Wed–Sat 5pm–2am, Sun 11am–2am
Billing itself as a ’21st century izakaya’—a sort of informal Japanese sake bar for after-work drinks and food, a bit like a gastropub—Kojawan ‘takes innovation to new heights with playful menus’ and inventive dishes influenced by Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Chefs Bjorn van der Horst and Omar Romero are not the only people enjoying themselves here, though—the visual styling and theming of the entire operation is one of its major features too, and one that someone has had a lot of fun with.
From start to finish Kojawan is a retro-futuristic riot of pop culture references and quirky details. Littered with sculptural art pieces and installations, the menu is sensibly part dedicated to explaining the artists and works involved (although the stylised paper and faint printing sometimes makes it difficult to read).
Then there are Kojawan’s own themed elements—from their own personalised characters in the menu and animated on screens throughout, to lists of classic anime films and series artfully arranged on the walls, or compilations of opening and closing credits playing on the same screens. Some might find it all a bit much, visual overload, but as a fan of that similar type of sensory excess you can find in a city such as Tokyo (not to mention of many of the animes being referenced!) I appreciated all the little touches and overall feel.
Whether or not you’re into art, pop culture, anime or even the far east, though, anyone can enjoy the view; Kojawan sits on the 23rd floor of the Hilton Metropole on Edgware Road, an area generally populated with shorter buildings, so looks out over the city in pretty fantastic fashion. The night we were in there was a storm over the centre and south of town, so we would occasionally be lit up with flashes of light, as we watched the (silent, from this distance) clouds and forks of electricity above the other side of London.
The menu is split into sections for those who really want to do things the starter-main-pudding way, but is really designed for sharing. A short bar menu started us off with crispy chicken with spicy hollandaise and zucchini fries, which whetted our appetites appropriately—the chicken was particularly toothsome.
Next, from the smaller sharing dishes, we chose the Stone Bass Poke (with shiso, jalapeno and sake) from the Raw Bar and the Octopus (plus lemon and smoked red pepper oil) from the Charcoal Oven. The flavours of the poke (a Hawaiian fish salad) were excellent, perfectly complementing the stone bass’ own delicate taste, and the salad as a whole was unusual and memorable.
The octopus was a recommendation from our charming waiter, who explained how it was cooked for so long that it lost the chewy, dense texture octopus often suffers from. We weren’t entirely convinced… in fact I felt it was one of the chewier molluscs I’ve ever eaten. The flavouring was great, but the slices were so generous it was a bit of a battle to get through them, and this ended up being the only plate we didn’t clear. If you love octopus though, it’s a huge portion that you should be more than satisfied with!
We also shared a couple of things from the Fire Stove menu (or mains, if you’re ordering individually), the Braised Short Rib (with chilli, mushrooms and peanut—another staff recommendation) and the Fat Noodles (with clams, sake, parmesan and fish flakes). These were each delightful in their own way, the beef positively melting in the mouth and the noodles a slurpy, pungent burst of palate-pleasing flavour.
Pretty replete by the end of our Kojawan food journey, we were nevertheless tempted into a couple of items from the Sweet Spot section; Seoul-Kyo Mess for mum—an east Asian take on an Eton Mess with lychees, sake and green tea—and Fish Waffles for me. The latter were not, as I for a brief moment pondered, made of any sort of fish by-product, but—more innocuously—fish shaped, slathered in blueberries, black sesame and honey whisky cream. They were both pretty brilliant; it would be a viable idea to drop by for the pudding menu and some drinks alone.
Being partly a bar, and inspired by a setting that is focused on drinking, they understandably take pride in their drinks at Kojawan. The house cocktail menu is appealing and elicits smirks, with names like Cosmic Grouse and Astro Pussy; my Plum Crazy was extremely drinkable, and mum’s virgin cocktails were so good I wanted to ask for the same with a shot of something added. The staff were eager to help pinpoint what sort of flavours and style of drink you would prefer, and jumped at the chance to make cocktails from scratch to your taste. My Expresso Martini after the meal was even adjusted to my preferences—I’m not a big coffee fan, so wanted the kick without too much bitter taste.
The wine list is comprehensive and well-tended, and, as one might hope, there is a selection of sakes, plum wine and Kirin beer on offer as well. Rather nicely, I thought, the wine list is also split into sections by price, so you get bottles of white, red, sake, sparkling and dessert nestled together on pages that range from £29 per bottle to £99 per bottle.
In a nutshell
Don’t be put off by the website, where the copywriter has gone a bit wild with the ‘K’s, in Kardashian-reminiscent style—‘Would you like some help taking photos of your kuisine with your kamera, sir?’—as Kojawan has some truly good, classic food with an inventive edge on offer, and a cocktail and drinks list that does not disappoint.
What really pushes it into four-star territory for me, though, is the environment and atmosphere. I love its dedication to the look and the myriad details you only notice bit by bit, on top of what is already a stellar location. The sense of fun and playfulness is refreshing, and it succeeds best at the function it describes for itself: casual izakaya drinks and sharing food. You’d be missing out not to try it out at least once, and with late night opening to 2am even on Sundays plus a bottomless Sunday brunch available, there are plenty of opportunities.