From bonsai trees to capsule hotels, Japan has long been the home of small is beautiful. The miniaturist ethos applies to its restaurants too: Tenzushi Kyomachi in Kitakyushu, a favourite of Noma’s René Redzepi, has just five seats.
Little wonder, then, that when the Dorchester Collection brought Sushi Kanesaka from Tokyo to Mayfair in July, it came with not only the UK’s most expensive set menu, at £420 for 18 courses, but also a private four-seat sushi counter for a raw-fish extravaganza even more exclusive than the nine-seat main counter.
‘Even though people are very socially active online, they crave intimate moments with loved ones,’ explains 45 Park Lane’s general manager Lee Kelly, who suggests the dining experience would be perfect for a marriage proposal, with the chef presenting the ring. ‘Having some privacy nowadays is very valuable.’
Sushi Kanesaka’s four-seater is among a recent crop of high-end Asian openings in the capital that have privacy at the top of the menu. At Gouqi, just off Trafalgar Square, tables of two to four can enjoy the creations of former Hakkasan executive chef Tong Chee Hwee in three half-curtained, semi-private booths off a moodily lit anteroom. ‘We usually see a higher spend at these tables,’ says director Alan Tang, ‘and we ensure the service is extra special.’ Reassuring to know, when a side of egg-fried rice costs £18.
Tables like these are as well suited to pleasure as business, a fact not so subtly suggested at Chinese newcomer House of Ming at the Taj Hotel in St James’s, where a pair of curtained-off tables for two are called ‘love seats’.
‘We have a button of joy that gives guests a bespoke service,’ says the hotel’s general manager, Raphael Wiedemann, referring to the buzzer with which each table can summon dishes direct from the kitchen, rather than anything off menu.
An added layer of exclusivity offered by these tiny private rooms is that they are rarely publicised. ‘Most of our guests discover the Armagnac Room through word of mouth, which adds to the sense of luxury,’ says Mirko Benzo, general manager of Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, where a table for two is enclosed by a display of vintage bottles from the chef’s family armagnac business.
Chutney Mary, the Michelin-starred Indian, has what founder Camellia Panjabi calls ‘a little room for two’ within the main dining room. Who books it? ‘A mix of hedge funds and investment groups, very senior government officials, business people and some romantics,’ she says. A table for two sits outside the entrance to the room should your security detail also need feeding.
But perhaps the greatest luxury is elbow room. When Luke Wasserman opened Restaurant St Barts in Smithfield last October, he offered tables for two or four that can be curtained off, giving diners the physical space to appreciate the 15-course tasting menu (£140). There’s head space, too. ‘Often diners at these intimate tables don’t want the full spiel about every dish, so we’re adapting to that,’ Wasserman says. ‘We’re spending a lot of energy tailoring more personalised levels of service.’
Space may be the final frontier, but could London restaurants go even further? ‘The concept of a privacy table tends to be more requested by our US clients,’ says Martin Brudnizki, the designer behind some of the capital’s most famous restaurants and clubs, from Scott’s to Annabel’s.
‘At Hôtel Barrière Fouquet’s New York, which opened last September, we were asked to design an ultra-private dining space that is essentially a separate room behind the main bar, with a few tables exclusively for celebrities and their entourages. It is laid out in such a way that VIPs can arrive through the back entrance and make their way into their own private dining room without being seen.’ Small may be beautiful, but invisibility is a magical power.
Sparkling talent: Clare Smyth’s six-course dinner featuring Dom Pérignon
Definitive proof that vintage Champagne is one of the most food-friendly of wines, the one-night-only (14 November) ‘Journey of Creation by Dom Pérignon and Clare Smyth’ is a six-course dinner to be held at the chef’s three-Michelin-starred Notting Hill restaurant, Core.
Signature dishes from her 28-year career will be matched to Dom Pérignon’s Plénitude cuvées – wines from exceptional vintages that have been further aged in the house’s Epernay cellars. One standout at a preview was Cornish turbot with a deeply fragrant ras el hanout broth, a dish not seen since Smyth’s days as head chef of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and as elegantly balanced as the matching 2004 Plénitude 2.
Elsewhere there’s Isle of Harris scallop and Sutton Hoo chicken, but Smyth – who is arguably our best chef – is not totally wedded to British ingredients: caviar and white truffle will also be served with the same generosity as the Champagne.
Six courses paired with Dom Pérignon vintages,£975 plus service, corebyclaresmyth.com