By Alice Leader
The gift a Japanese restaurant gives us is its ability to clear our conscience and wash away the guilt of thinking you’re about to over indulge in fat and carbs. Or, it at least gives us a choice.
Raw fish instead of “fish n chips”, grilled meats instead of burgers, boiled rice instead of deep fried potatoes and wasabi sauce instead of ketchup.
Since opening in August last year, Kujira has certainly established an inviting Instagram page. Their enticing photographs of oriental tapas and matcha tea cocktails was enough for me to book a table just one week later.
Walking into the restaurant I knew we would get well looked after. It was truly atmospheric.
Low-lit lamps, down-tempo ambient music and the kitchen in view from our table. Just what I want to see in a Japanese restaurant – the sushi chefs in action.
First comes first. Drinks.
Offering Japanese-inspired cocktails with floral aromas and an oomph of sweet syrups, I couldn’t deny the 2-4-1 deal.
A ginger and honey-infused cocktail with sprinkled chamomile tea flowers delivered in a quaint, authentic pot was a big yes for me.
From just one glance at the menu, I knew I wasn’t going to be getting the same cheap packs of chilled sushi nori that I bought from my local supermarket for lunch last week.
Kujira makes trying unique Japanese dishes easy rather than just the traditional sushi offerings.
For a start Robatayaki is not your classic flame grill.
Kujira introduces the grill that slow burns coal or wood, without flame, to give a higher heat and greater flavour. Yum yum.
The great thing about tapas, it is a good reason to try more things.
Forget the diet for the first bit, we had to, of course, get the vegetable tempura and chicken gyozas to start. The Amazu sauce drizzled over the silky dumpling cases was the highlight. So good, in fact, I asked the waitress to leave it behind so I could shamefully lick it up after.
What was next? Small or big Robata? And as the waitress put it, dishes of “pure protein” with a side of vegetables.
It was the first time I had seen scallops on a Japanese menu. They were a definite yes.
Salmon Nigiri. It’s a classic, why not? And chicken skin in teriyaki sauce? Had to try it. I must say it was like glamorised pork scratchings. Same crispy texture and saltiness but without the thick lines of fat and pig hair.
Still with a bit of room left, it was time for our final, big Robata. Being pork lovers, it seemed the right thing to go for the pork belly.
When the waitress brought it over you could feel the other Kujira diners glaring at us with food envy.
Yes, I did feel slightly smug. I tucked right in.
With its charred and succulent texture and overwhelming pork flavour, just one bite and I had to hold back from scoffing the rest. Forget the chewy and often unsuccessful pork crackling I make at home, the fat was just as tender and flavourful as the meat itself. It was a winner.
Satisfied, full, and still feeling (reasonably) guilt-free from this indulgent meal, I think it is fair to say I will be coming back.
Kujira, 48 Preston St, Brighton BN1 2HP, 01273 777988