There has been a trend in the past few years where top quality Japanese restaurant has been arriving with Umu leading the way, along with Yashin specialising in more modern style sushi and Shiori in kaiseki cuisine. But there was a lack of truly masterful craftsman of sushi making until the arrival of Mitsuhiro Araki and makes this an exciting affair. Having run his own three Michelin star restaurant in Tokyo previously, he came to London and embark on this new challenge. In the glamorous setting of Mayfair, the nine seater sushi bar functionally decorated with light coloured wood and has the addition of a private dining room to the side. There is already a dedicated following as one of the diner has already been for the second time in the three weeks since it opened. Every customer is addressed by name by Araki himself which is not the most difficult task since there were only 7 of us in the early dining slot of the two available at 6pm on a Thursday evening. A set menu for all makes the serving more straight forward.
An odd choice of using a ceramic cup to serve beer kicks the evening off. Tactile as it is, it creates the biggest head as beer is poured into it. A change to the usual glassware is recommended. The first course of the warming, clean and sweet soup of snapper and abalone with yuzu zest set the flavour for the evening, served to the sound of grinding fresh wasabi. The meaty snapper sashimi that follows has a rich fatiness and bite, helped by the reduced moisture content from pressing that concentrates the flavour and texture. And the last of the starting trio is sliced pressure steamed fresh abalone that has the perfect balance of bite and softness, with the intensity of flavour of the dried variety while maintaining a freshness.
Araki is very relaxed and only too happy to chat to the customers while he works. It also helps that all the other diners spoke Japanese and it means my questions gets a proper translation with the help from them. From sitting there, one could well be in Tokyo except for the emphasis of European produce in the food. The attentiveness of the waiting staff meant a slight turn of the head attracts their attention, helped by the healthy staff to diner ratio. They are as happy to chat as Araki himself and this friendliness extends to the diners.
The extravagance comes in the form of marinated diced raw tuna in a home-made mayonnaise, topped with a copious amount of white truffle. The olive oil in the mayonnaise is a nod to European cooking ant the density of truffle not only gives it a fragrance but also a grainy texture, with the tuna as a base. The initial pungency of truffle fades and gives way to the dominating flavour of sesame, onion and soy sauce, giving a pleasant journey of flavour and texture. Closely followed by white crab meat in a brown crab sauce, topped by Beluga caviar. There is a unified savoury, fresh fishiness and the blend of textural white meat and creamy richness is superb. The comparatively modest “Squid as it comes” is salted, lightly grilled and show off the skill in the precision of simple cooking.
Now comes the main event introduced by fiery pickled ginger, not the usual young ginger but perfectly chosen mature ones that has a slight fibrous texture but without leaving a residue in the mouth. Araki brings out this large slab of tuna and expertly dissected while casually chatting to the diners. In no time at all, it is all sliced and ready to be moulded into sushi. The initial hit of the maguro sushi is the starchiness of the rice, not as a texture but as a flavour. A mushroomy umami filters through and the tuna is a binder and background and more the better for it. The central role of the rice continues with marinated salmon, toro, otoro and lightly grilled horse mackerel sushi. delivered hand to hand to ensure optimum temperature. Jokes are made about bypassing the hand straight to mouth which is perhaps more intimate than acceptable in a restaurant. Squid, langoustine, clam and grilled tuna marks the tail end of the sushi feast, concluding with warm and meaty Welsh eel roll.
The final dish is the perfect marriage of Japanese omelette and more shaved white truffle. The tussle between the sweetness and the savoury earthiness is like fireworks in the mouth and a sumptuous end to the meal. There is no doubt this a meal of top quality and full of extravagant ingredients. The main question is whether the £300 cost for food alone is worth it. In my opinion, it is extremely difficult to ever justify a £300 meal no matter how great it is and there is a necessary uniqueness that feels lacking in this case. All the more so comparing this to my favourite Japanese in London Shiori where it is practically a bargain at £95 or even better at £50 for lunch. One can always argue £300 is still cheaper than flying to Japan and it without question a glitzy addition to the London Restaurant scene.