Friday, October 19, 2007

Life -- a funny one, with stuffed tigers

Reviews of Life haven't exactly been flattering. But when a restaurant opens within spitting distance of where I live (ok, not literally, but then I couldn't spit further than the window sill), I feel it is my duty to try it at least once. They've clearly been trying to drum up business, with people handing out fliers on the corner. To be honest though I think this might be a more successful tactic if the fliers feature some kind offfer, like 10% off or a free beer... But they seem to be doing something right as when we turned up we had to wait half an hour for a table.

On the plus side, this gave us the chance to have a nose through the small downstairs shop flogging Japanese kitsch (£80 for a t-shirt anyone?) and check out the bar. We found a tiny cubby hole of a room off to one side, piled high with large stuffed tigers and pillows and decorated, nursery-style, with some coloured boards nailed at child height to the walls. It was an odd feeling, sipping a pint of kirin while sitting a-top a stuffed tiger, but I think I quite liked it! They made us pay up for the drinks before we could go upstairs, although they did let us take back up what we hadn't yet drunk. But it seems that the two operations are oddly separate -- the draft kirin for example is only available in the bar, while diners have to make do with the bottled stuff.

We decided to go for the set menus, all of which started with a disappointingly lacklustre and tasteless salad of scalops. We hadn't been given any sauces at this stage, so couldn't spice it up with wasabi or some such. (What a waste of a luxury ingredient, we thought.) Next, the tempura and teriyaki set menus (£25 each, named after their main courses) featured some thinly cut but pretty good bits of sashimi: two of salmon, two of tuna. I went for the sushi menu (£30) as I wanted more raw fish, and my next course was a small bowl of tempura. There was an overcooked prawn, some undercooked carrots and a couple of actually rather lovely mushrooms. For mains, the terriyaki -- of both salmon and chicken -- were decent enough, and the tempura was more of the same. I was disappointed with my sushi though. I had asked the waited whether it would be maki and he assured me it would not. But it turned out that half of it was indeed made up of chunky rice rolls. They were pretty tasty, but I wanted raw fish, not avocado. And the raw fish that did come was in thin slivers atop big piles of rice -- even the cheapo all-you-can-eat Gili Guli is more generous with its slicing!
The desert, also part of the set menues, was described to us separately as pana cotta and as cheese cake. In the end it wasn't really much like either, but a pleasant enough, slightly cheesy not very sweet cake thingy.

I shall finish with the bad stuff first. Our first request for a jug of tap water yielded one shot-size glass (in the bar), and only the third request in the restaurant yielded a glass each. The staff are authentically Japanese, which is great. But they also don't speak English, which isn't quite so good. And finally the place is really very overpriced.

But there were good points. The miso soup (also part of the menu) was rather gorgeous. And the decor is funky -- a converted warehouse look, with a back wall made of what looks like parquet flooring and widely spaced out tables which made me feel a bit like we were part of some kind of art instalation or theatrical experiment. Plus the tigers in the bar give the place a wadge of bonus points. But not quite enough to tip the review into positive territory.

Life; 2-4 Old Street; Tube: Barbican or Old Street; (At the moment though isn't much use - it's alarmingly bright red and just tells you that the place is about to open. Which it did. About a month ago.

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