Tokimeite in Mayfair: Chef Murata’s take on Kaiseki cuisine
It makes sense for chef Yoshihiro Murata to have his restaurant in Mayfair, the home of Japanese fine dining. London’s poshest neighbourhood counts on world-famous establishments such as Araki, Umu and Nobu, which boast five michelin stars; many would find it intimidating, not Murata, though, who holds seven stars between Kyoto and Tokyo. He’s a leading figure in the Kaiseki cuisine, the equivalent of the western world fine-dining concept.
Less than two years since the opening of Tokimeite, we decide to try its lunch menus. There’s Kyoto Gozen (£25), which is a Kyoto-style bento with four options for the main ingredient (Wagyu Yamatoni Hamburg Steak, Salmon Teriyaki Grill, Sumiyaki Chicken, Sashimi Sanshu); Nigiri Jukkan (£30), which is a selection of ten nigiri sushi; and Wagyu Gozen (£45), which is pretty much the same as the Kyoto Gozen but comes with Wagyu Ichibo Steak (50g of premium cut wagyu beef).
Wagyu is the Japanese cow known for its exceptional marbling and quality, and the most famous breed comes from Kobe. What makes this type of beef special (and very, very expensive) is the strict set of rules that must be adhered to in order to raise the cattle – as well as the exclusive provenance. For his London opening chef Murata teamed up with ZeN-Noh, an agricultural cooperative that exports this unique ingredient, so it’s no surprise that wagyu is widely present in the menus. We choose that and the selection of nigiri.
The starters are the same for all lunch menus: a portion of homemade tofu with Japanese vegetables, with a strong nut-like-flavoured broth and sesame seeds; and the Mushroom Miso Soup, the umami peak of the meal. While the former goes perfectly with the dry, cold sake proposed by the friendly and helpful manager, the latter combines perfectly with the custom Japanese rice beer Anticipation, brewed in London.
The mains look very appealing and are generous in size. First, we try the nigiri selection: tuna, sea bass, salmon, sea bream, mackerel, yellow tail, prawn, scallop, salmon roe and eel. Except for the eel, all the fish is (naturally) raw, and it’s the prawn that stands out for its exquisite texture and taste. The bento box is a real treat. The wagyu rump should be eaten immediately, before it gets cold: it was cooked in front of us, first grilled on the robata grill, then finished in the Josper – the famous Spanish charcoal oven. It’s tender, fatty and juicy; it wouldn’t hurt if it was slightly more abundant. The rest of the bento is fun to explore: there’s the Japanese omelette; the salmon covered with yolk powder; the chicken cake; the potato with miso; the three pieces of sushi; the tempura mix which includes a prawn and a selection of Japanese vegetables (the squash is a delight). This is the great benefit of the partnership between Murata and ZeN-Noh, it allows them to source rare vegetables that are difficult to obtain even in Japan.
Finally, the desserts. Usually they aren’t the best part of a meal when it comes to Japanese restaurants, however, the two we try are truly exceptional. A Shoyu Caramel Ringo Tatin (the chef’s take on the classic tarte tatin) is a surprisingly great pudding: tasty and sophisticated with no heavy buttery aftertaste; the rose-shaped apple is also easy to break with a fork. The yuzu cheesecake – with an edible box-like wafer – is light too and seriously a high-level dessert. We savour them drinking a comforting glass of plum wine by Choya.
Yoshihiro Murata’s second attempt (there was a brief effort in 2012, Chrysan) to bring Kaiseki to London is serious and coherent with the background of the chef who, in the 70s, came to Europe to learn French cooking techniques. Set in the high-end Conduit Street, Tokimeite adds a European touch to authentic Japanese food and ingredients, and the lunch menus are a great opportunity to experience a taste of Murata’s unique cuisine.★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photo: Filippo L’Astorina