Restaurant Review: Wild Heart Bar & Shokudo, Soho

Lead image: Wild Heart Bar & Shokudo (photo courtesy of venue)

Soho is one of those places that keeps its secrets pretty closely guarded. Its labyrinth streets are full of places that if you know, you know. You know? Karma Sanctum Soho Hotel is just one of those places, hiding in plain sight on Warwick Street among the office blocks, just off Beak Street.

This makes it the perfect places for celebs to slip in and out undetected – and they do so regularly, for this place was designed as a place for bands to relax and enjoy themselves after gigs (the clue, I guess, is in the name ‘Sanctum’).

The place has legitimately cool rock ‘n’ roll connections, owned and operated as it is by Sanctum Hotel Group CEO Mark Fuller – who has managed everything from rock bands to restaurants and nightclubs – together with his wife Sherene Fuller.

He opened The Karma Sanctum Soho Hotel 12 years ago in partnership with Andy Taylor and Rod Smallwood, who manage Iron Maiden. The likes of Bruce Dickenson often pop in, ZZ Top have graced the joint with their bearded presence, and when I visited, actor Virginia Hey of Mad Max fame was dining quietly in the corner, while artwork by Chrissie Hynde adorned the walls.

All of this makes the hotel the perfect place to grab a bite and a drink and hope for a good celeb spot.

Speaking of grabbing a bite, the hotel, which has just spent nearly half a million on renovations for the 30 eclectic-styled guest rooms, secluded roof terrace with hot-tub and new members club (the Inner Sanctum, due to open in August), has just launched a new restaurant, Wild Heart Bar & Shokudo.

A shokudo, in Japanese, means a casual restaurant, and as such the menu is perfect for those not entirely committed to dinner, like, say, a post-gig rock band. Or that first date that you’re not sure ought to be just drinks, or dinner, or both? Or that post-work drink that led to several and requires ‘soaking up’ before you head home.

Inspired by Japanese cooking, the menu features simple cooking techniques and bold flavours to offer up unfussy but hearty dishes for appetites large and small.

Three-time Michelin star chef Gary Hollihead heads up the kitchen, with the likes of gyoza, chicken teriyaki, roast aubergine in a miso glaze, prawn tempura rice bowl and katsu curry on the menu.

Drinks include everything from Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut to special sakés including Kokuryu Junmai and Seitoku Bessen, plus Iron Maiden’s very own brew, Trooper Sun and Steel, a double-fermented pilsner infused with authentic Japanese saké yeast.

‘The menu is best approached with a mind to sharing, although I was certainly not planning to share my sliders, each one an umami mouthful of excellence’

It seems we’re all Japanophiles here (I’m guessing every band that tours there falls in love, as did I when I spent some post-grad time out there), so we did the only decent thing – ordered two bottles of Sun and Steel, the chilli squid and soft shell crab, seared miso-marinated sirloin, and Wagyu, chicken teriyaki and salmon sliders with wasabi furikake-seasoned skinny fries.

The menu is best approached with a mind to sharing, although I was certainly not planning to share my sliders, each one an umami mouthful of excellence – the delicate yet full-flavoured salmon, the oozy chicken teriyaki, and that wonderful, wonderful Wagyu.

The miso marinade lent the sirloin a distinctly unique flavour, and the chilli squid and soft shell crab with Japanese dipping sauce, which we ordered as starters (and did manage to share), would have made perfect drinking companions on their own (ordering them as starters, as we did, left me feeling a little hefty, I must admit).

The only thing I’d change here would be that Japanese dipping sauce, which to me seemed more Vietnamese with its additions of chilli and spring onions. Maybe some sort of ponzu sauce, or something soy or miso based is called for? I’m certainly no expert in matching seafood with accoutrements, but that sauce just felt a little mismatched to me.

The desserts are a delight – imaginative, delicate and beautifully executed. These are more Mayfair restaurant than casual dining, I’d have thought. Not that I’m complaining. The matcha panna cotta topped with freeze-dried raspberries and basil, and the chocolate and tofu mousse with coconut cream – an entirely new and very welcome experience for my palate – were to die for.

Open all day, Wild Heart Bar & Shokudo is decked out in plush fabrics and rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia, with cosy corners and discrete booths for drinkers and diners alike to hole up in. But you can order the dishes throughout the hotel (including via room service, on the roof terrace and the new members’ lounge).

You can also enjoy afternoon tea with a Japanese twist here on Saturdays, with mini platters of sliders, gyozas and salmon tartare accompanied by sweet delicates like mochi balls, that amazing matcha panna cotta and mini yuzu and red fruit tart. Upgrade the experience to include a Davidoff Cigar plus a glass of whiskey, in true rock ‘n’ roll spirit.

On finer days, I’d certainly recommend dining on the roof terrace – it has to be one of the coolest, and most exclusive, rooftop spots in Soho. It’s a place to see and be seen, but only by those in the know, you know?

20 Warwick Street, Soho W1B 5NF; sanctumsoho.com