Food

Super-Luxe Sushi and Robata Izakaya Shōtō Opens at DC’s Midtown Center

The high-end restaurant from London restaurateur Arjun Waney debuts this week.

Shōtō, a modern Japanese izakaya with sushi and robata, opens in downtown DC. Photography by Rey Lopez.

Shōtō is the kind of restaurant where even the door handle has a backstory. If you’re curious: the entrance to the high-style, contemporary Japanese izakaya—opening in Midtown Center this week—is fashioned from a branch that was harvested from a forest outside Tokyo. It was then carefully transported to a design foundry in northern England, where it was ensconced in bronze.  

Once inside, the vestibule doubles as a glass-walled whiskey cellar for rare Japanese bottles. A few steps into the 155-seat restaurant, and you may spot a discrete DJ booth where ambient “pulse music” is curated by the restaurant’s dedicated music director. On the other side, an “ice chef” works behind the bar, hewing crystalline slabs into centerpieces for house-infused cocktails. Look up—a massive installation is fashioned from hundreds of lava stones, harvested from (what else?) a Japanese volcano.

“We chose the name Shōtō, a special Japanese short sword, because it represents attention to detail,” says managing partner Arman Naqi.

The 155-seat dining room centers around an installation of lava stones. Photograph by Rey Lopez.

Such a production doesn’t come easy—it’s been in the works for three years—or inexpensively. London-based restaurateur Arjun Waney is behind a chic fleet of global restaurants, including Japanese designer brands Zuma, Roka, and Coya, with locations stretching from Istanbul to Hong Kong and New York. Shōtō, his first in DC, is also a first-and-only for the hospitality empire, though it bears a strong family resemblance to its siblings in substance and style. Designer Noriyoshi Muramatsu of Tokyo-based Studio Glitt is behind the splashy look here as well as the London restaurants and beyond. The space feels primed for scene-y sushi a la Nobu (though, according to the now 82 year-old Waney, his first Japanese restaurant Zuma, back in 2001, was a bit of a spite project because he could never get a table at Nobu’s clubby Mayfair location).

Naqi says it was always the plan to give Washington its own restaurant instead of one of group’s many duplicates—partly because of his own ties here (his family lives in Virginia, and he has a degree from GW). “We wanted something distinct and intimate for DC,” he says. 

A dozen fire boxes like one wall. Photograph by Rey Lopez.

The dining room flanks a three-part open kitchen, which includes a display sushi counter and a robata grill fueled by pressed Japanese white oak that imparts a tender smoke. An interior space turns out items like tempura and elaborate sweets such as churros filled with miso-caramel or coconut chawanmushi decked out in exotic fruits. Guests can book kitchen counter seats, including for omakase experiences from executive sushi chef Kwang Kim—an alum of all-star trifecta Morimoto, Masa, and Nobu—and executive chef Alessio Conti, who like Kim is a veteran of the group, including Zuma locations around the world. 

No surprise, the lengthy menu is filled with ways to splurge—both big (a Japanese wagyu steak menu, caviar service, rare wines and sakes), and small. Guests can start with little tacos fashioned from homemade potato chips and stuffed with fillings like creamy snow crab or tuna akami. Or, shell out for luxe little bites like wagyu-foie gras nigiri. Groups can graze on smoky robata meats, seafood, sushi, and specialty maki rolls. There are also larger-format dishes such as roasted lobster with spicy ponzu butter, a grilled veal chop doused in shimeji truffle sauce, or barley-miso-marinated baby chicken roasted on cedar. 

The entrance to the restaurant doubles as a display of rare Japanese whiskeys. Photograph by Rey Lopez.

Shōtō has a lot going on already, but there’s more to come. An intimate terrace will open in warm weather for sipping watermelon-yuzu martinis and kumquat cosmos. Weekday lunch is also in the works. And in late spring or early summer, sister venture Ākēdo will open in an adjacent space. That all-day spot (translation: Arcade) will serve Japanese street food by day and transform into a speakeasy-style club at night.

Shōtō. 1100 15th St., NW; 202-796-0011. Open for dinner, Monday through Saturday (closed Sunday). 

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.