I wanted to be able to offer Kouzu, the grand Japanese restaurant on the busy corner of Grosvenor Gardens, a spot on the must-do list, I really did. So many elements needed for a successful restaurant were right there, at Kouzu’s disposal. I saw the potential right from the beginning of the night, but then slowly watched it go from very high to very low.
The ambiance at Kouzu is nice. The amazing lighting suspended from the high ceiling that spans the two levels is truly a work of art. It’s also what drove me to Kouzu in the first place. After driving past the location numerous times when heading towards Hyde Park, my eye was always caught by the twinkling confections that were just beyond Kouzu’s glass door. I added it to my personal must-do list, only to eventually be able to spare you by listing it as a don’t.
The interesting location and light led to a split-level restaurant. What was once a grand building with high ceilings has been modified to allow for an entry level bar area, as well as a make-shift upper dining section. A staircase was built to lead to a platform and short walls to nestle within the existing walls of the main building. It is actually quite interesting the way they were able to make this loft without offending the beauty of the existing structure and its floor-to-ceiling windows. Sure, there were a couple things that they could have changed. The sushi bar lighting was so much brighter than the tables 5 feet away that it almost gave me a headache. I felt like I was eating in the dark watching an illuminated stage. Keeping the entire restaurant at an even level and allowing the sushi chefs to see with lower lights would have been much more pleasant. And I get butterflies are their thing, but the sparkly artificial butterflies perching on the window-treatments was overkill, and frankly a little cheesy. But all in all, the restaurant had clean lines and a fine degree of decorative awareness.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the host that led us upstairs to our table. Our table wobbled, like some do, and the host picked up on it without being asked. After fitting the base with a business card, he politely left us to peruse the menus. After noticing that no one had yet come to our table after a couple minutes, he came over and brought us some water. I was so impressed with how attentive this man was. I later realized he was probably constantly working overtime to make up for a very poor staff. If he was our server, I bet our experience would have been very different. After the host left the upper-level, I watched the servers stand around the computer area, not even glancing in our direction. My husband and I had time to pick our cocktails, our appetizers, our entrees, presidential candidates, fantasy football teams, the names of our unborn children, and the way to achieve world peace. Then still, no one came over. Eventually we were served, but that is not an ideal way to start a dining experience.
The drinks came quickly, which I appreciated, and the food was not far behind. Our starters included salted edamame and wild mushrooms in honey butter. I had also ordered a spicy California roll to start with, but that was not included in that first round. I figured the server was spacing out the dishes to include another round, otherwise known as wishful thinking. The starters and drinks were delicious and went down quickly, and I guess too quickly for the slow waitstaff. By the time that same slow waitress came back over to us, we had empty appetizer plates, empty cocktail glasses, and empty water glasses. We ordered two more drinks and waited for our next round of food. The spicy California roll came along with my husbands over-sized sashimi entree. I was very confused. Did this mean that my grilled salmon entree that I was meant to eat alongside my husband was not coming or that I would be eating alone when my meal arrived 20 minutes later. The latter is what happened. After reminding the woman a couple more times that we needed some water and that our cocktails were once again empty, she cleared my husbands empty plate (I insisted he start without me) and the plate that had held what was supposed to be a sushi roll appetizer.
After asking a couple times, and being faced with unapologetic responses, my grilled salmon finally showed up. So there I sat, eating alone, with my full husband watching me and feeling bad that a £200 dinner was such a fiasco. We then waited forever again for the plates to be cleared. We ordered desserts which came pretty quickly and were even given two complementary glasses of dessert wine. I am not sure if they recognized our frustrations or the restaurant does that for its patrons, but it was too little too late at that point. I had already decided I was never coming back and that fact is what lands a restaurant on the don’t list.
The saddest part about a story like this is that the food was actually delicious. Almost incredible. But even if you have the best intentions for your establishment, employing an incompetent manager and staff will overshadow whatever cuisine you serve. Such a shame.
21 Grosvenor Gardens
London SW1W 0BD