REVIEW: Theatre on a plate that deserves a standing ovation
You might assume that the best theatre in Horsham is to be found at The Capitol.
But it’s a restaurant that comes a close second.
From the exterior of Wabi - a former East Street pub - you might be forgiven not believing that inside lay the culinary equivalent of Shakespeare.
Even when you have passed through the entrance, the muted colour scheme gives no clue to the excitement the menu has to offer.
Yet Wabi is all about theatre.
Matthew Forrest, the senior bartender, gives the first hint of what to expect. The cocktails here are unique - many devised by him and his colleagues. And he mixes them with a flair and panache, juggling bottles and glasses like a star turn in the Big Top.
Then there are the colours of the food.
The Oshinko pickles - a homemade selection of pickled beetroot, butternut squash, Hijiki, cucumber and Daikon (Japanese radish). They glow like the rainbow from the slate.
The cleansing towels grow before your eyes from white circular disks as they are watered; and dry ice which erupts from some of the dishes and cocktails and sweeps across the table like an early morning mist over the Amberley wild brooks is as captivating as it is atmospheric.
Like all great theatre, Wabi has had its fair share of drama. A huge fire. A change of ownership. Controversy when it was first launched that neither the prices nor the concept of traditional Japanese fare were quite to the taste of Horsham folk.
Today, nothing could be further from the truth.
When we reviewed we took family members who neither liked raw fish nor had any desire to eat Japanese. The challenge to the general manager Pedro Martins and restaurant manager Daniel Kavanagh was to ensure that these members of our party enjoyed the food as much as me.
From their perspective, it was an easy brief to fulfil. Wabi has always had an excellent reputation for the quality of its dishes. But evolving menus - the latest unveiled under acting head chef Cordelia Friday - mean you don’t have to care for Japanese cuisine at all to have a fantastic meal.
And ours was fantastic, in every sense. Not a hint of raw fish anywhere - even the sushi we ordered contained a fillet steak alternative.
From the miso roasted black cod to the tea smoked lamb chops; and the venison tataki to the Uzu teriyaki salmon this was a tasting menu of the highest order.
Every dish was a cameo performance of perfection on the Wabi stage.
The fish was cooked to the perfect point - so often elsewhere it is rendered dry and tasteless by too long in the oven - and the venison, a neat twist on their famous beef fillet tataki had a taste and layered texture which propelled it to one of my top ten all time favourites.
The cocktails are a trademark of Wabi and are an art form. Presented with fun and vibrancy our party tried a few. I am told the ‘warm honey bee’ comprising honey, tequila, pink pidgeon rum and apple was the best of the day. And for those of us like me who were not drinking alcohol, the mint, lime, apple and jasmine tea cocktail was a joy.
Too often, non-alcoholic cocktails are just ultra-sweet fruit juices. This was subtle, dry and sensuous.
And what of prices?
Pedro says he has focussed hard on cutting them down to size.
He reckons his Christmas menu is probably the best deal in town at £32.50 - a 5 course meal with a complimentary bottle of Prosecco per two guests.
If you want great food, sensibly priced for the quality, and an amazing culinary adventure there are few better.
Note: Although we were invited to review by Wabi, our comments are independent and the honest opinion of the Restaurant Inspector. They are not linked to advertising or commercial consideration. Pedro Martins, who also writes for the County Times, had no involvement in the editing of the review.
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