Although it has expanded globally since its Moscow launch and now boasts a client base of A-listers that includes the likes of Will Smith, Penelope Cruz and Nicole Kidman, Sumosan is still a family business.
Janina Wolkow’s father, Alexander, launched the Japanese restaurant brand in Moscow in 1997, and although the younger Wolkow was still a student, she was heavily involved in the process. “Then I decided that I wanted to do the same, in the city that I love most,” she says, referring to London, where the restaurant opened in the prestigious Mayfair neighbourhood in 2002.
Today, Sumosan strives to uphold its exclusive in-house ambience, while also offering out-of-hours services, such as catering for the Chelsea Football Club VIP boxes, as well as the private jet market. “If you’re flying, and your flight is at 8am, we will not make you pick up the food the evening before. The chef will come in at 6am to prepare your food, so that there’s a very small period of time between cooking and eating,” Wolkow explains.
She puts the brand’s success down to the fact that it only uses high-quality ingredients in its recipes. “You have a lot of sushi these days, from supermarkets to conveyer belts, but I think it’s about using the right ingredients. And that’s not just with Japanese, but in all food – in Italian, there’s good pasta and bad pasta,” she says.
Sumosan made its Dubai debut in April, as part of the highly anticipated Billionaire Mansion, a brainchild of the former F1 team boss Flavio Briatore. It’s “a match made in heaven”, says Wolkow.
The aim is to present the UAE with a fine-dining experience like no other (along with some new and exclusive dishes that have yet to be launched in other Sumosan restaurants, such as the spinach-date-chestnut dumplings, which, Wolkow assures me, are delicious). High-end Italian recipes are served alongside Sumosan’s signature Japanese cuisine at Billionaire Mansion, and guests can also enjoy live entertainment in the form of dancers, shows and karaoke, and relax afterwards with sheesha on the terrace. “There’s nothing we don’t have, and you don’t need to be hopping from venue from venue,” says Wolkow.
The boisterous restaurateur knows that being sociable is an important part of any good meal. Dressed in a pink floral dress with a dropped waist and flouncy skirt, Wolkow is all smiles when we meet at the Taj Dubai, which houses the Billionaire Mansion. Wolkow is known to be great at concocting recipes, and the same elements of precision and preparation required in cooking are reflected in her personal style. On this occasion, her nails are painted red and grey – matching her strappy red platform heels and translucent teardrop chandelier earrings.
“Some people eat to live, and some people live to eat,” she enthuses. “I’m very passionate about food, I’m good with ingredients, I’ve got great taste buds and I love feeding people. I’m also very social – I like the whole aspect of making people feel comfortable and giving them a good time.”
When envisioning her perfect meal at Billionaire Mansion, Wolkow opts for a new dish from the Italian menu. “It’s the strozzapreti with the lamb ragu. I also love the salmon rice pizza and I have a sweet tooth, so the chocolate fondant, with melted white chocolate inside, is always a winner,” she says. And the finishing touch? “A lot of laughter around the table.”
However, socialising isn’t everything – and one of the most important parts of Wolkow’s job is to know when to be discreet. “I think all restaurateurs should have the same rule as doctors: it’s very important to respect people’s privacy,” she says. “We can’t help it if there’s paparazzi outside, but we don’t call them to come, like a lot of other restaurants do when celebrities are there,” she says.
“Nicole Kidman is at Sumosan practically every week. And she can just come in, sit where she wants, and nobody will bother her.
“It’s very important to just respect people’s space,” she adds. “Sometimes, they want to chat with you, and sometimes they just want to chat to their dinner partners. They should feel like they’re at home.”
Read this and more stories in Luxury magazine, out with The National on Thursday, May 12.
Source: art & life