Dandyism remains alive and well in London, thanks in no small part to the city’s best branding agencies. The Big Smoke is just clogged with theatrical, velvet-strewn venues named after and inspired by fin de siècle poster boy Oscar Wilde, so The Aubrey, which takes its name from Wilde’s contemporary, the darkly decadent illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, makes for a nice twist to the trend.
While bereft of any of Beardsley’s Japanese-woodblock-inspired swirling ink studies, The Aubrey delivers a strong whiff of Victoriana with its maximalist interior of fringed lamps, ginger jars in curio cabinets and gold-framed Ukiyo-e prints. However, the food – earthenware sharing plates of deep-fried karaage chicken with zingy yuzu mayo, soy-licked edomae nigiri sprinkled with edible ants and charcoal-charred meats, pulled straight off the robata – is supposed to be inspired by an ‘eccentric Japanese izakaya’.
Roughly described as after-work drinking dens serving sharing snacks, the izakayas of Japan are often pub-like and casual. The Aubrey, housed within the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park in Knightsbridge, is decidedly not.
Anything from the robata charcoal grill gets my vote
With house caviar served with shokupan (Japanese milk bread), umami-packed A4 wagyu (which has more of a bite than the ultra-intense A5) and creative cocktails with prices that start with the number two, I would only deign to call The Aubrey ‘casual’ in comparison to, say, the Tokyo Imperial Palace. But that’s okay, especially when it delivers.
Anything from the robata charcoal grill gets my vote. You could taste the fire on the silky, skin-on sablefish, glossed in sweet saikyo miso paste. And the secret is out on the Iberico Secreto pork: exterior slashed in grill marks, centre as tender and pink as a cherry blossom. The wagyu oxtail and bone marrow fried rice, pretentiously presented with a bisected bone sticking out of it like a feather in a hat, was embarrassingly rich and excessively indulgent enough to please any devotee of decadence.
The sushi and sashimi were clearly high quality, but I’d say there’s better to be had in London. However, don’t sleep on dessert, especially the pillowy white miso soufflé (a signature of The Aubrey in the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong), which was as fragile and overinflated as the ego of a recent American president.
Hit the bar with your bougiest besties or blow the budget on a dinner date – ideally one who’s darkly sexy with expensive tastes. Any modern-day dandy will do.
The vibe: Dimly lit and maximumly dressed in velvets and Victorian Japonisme.
The food: Designed to be shared: expect high-end Japanese bites of robata-charred meat, delicate fish and seasonal miso-dressed veggies.
The drink: A creative mash-up of seasonal and shochu cocktails. Special wines available by the glass and a dizzying selection of aged, rare, and iconic sakes (ask head sommelier Winne Toh for help).
Time Out tip: Want to avoid prying eyes? Ask for one of the curtained, cubbyhole booths in the library room.