fter a multi-million pound refurbishment, the successor to Knightsbridge favorite Bar Boulud opens its doors this week promising an izakaya-inspired experience that, according to its founder, “will make you feel like you’re in a party at home or in a house”.
Located beneath the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Aubrey opens with a Japanese menu of upscale food and drinks, hoping to capture something of the spirit of a busy Tokyo night out. Izakayas are often dubbed “Japanese pubs” and combine cocktails, wine and a tapas-esque approach to the menu.
“A lot of the ‘Japanese’ experiences in London are chef-led and so austere,” Aubrey co-founder Matt Reid told The Standard. “And to me, that doesn’t reflect the experience of a night out in Japan – every night I have there always seems to have a combination of serious eccentricity and real characters. The cocktails are always amazing, the music is nonconformist to the space, and there is always this energy, a vivacity.That’s what we do here.
The drinks will mostly consist of Japanese spirits, along with lots of sake. Reid added that shochu will also feature prominently.
“Japan produces more shochu than sake, but only exports 2%. They know it’s so good they don’t want us to have it! Reid joked. “But we’re building supply chains to get what we can out of that 2%. That’s going to be a big part of what we’re trying to do.
Food is offered to accompany the drinks, with a menu revolving around edomae sushi, tempura dishes and meat and fish cooked over an open fire, robata style. Dishes include charcoal-grilled chicken karage with yuzu mayonnaise; korokke crab with tonyu bechamel sauce and kani miso; and a wagyu sando.
To keep a sense of conviviality, the large footprint of the space has been divided into five areas: a main dining room called “the curiosities lounge”, a wood-paneled bar at the entrance, a smaller bar next to it called the living room, a “library” – really a small room full of dining booths – and, to the side of this room, a hidden space with its own bar offering an omakase menu.
Music will play a key role, with Reid saying the soundtrack will cover everything from Japanese trap to jazz, funk and hip hop. Aubrey’s press release says the inspiration here is taken from New York’s famous Loft parties of the 70s and 80s, where the late DJ David Mancuso hosted house-style parties as a counterpoint to the nightclubs of the time. .
“There’s always such a passion for music in Japan,” Reid said. “And the curation of the soundtrack always comes from the room, from the feel of it. Here, the sound is absolutely part of the identity of the place.
The opening of Knightsbridge marks Reid’s first launch in London. Working alongside business partners Malcolm Wood and Xuan Mu, the hope is that the new site will emulate the success the trio had at Hong Kong’s Mandarin Oriental with the same concept. “It’s been a weird and wonderful world to do it. Launching in Hong Kong, [because of the pandemic]we’ve never been allowed to have anything other than a seated customer – so we’re delighted to see London have that vibrancy.
Staying open until midnight all week and until 1 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Reid said he hoped to build “a strong community” among the local crowd.
“We hope to feed Aubrey’s friends. We want it to be a meeting place, and there is a need for that in Knightsbridge. It’s designed like a house – I’m really into the internal emotions that you might not necessarily be aware of, but are there.
“You know, like you wouldn’t normally take your shoes off in a restaurant. But we intentionally want you to feel like you’re at someone’s party. People can come in the afternoon for a meeting, but we want them to stay until one o’clock in the morning.
The Aubrey opens on January 28. Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA. For more information, visit mandarinoriental.com