It is every chef’s dream to have his or her restaurant, and chef Kazutoshi Endo’s ambition materialised when his restaurant, Endo at The Rotunda, opened to heightened expectations in April 2019.
Before this he was executive chef at Zuma, the fine-dining Japanese restaurant in Knightsbridge, London, for eight years from 2007. He oversaw the establishment of new sites of Zuma all over the world, including New York, Miami, Dubai, Hong Kong and Istanbul and trained sushi chefs as well. Endo is the third generation of sushi masters, and his grandfather and father had their own sushi restaurants in Yokohama, Japan.
It was in Spain, after a stint at the Japanese Embassy, that he encountered the epitome of European gastronomic delights. His two-week work experience under the gaze of the highly renowned chef, Ferran Adrià at El Bulli and another three Michelin-starred chef, Quique Dacosta in Valencia, Spain, was to change his life forever.
He tells me he thinks of sushi ‘23 hours a day’. He has developed his unique way of preparing sushi to get the most out of the ingredients and create a distinctive taste sensation. He washes the rice in his own special way, in water at a certain temperature, using water shipped from Japan. Similarly, he washes his fish and vegetables in water at a certain temperature. His father watched him, flabbergasted.
Temperature of the sushi is also key and he has a strict ‘three-second rule’. “Three seconds – please enjoy my sushi within three seconds after I serve it on your plate, otherwise, the sushi will lose quality.”
Quality of the ingredients is of paramount importance to his discerning target customers. He sources his rice from a premium farmer in Japan, who supplies to Tokyo restaurants and only to him outside Japan. He buys miso from a tiny miso factory in Japan which has a three-year waiting list and makes merely 1,000 packs a year. He gets ‘the best wasabi’ from Japan as well. His ingredients are expensive, he says, but he has ‘no choice’.
In pursuit of seeking out the best of the best, he works with fishermen and studies many fish. “We have to celebrate local produce”, he declares. He goes fishing in Cornwall, tasting the fish. He explains that he designs a sauce to go with different kinds of fish. “Fish is never the same” he claims, adding that he has to look at each one and come up with a sauce to marry the flavour profile of the fish.
His perfectionist approach paid off and he won a Michelin Star within the first six months of opening Endo at The Rotunda, in October 2019. After the Michelin award party, he called his fish suppliers to thank them and share the joy with one of them crying on the phone. In January 2021, Michelin again recognised his talent, and he retained his Michelin Star.
Chefs from all over the world have dined at his restaurant, perched on the top floor of the former BBC Television Centre in White City, London, savouring ‘sushi in the clouds, where the sea meets the sky’, according to his website. The restaurant was designed by the renowned award-winning Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma, who was in charge of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics stadium. The deceptively simple and achingly beautiful décor at the restaurant enunciates a tranquil and yet dramatic setting, providing a perfect backdrop to a 15-seater counter made out of 200-year-old (Japanese) Hinoki wood. The ceiling is adorned by swathes of fabric, resembling Japanese Washi paper, ingeniously hung like waves of soufflé of clouds.
Within less than a year of opening, his restaurant had to shut because of the Covid-19 pandemic. During the first lockdown in May 2020, he and his team fed hundreds of people a week, delivering Tokyo style maki rolls free of charge to NHS workers at London hospitals. He wanted to provide nourishing meals to the keyworkers as a big thank you. He also supplied ‘energy’ Maki rolls to the London Emergency Services workers under a 999 Meal Drive Thursday outside the five-starred Berkeley Hotel, London.
Chef Endo was one of the first chefs of fine-dining restaurants in London to offer takeaways in the first lockdown. In May 2020, 200 boxes were sold in the first hour. In June, 300 boxes sold out after 40 minutes, disappointing 2,000 sushi lovers, chef Endo recounted to me. Some of the profits from the bento boxes went to support Hospitality Action, a charity supporting those in need in the hospitality industry. Proceeds also went to the charity, Felix Project (which collects surplus food from supermarkets) to help feed the homeless. He has continued to support these causes during the current lockdown.
He tells me that “I really want to thank this country.” He has lived in London since 2007. “I learned so many things in this country. That’s why I really want to use local ingredients”. He was desperate to help his fish suppliers, who nearly went bankrupt. He decided to buy their fish to make the bento boxes. He feels passionate about supporting local producers and he sings praises about British eggs, honey, salt, vinegar and Cornish caviar as well.
He has also missed seeing his customers. “I talk heart to heart [through food]. Language is sometimes not needed”. During lockdown, “guests were missing human relationships. I have to bring back the human relationship through food.” He said that he wanted to make them happy and “make memory”. He decided personally to deliver the bento boxes to his customers to reconnect with them. Some lucky ones opened their front door to chef Endo, with bento boxes in one hand and his bicycle by his side. Customer service doesn’t get more personal than that.
Always striving to develop his style, in the latest reincarnation of his restaurant in winter 2020, he wanted to conjure up a fantasy of having his customers walk through a time machine, as if they were in Tokyo 110 years ago. He was ‘revisiting a [sushi] recipe that has been passed down through the generations’.
Eager to reach out to more customers despite the pandemic, he planned to open his second but more casual sushi restaurant, Sumi, in Notting Hill, London. It was literally about to open when the current lockdown took hold. Fortunately, Sumi has been able to offer takeaways.
What’s next? Chef Endo, unable to stay away from his customers for long, has launched another charity bento box offering from his fine-dining powerhouse, Endo at The Rotunda. Grab one if you can.
Address: Endo at The Rotunda, 8th Floor, The Helios, Television Centre, 101 Wood Lane, London W12 7FR