After the successful opening of the Clocktower in New York City last year, chef and restaurateur Jason Atherton seems happy to be back on home turf. But even though he's back in London, and even though he has opened more than a dozen restaurants around the world — three in London alone have Michelin stars (Pollen Street Social, Social Eating House, and City Social), while his restaurants in Shanghai, Singapore, and Dubai continue to thrive — some things just never get easier. "I'm just as nervous opening a restaurant today as I was opening my first one," the chef says as the debut of his latest project, Sosharu, inches ever-closer. "I think the minute that goes is the day I should sell the company and give up. If you're not nervous about what people think of your restaurant, then you shouldn't be opening a restaurant."
"If you’re not nervous about what people think of your restaurant, then you shouldn’t be opening a restaurant."
Sosharu, located in London's restaurant-filled Clerkenwell neighborhood, is Atherton's first foray into Japanese cuisine. Taking the reins in the kitchen is executive head chef Alex Craciun, a longtime employee of Atherton's restaurant group whose passion for Japanese cuisine was nurtured by Atherton, who let him leave the kitchens to study in Japan. "This is his big chance," says Atherton of Craciun. "He's got to train the staff, he's got to command them. He's got to win their respect. You're a young chef starting off on your own, it's pretty difficult to have that sort of experience behind you." Atherton's model — promoting from within, and letting his head chefs truly run the kitchens — gives young chefs the infrastructure of a full-blown hospitality juggernaut, whether in the form of PR help from the main office, or access to the research team, who spent four weeks tracking down the perfect Japanese paper to print the menus on. "Of course, I'll be down there for the first month," Atherton adds. This being a Social Group production, Atherton happily explains that the name Sosharu means "to socialize."
Atherton knew he had to divide Sosharu up into distinct spaces, not wanting to create a mega-restaurant inside the building's 5,500 square feet. The main floor will be a 85-seat izakaya. Expect a blend of seasonal British ingredients and Japanese ingredients "served in Japanese style," but not in the way many diners might expect. "There's too many sushi shops in London. There's too many ramen shops," Atherton says. Downstairs will be Seven Tales, a cocktail bar with Japanese flair meant to evoke the atmosphere of Tokyo at night. Finally there's Kisetsu, a distinct and separate dining space that will be a 10-seat tasting counter with its own sake sommelier. Atherton plans to make the counter ticketed: Walk-ins are just "not good for the atmosphere of the restaurant" and in a venue as small as Kisetsu, those seats need to be full for the business end to work.
As at Atherton's Pollen Street Social, design studio Neri & Hu handled the interiors at Sosharu, which includes a Japanese minka house assembled from Japanese wood in Shanghai, disassembled, and then shipped to London.
Sosharu opens on March 7. Take a look around: