame – the meat was beautifully succulent and perfectly cooked – with a side of rice seasoned with Hijiki.
Up next was one of my all time favourites – tempura sushi rolls – which I have to say I struggle to find on a lot of Brighton menus. I’ve only ever previously had the salmon or tuna variety of the dish, so was interested to try the indulgent offering of beef, spring onion and garlic chips – although the beef was served perfectly rare, the rice sticky and the batter delicate and crunchy, I have to admit one or two slices of the roll would have been plenty for me as it was quite a heavy portion to have alongside so many other dishes.
We went on to order a selection of dishes from the small robata section of the menu – choosing chicken thigh, scallops, asparagus and king oyster mushrooms, every dish coming out perfectly cooked and packed with flavour..
Our final dish of the evening was a plate from the ‘big robata’ section – lamb chops served pink with the flavour from the grill adding a great depth to the charred meat which was coated in a sweet sticky teriyaki glaze and a mouth watering side of vegetables including some of the best aubergine I’ve ever tasted.
All in all a stunning evening and absolute must try for any Brighton foodie – ten out of ten in every respect: food, service, hospitality and the best toilets in town.
Kujira is at 48 Preston Street, Brighton. Tel: 01273 777988.