There is nothing a father can’t do about his daughter.
When the same applies for a successful chef, among the long list of sacrifices he can do for his daughter might even be giving up on Michelin stars also known as “the Oscars of Gastronomy”.
The Chef Matsuhiro Araki can be given as a perfect example of this, since he shut down his three-star restaurant in Ginza which was very popular and usually fully booked months in advance, and began with a clean slate in England for the education of his daughter.
As I know him from Tokyo, Araki believes that change stirs up creativity and apparently acted on this motivation when moving to London. Only this time, he moved away from the traditional style of Sukuyabashi Jiro, a legend in Japanese cuisine which I also had the chance to try by the way, and he went for a more creative style and started to offer Japanese cuisine with a modern interpretation.
Just opened in October 2014, the restaurant has a capacity of 9 people. However during our visit, there were exceptionally 10 chairs. We learned that the chef couldn’t turn down one of his regular visitors and added an extra chair for him. Among the visitors, we were the only European ones.
There is not a preconceived menu at Araki. The restaurant is specialized only in sushi. Other than starters, the chef of the sushi ceremony Matsuhiro Araki makes up a menu of 13 dishes including amuse bouches. In other words, as it is the case with most of the Japanese restaurants, the system at Araki is “omakase” too.
The night started with a delightful misu soup made with marinated turbot and langoustine which is a type of sea crustacean.
The following dish was turbot sashimi accompanied by sea urchin from Iceland. As it was topped with the most valuable black caviar “beluga” with its smooth texture, the caviar was crowned with a little touch of wasabi. For the wasabi sauce, fresh wasabis were grated with the help of a wooden grater covered with shark skin. As the wasabis were rubbed in circular motions, they were made into puree.
For the next dish, Araki preferred French abalones over the Tasmanian ones which are a bit bigger and juicier. After he steamed them with sake and seared (cooking meat by exposing its surface to the extremely high heat) some scallops, he served them together.
While in meantime, hand-made crystal carafes and glasses showed up, which reminded me of the vintage glassware we wouldn’t use for ourselves and kept them for special guests during my childhood. One of these elegant carafes was filled with sweetish and fruity sake, and the other one with a delicious “dry sake”.
The next presentation was a wonderful combination of tuna tartar with its mayonnaise without egg which was made with only mustard, olive oil and lemon, and the renowned Perigord truffle from France. It got a good mark from the diners since its taste was close to the Mediterranean palate.
Before the sushi, the last dish was grilled salmon marinated with yuzu. The salmon was imported from Norway. It looked as great as it tasted.
Pickled ginger is just another traditional accompaniment served in the Japanese restaurants. Araki’s take on pickled ginger was lightly marinated, thus it was juicy on the inside and a bit dry on the outside. As it was served right before the sushi, upon the advice of Araki, we consumed it as a different dish to function as a sorbet.
As Araki was set to prepare sushi, slicing lean tuna, semi-fatty tuna and fatty tuna, he offered us a small treat he made with the fish during the process.
What a sushi master cares the most and takes pride in is of course the quality and the type of the rice s/he uses, since it is the most important element in sushi. After he moved to London, Araki had to change his food suppliers due to the limits imposed upon the food trade between Japan and England. It was possibly the most difficult challenge for Araki to achieve the same quality in ingredients he used back in Japan. After a rigorous research, he began to source the ingredients from the well-accepted best suppliers of Europe, although he still clings to the rice from the little farm in Saitawa. While he risked on changing his suppliers for the other ingredients, it is praiseworthy indeed that he didn’t make the same sacrifice on his rice.
Marinated with soy sauce and yuzu and wrapped around warm rice, yellow-tail nigiri was followed by mackerel which was seared briefly and served in tataki style. And of course all of this sushi was eaten turned upside down with the rice part on top, like baklava is eaten with the top at the bottom.
The following taste was one of the innovative dishes combining squid cut into strips (a bit larger than julienne) with beluga caviar. The caviar was enhanced with some lemon juice.
The next arrival at the table was tuna nigiri cooked with tataki style and accompanied by guts sauce which was prepared from the briefly-grilled langoustine guts. The last dish of the night was Japanese egg omelet which was sort of a dessert made with brown sugar and truffles. Although we liked it a lot, I’m sure it would taste strange for the European palate.
When we came to the end of the menu, God knows how satisfied I looked craving for more, the Chef Araki couldn’t resist my looks and handed me a “hand-roll” which he made with seaweed wrapped around some rice and attached to marinated tuna and wasabi. It was just one of the treats since I couldn’t photograph the other sushi the chef spontaneously threw into our mouths throughout the night.
So what’s more to say? The Londoners are lucky. Because, one of the rare masters of the Japanese cuisine lives there and offers just the kind of sushi customized to the European palate with little touches. If things go right, Araki will also import his stars from Ginza in a short time.
For those who want to give it a try, I must confess that the pricing is excessively high when compared to Tokyo. However, is it worth the money to have a bash at these almost-umami tastes? It is hard to think that everyone would like to pay that much for a menu; however, for those gastronomy enthusiasts, it is definitely worth the money.
I strongly recommend it to those Japanese cuisine enthusiasts who happen to be in London.
Bon appétit and enjoy the taste of life…
The Araki London
Unit 4, 12 New Burlington Street, Mayfair,
London W1S 3BF, ENGLAND