endo kazutoshi Photo Credit- Rebecca Dickson

Endo Kazutoshi

Endo Kazutoshi

We talk to the top sushi chef about the art of Japanese food

Third-generation sushi chef Endo Kazutoshi is a master of his craft. But it is a somewhat unusual combination of skills that have got him to where he is today. While he may have learnt the art of sushi-making from his father and grandfather, it is his mother that had the young Endo learn the likes of flower-arranging and calligraphy, which bring beauty and precision to his work.

The chef’s restaurant Endo at the Rotunda has only 10 covers and costs £250 ahead for dinner. It has been one of London’s hottest reservations since it opened in 2019, and a Michelin star quickly followed. This is an omakase experience, with diners leaving it up to Chef Endo to choose the menu, and they must arrive on time so that the 20 courses can be carefully orchestrated.

The Rotunda recently closed for a refurbishment, and is set to reopen at the end of the summer, with Endo working once again with Kengo Kuma on the design of the stunning room which sits at the top of the former Television Centre in White City.

Endo has been using the time away from the kitchen to get some inspiration, and he’s glad of having had the breathing space. “Since we opened, it has been a 100-metre dash every day, just focusing on the cooking and the guests, that’s it. The restaurant has been open for five years now and I wanted to find some fresh ideas.

“So I’ve taken the time to travel all over the world, America, Spain, France, Bangkok, Singapore, looking at how we can develop new ideas and include them organically into the menu.”

For The Rotunda ‘2.0’, as he refers to it, the kitchen will be opened up further so that guests can see the hot dishes being prepared as well as the sushi. As before, there will be a big emphasis on using produce from around the UK, with fish sourced off the coasts of Cornwall, Devon and Scotland. He also works with the producers to understand the ingredients fully – at one point, he lived alongside Cornish fisherman for several months. Endo says he does, however, import some ingredients from Japan due to not being able to find as good quality here, these include soy sauce, wasabi and the water he cooks the rice in as it has to have the perfect pH to ensure the rice cooks to the desired texture

Image above and main photograph: Rebecca Dickson / Food: Food Story Media

The year will be a busy one for Endo, not only with the refurb of Endo ‘2.0’, but also overseeing the development of two high-profile launches: Kioku by Endo will open 15 May on the rooftop of The OWO. Kioku, translates as ‘memory’, and is a personal reflection of Endo’s career, in particular his time working in Spain. NIJŪ, on Berkeley Street, will offer Katei Ryori style cooking, a homely approach to dining.

He explains the idea behind Kioku: “I have worked in Spain, France and Italy so the menu will be my journey as a chef. It isn’t fusion but European food with a Japanese filter.”

His approach has been shaped by many different influences. He adds: “In Japan, we have great Italian, Spanish and French food.”

Endo’s culinary start in life was very traditional though. Yokohama-born Endo would watch how his father and grandfather would make sushi, with his grandfather having opened a restaurant in the 1940s.

His mother and grandmother had him learn other skills like traditional dance. He laughs: “I have an older sister and there is quite an age gap. When I was born eight years after her, I don’t think they knew what to do with me. My grandmother and mother had me learning flower-arranging, tea ceremonies, and dancing.”

However, they also sent him to learn judo. It turns out he was rather good and it earned him a scholarship at Kokushikan University in Tokyo.

If he hadn’t pursued a career in sports or hospitality, he might have been a musician. His mother was a music teacher: Endo learned piano, and he loved playing guitar. At 15, he found punk. “My friend’s brother played a record by The Sex Pistols, I was so impressed. I had never heard this kind of music. But I had no idea what they were singing.”

After university, he took an apprenticeship with an acclaimed sushi master. Although it was tough, he says it provided him with the fundamentals. “My master was old-school Japanese. For years, all I was doing was the basics such as how to wash rice, how to speak to the guests, how to clean the restaurant: that is very important. Some chefs I have seen don’t know how to clean the kitchen. That is not right. It is not good enough to serve high-end sushi. The environment, the uniform, the knife… everything has to be perfect.”

He was also advised by the famous sushi master that if he wanted to be a great chef, he shouldn’t snowboard or ski because of the risk of injuries – nor should he play the guitar again as it thickens the pads of your fingers making you less nimble at making sushi. Says Endo: “I’m now 51 and I’ve never played guitar since!”

His love for music remains though. Endo, who lives in Ealing, loves to visit London’s jazz clubs. On his time off, he also meets with other chefs to talk about the future of the industry. “I don’t want to just do good food, I feel there is a responsibility to give opportunity to young chefs, and educate each other along the way.”

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Among the chefs that Endo admires in the UK, he mentions Simon Rogan, with L’Enclume on his list of restaurants to visit. He has also known Michel Roux for years. “I went to Le Gavroche before it closed and that for me was the best meal…”

When Endo first came to London, he found a mentor in the late Rose Gray of The River Café, and he is also grateful for the opportunity that Rainer Becker gave him back in 2007 by inviting him to London to become head sushi chef at Zuma. “Without them I would have not have found success.”

He says of Rose: “Once a week, she would sit in front of me and teach me about the likes of sea bream, how to cook langoustine, or which herbs to choose. She also taught me to be humble, always. And she tasked me with starting my own restaurant and getting a Michelin star. I will never forget this relationship – that is why I opened and why I wanted to win that star.”