The Aubrey: First look as Japanese-inspired izakaya opens in former Bar Boulud site

·4-min read
 (Steven Joyce)
(Steven Joyce)

After a multi-million pound refit, the successor to Knightsbridge favourite Bar Boulud opens this week promising an izakaya-inspired experience that its founder says “will feel like you’re in a house party, or in a home”.

Sat beneath the Mandarin Oriental hotel, the Aubrey opens its doors with a Japanese-led menu of drinks and upmarket drinking food, hoping to replicate something of the spirit of a lively evening out in Tokyo. Izakayas are often dubbed “Japanese pubs”, and combine cocktails, wine and a tapas-esque approach to the menu.

“A lot of ‘Japanese’ experiences in London are driven by the chef and are so austere,” Aubrey co-founder Matt Reid told the Standard. “And for me that doesn’t capture the experience of a night out in Japan — every night out I have there seems to always have a combination of some serious eccentricity and some real characters. The cocktails are always incredible, the music is non-conformist to the space, and there’s always this energy, a vibrancy. That’s what we’re doing here.”

Drinks will primarily be built using Japanese spirits, as well as plenty of sake. Reid added that shochu will also feature prominently.

“Japan makes more shochu than sake but they only export two per cent of it. They know it’s so good so they don’t want us to have it!” joked Reid. “But we’re building supply chains to get what we can of that two per cent. It’s going to be a big part of what we’re trying to do.”

 (Steven Joyce)
(Steven Joyce)

Food is offered to accompany the drinks, with a menu revolving around edomae-style sushi, tempura dishes and meat and fish both cooked over fire, robata-style. Dishes include charcoal chicken karage with a yuzu mayo; crab korokke with a tonyu béchamel sauce and kani miso; and a wagyu sando.

To keep a sense of cosiness, the large footprint of the space has been divided into five areas: a main dining room referred to as a “the curio lounge”, a wood-panelled bar at the entrance, a smaller bar off this called the salon, a “library” — really a small room full of dining booths — and, to the side from this room, a hidden-away 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. The Aubrey’s press release says inspiration here is being drawn from New York’s famous Loft parties from the Seventies and Eighties, where the late DJ David Mancuso held house-party style nights as a counterpoint to the nightclubs of the era.

“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 sonic is absolutely part of the identity of the place.”

 (Lateef Photography)
(Lateef Photography)

The Knightsbridge opening marks Reid’s first London launch. Working alongside business partners Malcolm Wood and Xuan Mu, the hope is that the new site mimics the success the trio have had in the Hong Kong Mandarin Oriental with the same concept. “It’s been a weird and wonderful world to do it in. Launching in Hong Kong, [because of the pandemic], we’ve never been allowed to have anything other than a seated customer — so we’re excited to see London have that vibrancy.”

Staying open till midnight throughout the week, and till 1am on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Reid said he’s hoping to build “a strong community” among the local crowd.

“We’re hoping to nourish the friends of Aubrey. We want it to be a hangout, and there’s a need for that in Knightsbridge. It’s designed as a home — I’m really into internal emotions you might not necessarily be aware of, but are there.

“You know, how you wouldn’t normally take your shoes off in a restaurant. But we intentionally want you to feel you’re at someone’s house party. People might come in during the afternoon for a meeting but we want them to end up staying till one in the morning.”

The Aubrey opens on January 28. Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA. For more information, visit mandarinoriental.com

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