Foodie Features

Cláudio Cardoso – On Top Of The World

By Rosie Birkett

Rosie Birkett finds out how SushiSamba’s hot young chef, Cláudio Cardoso, went literally straight to the top of London’s dining scene.

His dream was always to be a doctor, but London’s eating public should be rather pleased that Cláudio Cardoso had ‘an embarrassing sensitivity to blood’, which stifled his plans for medicine. Instead, the Johannesburg-born thirty year old now finds himself in the City of London, at the soaring Heron Tower’s trendy SushiSamba restaurant.

Drawing its culinary inspiration from the cuisine of Japanese immigrants in South America, the restaurant – which also has outposts in New York, Miami, Chicago and Las Vegas – serves a fusion of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian food.

The kitchen creates varied, vibrant plates such as wagyu gyoza and carrot and daikon salad, for an average of five hundred and fifty diners a day, a somewhat different operational scale for Cardoso, who joined SushiSamba last year from a fine dining background with the Ritz Carlton Hotel group. “This operation is a monster compared to other places I’ve been,” says the young chef, with a smile. “I have a production kitchen in the basement of the building and I have to be smart about sending the food up – there are lots of things you need to think about when you have a restaurant on the thirty-eighth floor.”

When he discovered that medical school was out of the question Cardoso – who, himself, comes from a family of pastry chefs – attended chef school in Portugal, where his father lives – from the age of fifteen. At the same time, he was apprenticing for Orient Express hotels. He then cut his teeth in kitchens throughout Portugal, before joining Ritz Carlton in 2006, at the restaurant Midori in their Sintra hotel.

In 2010, he travelled to Dubai for the opportunity to be Chef de Partie at the Burj Khalifa, Armani Hotel, where he cooked for “loads of famous people and sports stars – there was a lot of pressure.”And it seems that this chef thrives under pressure, coming in to oversee a team of seventy – many of whom are older than him.

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“Arriving here as a young chef and working and managing people who were older was questioned, but they realise I’m coming with a more open and interesting approach than the chefs that came before me. It’s like being a soccer coach, I have to build morale so my team are positive and can deliver.”

Whilst much of the menu is fresh, simple and delicious (there’s lots of sushi, sashimi and grills) Cardoso uses the limited-volume specials he makes to express his creative, personal cuisine. “The food is special and unique, it’s a blend of three different cultures – taking the approach of Japanese ingredients as used in South America – we didn’t invent it, but we try to combine my background with the specials. We aim to do something a bit more particular and detailed with those.”

One such example is a recent suckling pig dish, which was marinated in soya sauce, mirin and orange juice and then cooked sous vide for twelve hours before being finished on the robata grill – Japanese charcoal was also used to infuse the oil for the marinate. This was then served with Japanese pumpkin and turnip, sweet potato crisps and orange segments.

“We’re trying to reduce the menu a bit and introduce some technical dishes that are more aligned with Michelin-starred cuisine. We’re constantly trying to improve and bring it to another level.”

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