Having recently celebrated its first six months of trading, vegan Japanese restaurant Kusaki continues to make waves with its innovative menu. Nick Mosley talks to operations director India De Silva about the journey to date.

Tell us about you

I’m India De Silva, aged 27. I’ve dedicated my career to hospitality. I’ve had the pleasure of working in, opening and running hospitality venues. I studied wine to a high level so I’ve always have a real affinity with the drinks-led side of the hospitality industry but ultimately my main focus is – and always has been – about creating interesting menus, great service and providing truly memorable experiences for guests.

Kusaki is a Japanese-themed restaurant with a plant-based menu and a really strong focus on sustainability. Tell us more about the Kusaki concept…

As a food business, we strongly believe in sustainability and doing everything we can to keep our carbon footprint low, whilst maintaining incredible flavours in our dishes.

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Being a plant-based restaurant, we aim to ‘wow’ with our incredible dishes that can be created without the inclusion of fish, meat or dairy. We carefully chose our produce and use innovative techniques in the kitchen to really enhance the incredible flavours and textures locked within plants. Having our own in-house hydroponic farm has also been an incredible asset in becoming ever-more sustainable and it’s really added to our labour of love: watching everything grow and having a genuine part in the journey from farm-to-plate is a real pleasure.

In Japanese cuisine, are plant-based dishes common or have you adapted dishes specifically for a vegetarian menu?

Mainstream Japanese cuisine – as we know it here – is fish and meat forward, yet there’s also a vast number of vegetable dishes within the traditional Japanese kitchen that have been eaten for centuries that are entirely meat-free.

At Kusaki, our menus are influenced by the essence of Japan’s culinary heritage, whether vegan and not. Japanese food hugely focusses on flavour and that's what we’ve aimed to achieve. With the help of contemporary kitchen techniques, vegan food is entering a new and really, really exciting era. We’re privileged here at Kusaki to have some incredible chefs that share our vision and passion.

You’re growing food in the restaurant itself? Tell us about your hydroponic farm and what that adds to your menu…

Our hydroponics are an amazing addition to what we’re championing here at Kusaki. It started with an idea from Josie Hawkins (of Botanique restaurant on Western Road, Brighton). Initially, we began by thinking of installing a small hydroponic station in the basement of Botanique but this grew into its own venue – Farm on Western Road – where you can see all the beautiful produce as it grows on a far larger scale than we ever imagined.

The beauty of the hydroponics is not only the amazing quality and freshness but also the adaptability we have. Being able to pick and chose what we want to grow inspires our chefs and has encouraged a synergy amongst our head chefs across the wider company to get involved in curating all kinds of dishes for their menus. We hope to be able to offer our produce to other venues in the future but for now we’re keeping the magic to enjoy in our venues.

Kusaki has a really strong drinks and cocktail menu. What’s the inspiration behind it?

Having trained as a sommelier, writing a drinks list is always one of my favourite parts in opening a venue. Kusaki was a real challenge as there were certain factors that I’d not had to consider before: vegan and preferably with a Japanese origin.

For weeks I researched and attempted to source Japanese wine to no avail. Either the supply was going to be an issue or its vegan certification was questionable. In the end we landed on an organic wine list that we felt complimented our dishes. Planning the cocktails was a lot of fun. I started by giving interesting sake and Japanese-inspired twists to classic cocktail recipes and it sort of snowballed from there. We offer bar tables for those wanting to pop in for a drink but a snack must also be consumed in accordance with our licence.

Tell us more about the stunning interior design of the restaurant…

We're incredibly proud of Kusaki’s design. We’re fortunate to have a great designer, our founder and company director, Fabio Lauro. Fabio has an incredible vision which is evident across all of our restaurant venues. The design is based on the idea of refined beauty: simplistic, elegant and effective.

He has a strong eye for the small details, an attribute we pass on very heavily to our staff. We are very lucky to have very passionate and dedicated management and staff who share our vision and pay attention to the small details that Fabio worked so tirelessly to create. All the countless small individual elements come together to create the beautiful atmosphere we are proud to welcome our guests into.

Despite being less than a year old, you’ve made it into the 2022 Michelin Guide?

Our entry into the Michelin Guide has made us very proud. To get that recognition less than six months into opening is very humbling. An accolade is always reason to celebrate but ultimately our goal remains the same: to provide the most memorable experiences to our guests and constantly working on new menus and ideas not only to enthuse you as a diner but to continue our own journey of knowledge and passion.

Kusaki, 5-6 Circus Parade, Brighton BN1 4GW