Matsuri St James’s, in the heart of Mayfair, is aimed at bringing the Japanese eating experience closer to Londoners’ hearts. And boy does it deliver.
The restaurant’s ethos is to serve “The Heart of Japanese Hospitality’ and in doing so it is plain to see why it has been running successfully in London for over 20 years.
On arrival, my boyfriend and I were greeted by a gigantic mask made of washi paper and bamboo, which dominates the stairway leading from the bar to the softly-lit subterranean dining area. We were told that the mask is the symbol of one of the largest Japanese summer festivals, called Nebuta. This festival theme is touched upon in the colourful kimono worn by the waitresses, fresh orchids throughout, and vibrant Japanese photography adorning the walls.
Headed by Chef Mr Kishi, the cooking style creates a true ‘festival of the senses’. The technique is based on Teppan-yaki, a Japanese way of cooking fresh food on iron griddles in front of the customers, which guarantees both a first rate cuisine and an exciting display. The varnished wood tables can seat up to 14 people – 7 on each side – with the hotplate in the middle.
After being seated, and dressed with lavish cotton napkins we started the night with the manager’s recommended cocktails:(for me) a Negroni, complete with fresh orange peel and served on the rocks,and (for my boyfriend) a deliciously fragrant and sweet home-made creation named London Sky (which I sneaked more than my fair share of).
We continued to follow the manager’s excellent recommendations; myself ordering the Vegetarian Set Menu and my boyfriend eagerly opting for the Matsuri Course Menu. We were presented with a series of exquisitely presented appertisers and hors d’ouevres, including grilled aubergine, perfectly crisp and salted edamame, traditional miso broth, a colourful quintet of seaweed, and an assortment of light seafood and vegetable tempura.
Full of good food and anticipation for what was still to come, we sat back and watched as our table’s personal chef, Ninoy, stepped up to the hotplate and set out our raw ingredients. Sizzling in front of our hungry eyes, Ninoy created a colourful spectacle of seasonal Japanese vegetables and tofu and delicious egg-fried rice for the vegetarian main, and a generous helping of perfectly pink lobster and succulent black cod.
To complete the experience, we were told that the Fireball Ice Cream is a must for dessert and we were not disappointed. Ninoy smothered our scoops of vanilla ice cream with brandy on the hotplate, which erupted into a dazzling flame. Goodness gracious (great ball of fire!). As if that wasn’t enough, we were tempted into gorging on an admittedly unusual sounding green tea tiramusu, which was truly (and surprisingly) divine. Two miniature glasses of a traditional Japanese citrus liqueur made from yuzu rounded our feast off perfectly.
Matsuri St James’s is an unusual and entirely memorable dining experience that will make every occasion a special one.