With a menu as creative and eclectic as its interior, Edition’s Phoebe Harper dines out at one of Cambridge’s hottest recent openings
By the time I actually get round to visiting Kibou, I almost feel as if I have already been. The restaurant’s jewel-like, eye-catching interiors fill my Instagram feed daily, and its contemporary Japanese cuisine has been tasted by almost everyone I know in Cambridge. Even my two fellow dining companions have already clocked up over three visits between them.
But as I pass through its floodlit entrance into a world of colour – rather like stepping into a kaleidoscope compared to the dark, rain-strewn Cambridge streets outside – nothing could have prepared me for the real-life Kibou experience.
A chain of Japanese restaurants and bars, Kibou has locations in Clifton, Solihull, Battersea and its hometown of Cheltenham. Most recently, in August of this year, the restaurant took up residence in the Grade II-listed home of the Pitt Club on Jesus Lane. A building that was originally designed as a Victorian Roman bath house in 1863, the combination of classical architecture and eclectic Japanese-style interiors is captivating.
Resplendent with bold murals, ornate block prints, frothing floral installations and digital animations in a nod to cosmopolitan Tokyo, we can’t help but recall the dull, worn-out interiors of the Pizza Express that once occupied the space. As we take our seats in a searing crimson dining room under boughs of wisteria, well, it’s a glow-up, to say the least.
ON THE MENU
Our surroundings may be wondrous, but it’s in Kibou’s kitchen where the magic happens, as sushi and sashimi are made to order at the marble countertop bar.
The menu is overwhelming in its variety, offering steaming ramen, cloud-like bao buns, spicy gyoza and wagyu beef, to name just a few favourites. A total amateur when it comes to Japanese cuisine, I force myself to be adventurous and read past my reliable go-to of a chicken katsu.
Perusing the seemingly endless options is thirsty work, and thankfully, mouth-watering cocktails are soon at hand. I settle for a Kakuteru – an apricot-coloured concoction of vodka, crème de pêche, yuzu sherbert, passionfruit and fizz – which on arrival transpires to be a pornstar martini with an Asian twist, and far more delicious.
Our server thankfully offers his menu recommendations, and we take his advice. My shameful amateur-ness reappears again as our food arrives, each dish presented as soon as it is ready, and I quietly ask for some cutlery from the waiter. He nods silently, as if pre-empting my request. This is clearly something he is used to.
Between the three of us, we share dynamite cauliflower – each floret marinated in shichimi togarashi and a sweet and spicy sauce, skewers of chicken yakitori, and ika furai – Japanese seven-spice-fried squid served with a healthy dollop of wasabi mayonnaise. The showpiece is a salmon zukushi mixed platter, but it is the kabocha korokke – crispy pumpkin croquettes topped with tonkatsu sauce, sriracha mayo and aonori – that is my unsuspecting favourite.
Each plate is a work of art, and the waiting staff are attentively on hand throughout as the cocktails soon turn to wine. Although picking at small pieces of food to share, the meal is deceptively filling, and we are all shocked to find ourselves turning down dessert.
A tantalising array of flavours with salmon that’s as fresh as if it were straight out of a Scottish loch (which apparently, it is), the only thing lacking with this meal was a larger table surface. With the wonders of the dessert menu (hello, matcha tiramisu) and a covetable selection of Japanese whiskies still to be sampled, it’s only a matter of time until I’m back at Kibou.