Over the course of your life you’ll have lots of memorable meals. Some will be thanks to the food, some will be thanks to the company, and some will be thanks to the exfoliating hand wash and triple-ply you nicked from the bathroom. Occasionally though, you’ll have a meal so memorable that you’ll want to relive it, as you’re living it.
Endo at the Rotunda is that meal.
It all starts exactly where you never want to end up: Westfield White City. The restaurant is eight floors up a tower in the ex-BBC Television Centre. An intimate 16-seat omakase extravaganza semi-lit by the glow of every Londoner’s most recurring Christmas nightmare.
Although this location reads like a bad thing, it’s actually a very good one. Not because you can pop into M&S for something elasticated after your £180, 18-course dinner that spans from the best miso soup you’ll ever eat, drink, or slurp, to a sticky rice pudding soufflé that somehow mixes primary and finishing school. But because it acts as a reminder that although so much money is pissed away on not very worthwhile things, the sizeable sum you’ll spend here most definitely isn’t.
While the restaurant itself is a simply arranged set, the performance you’ll be treated to behind its L-shaped wooden counter isn’t. Acts I, II, and all thereafter, are about Endo - the head chef and headliner who wields his sushi knife like a Fender and shreds tuna after tuna into the finest solo pieces of nigiri, before he, or a member of his backing band, place each individual banger from their hand into the palm of yours. It’s an all-engrossing but never attention-seeking show of sophistication, rather than say, Salt Bae.
This hand-to-hand eating style is encouraged. And it’s a far more enjoyable high-end restaurant instruction than learning a turnip’s genealogy, or curtsying to a slice of ham. Beginning with fatty tuna wrapped in nori, all the way through to a piece of unagi with monkfish liver that’s somehow richer than anyone else in the room, it makes for a series of brilliantly intimate, funny, and thankful moments. You’ll spend a majority of your two-plus hours here being handed some of the highest quality fish you will ever eat, while locking eyes, thanking, and bowing to the person who prepared it, before flinging it into your gob, as they smile at a job well done.
So much of this experience is built on expectations. It starts with the anticipation of the lift ride up, and only increases when everyone around you is handed a piece of six-day aged otoro nigiri, before moaning like a Golden Raspberry nominee, as you wait, twitchily, for your turn. These expectations, though great, leave you feeling more Oliver Twist than anything else. Because there will be moments here where you pray, palm at the ready, that you’ll be given more.
Only, wanting more isn’t the point of Endo at the Rotunda. Every person, be it at lunch or dinner, gets their money’s worth in sushi, wagyu beef, and also seemingly undivided attention. So much so, that when you do chat to the masters behind the counter, you’ll soon feel less like a guest, and more like a platonic groupie. Because really, this is a meal, a performance, and a one-man show, all rolled - between two skilled hands with a dab of wasabi, a wipe of soy, and sprinkle of yuzu - into one. And you just need to experience it once for it to live long in the memory.
Yes, you could visit Endo for the eight or ten-course omakase lunch, but we’d recommend you go the full shebang and get all 18 courses at dinner. It works out at a tenner a course. Plus they throw in a few extras, like pudding, a signed menu, and handmade chopsticks that you’ll try and eat your beans on toast with all year.
The bulk of the menu is made up of various forms of nigiri, and you’ll find it nigh on impossible to decide which one you like best. Does the sweet meltiness of the Tokyo-style steamed oyster come out on top? Or is it the butter-like six-day aged otoro? It’s hard to say. And it doesn’t really matter. There are nine varieties and, from the Cornish squid, to the Scottish langoustine, to the Irish oyster, they are all fantastic. Sushi aside, there’s monkfish and mushroom tempura, clams so buttery you’ll happily keel over there and then, as well as a plate of wagyu beef direct from Miyazaki, Japan.
All of it is bowl-drinkingly and plate-lickingly fantastic. Seriously, don’t hold back. This is a waste not, want not, show your enjoyment as much as you want environment. Which is why Endo at the Rotunda is one of the best meals you can spend your money on in London.