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Koj Japanese #NOsushi

The Longer Read Koj is named after Andrew ‘Koj’ Kojima, a former competitor (2012) on Masterchef, the TV cooking competition for amateur chefs. “It doesn’t get tougher than this” Gregg Wallace is fond of saying, at frequent intervals, on the show. Things, however, surely do get tougher when you decide to open your own restaurant.

Andrew Kojima tried things out as a pop up venture initially, and the restaurant proper opened later, in Spring 2017. Perhaps surprisingly for a town of this size, ’Koj’ was the second Japanese restaurant to open in Regent Street. The estimable Kibou has been trading just down the road for some time now. The, in our humble opinion, ghastly Yo Sushi! is not far away either. Blimey, there’s a Wagamama too now. Stick to Kibou or Koj is our advice.

Koj’s USP and marketing angle is the sign, hashtag and possibly the promise of #NOsushi. Fair enough  – there are certainly other more delicious and (certainly) heartier Japanese dining experiences than sushi. The NOsushi thing certainly leaves plenty of scope.

It’s a brave reviewer who tackles Koj. Kojima picked up some local press coverage for a robust response to a, frankly, bullshit TripAdvisor reviewer. More happily, Jay Rayner, rated Koj quite highly in a Guardian review.

Koj Restaurant

Anyway, what do we have here? Statistically the chances are that Koj will be closed when you walk past – it’s only open for Dinner Tuesday to Saturday and for Saturday lunch. Last dinner orders are 9.30 too. Business, for the 19.5 hours in which you may order food, is pretty brisk, so booking is advised. I think it’s great when restaurants aren’t open all day, it gives the dining room a chance to breathe and it gives the staff a break too. There’s much more of a sense of occasion.

At street level, you’ll see the #NOsushi statement quite early on. Through the window, various Japanese graphics occupy one wall. The interior is bright modern and brisk, maybe 20 covers on the ground floor.

Menu at Koj

If you’re unsure about ordering, or simply the trusting sort, you can hand over £30 for dinner – chef’s choice.

In terms of à la carte, it’s good to drop notions of starter, main and pudding when ordering Japanese.  The menu leads you through appetisers (£3) such as Sunomono (Cucumber Salad) or Pickled Shiitake. Hirata style (I guess) buns (£6) have fillings such as Pork Belly, Soft Shell Crab or Lamb Breast. £9 sharing dishes run through options such Panko fish fingers, Koj Fried Chicken (geddit?), Miso Salmon. There’s also Okonomiyaki, that omelette/pancake cabbage-based Japanese comfort food. Sides are £2.50/£3.00 and there are changing Chef’s mains up to about £12.

For Saturday lunch, you can pick up a set lunch ramen or donburi (rice bowl) menu for £10.

We’ve had a quick okonomiyaki at Koj, which was tasty, but don’t feel we’ve explored the menu enough to score yet.

Upstairs is a bar and snacks room called Kampai (‘Cheers’). Our only tip for that is that they sell shochu, which I’ve long felt is due to be mainstream ‘discovered’. Some of the happiest evenings of my life have been spent in a shochu haze. It’s essentially a vodka with variations, almost invariably well-made and smooth. And being Japanese, the packaging design is often beautiful.

Koj is a good thing, adding variety and style to the Cheltenham food scene.

3 Regent Street, Cheltenham GL50 1HE
Web: https://kojcheltenham.co.uk