What’s new? It’s a great story and a stroke of purest luck for London: Japanese sushi master Mitsuhiro Araki – one of just a handful of sushi chefs to be awarded three Michelin stars – has quit Tokyo to open up in London.
All of London would be piling into his new restaurant (part of the £250m W4 development in Mayfair) were the restaurant not so small (nine covers) and the point of entry not so off-puttingly high (£300 a head even before drinks and service).
Behind the scenes: Araki is joined by his wife Yoko and one assistant. The motivation behind the move was partly familial (his daughter’s at boarding school here) and partly because the 48-year-old fancied a challenge. Former Tom Aikens sommelier Gearoid Devaney has consulted on a short, smart list of sake and classic wine.
The concept: The Araki is a sliver of a space that slots neatly into the front of a pretty anonymous-looking office building. As such, it has more in common with those unassuming sushi-ya found in the far reaches of Tokyo malls than it does with the design-led celebrity magnets where showy Londoners go for their raw fish thrills.
The design, by Takenaka, is subtle and serene with the focus on the irresistibly tactile cypress wood counter (a gift from musician Ryuchi Sakamoto) where a jovial, relaxed Araki presents his "omakase" chef’s menu over two sittings a night. It sets the stage for an assured performance that draws on the rhythm of a Japanese tea ceremony, the drama quietly building from that first tantalising glimpse of the knives sparkling on the counter. The best seats are at the counter; the six-seater private dining room misses out on the action.
What’s cooking? Araki’s adapted his traditional edomae sushi to incorporate European produce. For the first time, he’s serving salmon sushi (it’s practically unheard of for a top tier sushi-ya in Japan to do so), and has introduced luxury ingredients, notably caviar and truffle, into his repertoire. And it’s exquisite, of course it is.
Buttery grilled yellowtail, gently steamed French abalone and warm Spanish mackerel are of a quality unequalled in London; only the sweet fleshed langoustine gains little from the sushi treatment. Otherwise, from the three careful drops of lemon over Cornish squid and caviar to the exuberant blanket of black truffle over tuna tartare, it’s a masterclass.
Signature dishes: Araki’s confident performance reaches its apogee with the presentation of his signature tuna, peerless fish sourced now from Spain and Ireland. A sequence of variations, first the akami (red meat), then the chotoro and lastly the rich otoro that melts onto the tongue, is presented directly onto the counter with the instruction to eat it with the fingers, fish-side down to maximise the flavour. To the offer of "One more piece?", there’s only one correct answer: Yes please."