Endo Kazutoshi

Endo Kazutoshi

At the age of twenty-nine, when he was asked by his master to go and work in the Japanese embassy in Madrid, Endo was initially devastated – but it led to where he is today. ‘I will always remember the day before I left for Spain – I was crying and thinking my master no longer needed me, he recalls. ‘But when he explained why he was doing it I felt better. He wanted to teach me the importance of being part of a team, rather than working so closely with just one person.’

It wasn’t too long until chef Rainer Becker approached Endo whilst he was in Spain to see whether he would be interested in joining his team as head sushi chef at Zuma in London. After a trip to the city to see what it was like, Endo wasn’t too sure – the restaurant was noisy and the general knowledge of Japanese food wasn’t what he was used to. But after having dinner with Becker, he was persuaded.

‘I had already decided not to take over my family’s restaurant but I was thinking about opening a small omakase bar in Tokyo. Chef Becker said there were so many omakase restaurants in Tokyo already and that London was ready for more true Japanese cooking. He explained how much responsibility I would have changing a whole city’s perception of Japanese cuisine, and I was up for the challenge. So I moved to London in 2007.’

The next eight years saw Endo not only lead the sushi bar at Zuma, but oversee eight branches of the restaurant around the world. Throughout his tenure, Endo was able to not only gain an understanding of how sushi was received and interpreted outside of Japan; he was able to push it forward too. But his dream was always to open his own establishment. Opening new Zuma outposts was always rewarding, but he felt after the doors opened and the rope was cut, his job was done and he would move onto the next one. Endo wanted to focus on one he could call his own, spending each day improving the offering.

It was Rose Gray – the co-founder of The River Cafe – who gave him the push he needed to do this. She was a regular at the sushi bar at Zuma, talking to Endo and persuading him to do his own thing. Endo even spent his days off working at The River Cafe, getting to grips with an entirely different type of cooking. After talking to chef Becker about his dream, he was encouraged to set out on his own and left Zuma in 2015.

‘I wanted to do omakase because it was what I was taught by my master, but also because there wasn’t anyone doing it in London,’ he explains. ‘It allows you to get closer to the guests; we explain the technique, mentality and philosophy behind what we do, so there’s more to it than just the food. I think of an omakase restaurant not as a sushi bar but as a stage, where the chef can express themselves. It’s a link to the chef.’

Opening a restaurant is never something that happens overnight; Endo spent four years working as a private chef whilst working on finding a location, developing his concept and researching the suppliers and produce available. ‘I must have talked to over 500 suppliers during this time, trying to find the exact ingredients I needed to match my technique,’ says Endo. ‘But after about a year, I realised this wasn’t the best way to approach things – I needed to look at the ingredients I had available, then adapt my technique to suit them.’

Endo began getting to grips with ingredients such as langoustines and razor clams, which he’d never worked with in Japan. He started sourcing from the likes of Namayasai, a Japanese farm based in Sussex. Certain things – such as soy sauce, rice, vinegar, wasabi and soft mineral water – he still gets from Japan, but his use of British fish and seafood is what sets him apart as a sushi chef. ‘My purpose is to deliver the best sushi in the world,’ he says. ‘Using local produce is great, but I won’t use it unless it’s the best.’

With a concept confirmed, relationships with suppliers built and a site secured, Endo opened Endo at The Rotunda in April 2019. The beautiful sky-high room gives him the opportunity to share his unique omakase menus, and in less than a year he received a Michelin star. Today, a seat at Endo’s counter is in huge demand, with reservations selling out in a matter of minutes each month – a testament to just how world-class his cooking is.

Endo is a living example of how skill, dedication and respect can create outstanding food, but that’s only part of what makes Endo at The Rotunda so special. It is, as he says, a stage for him to share his creations. ‘I don’t really see myself as a chef – I see myself as a craftsman,’ he explains. ‘Sushi just happens to be the craft I focus on. Every day is about making sushi better than the day before; it’s never-ending.’