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Friday 25 July 2014

The Real McCoy of Teppanyaki Experiences at Matsuri

Name: Matsuri

Where: 15 Bury Street, London, SW1Y 6 AL

Cost: There are three set menus, priced at £65, £100 and £145 per person. From the à la carte menu, starters cost from £5 to £10, with sashimi platters from £14 to £68, sushi platters at £29.50 or £39.50, and teppanyaki from £23 to £68 for a whole lobster.

About: Matsuri is a long-established Japanese restaurant in London's plush St James district, home to many venerable gentlemen's clubs, as well as St James' Palace and Chatham House. It is also a stone's throw from royal grocer Fortnum and Mason's, Paxton and Whitfield's cheese shop, and the bespoke shirt makers of Jermyn Street.

Matsuri offers Japanese style teppanyaki dishes. Teppanyaki (teppan meaning iron plate and yaki grill or fried) refers to dishes that include meats, fish and vegetables cooked on a very hot iron plate, which imparts a lovely char-grilled flavour to these ingredients.

There is always an element of theatre when eating at teppanyaki restaurants - guests sit around a station while a chef rustles up their dishes. Matsuri is among the most upmarket teppanyaki restaurant in the UK, with dishes, standards of cooking and prices similar to those in Japan.

Owned jointly by the Japanese food giant Kikkoman and JR (Japan Railways), the restaurant is adorned with photographs models of the Shinkansen (Bullet) train and other tasteful artifacts.

What We Ate: We started with a platter of white fish sushi and sashimi (£27).  This included seared yellow tail maki rolls, with nigiri of seabass with yuzu kosho, turbot with yuzu plum and sea bream with spring onion. The platter finished with a sashimi of scallop, yellowtail and king prawn. The centre piece was the head of the king prawn served tempura style in a magnificent blue crystal bowl.

The tempura course included jumbo shrimp, jumbo shrimp head wrapped in shiso leaves, and squid wrapped in shiso leaves. I found the batter a little thick, but the quality of the seafood was excellent, the squid was meltingly tender (not an easy texture to achieve when deep-frying squid) and I enjoyed the addition of shiso in this tempura.

The teppanyaki course was wagyu beef with white and green asparagus (£75), and black cod marinated in ginger, soy sauce and miso (£26).

I enjoyed the black cod being cooked this way (miso is the usual marinade but it does not quite work with teppanyaki).  The ginger gave it a deliciously spicy, savoury quality to the dense fish, and the skin became crispy and crunchy from cooking on the hot plate.

The wagyu beef was wonderfully rich, tender and flavoursome, and was served with some magnificent garlic fried rice, one of the very occasions when garlic rice is served in Japan i.e. with grilled steak. To accompany the beef, two sauces were offered – the wasabi cream, which was hot and creamy, and the special 'wagyu sauce' made with red wine, mirin, chilli and soy sauce. This was rich and spicy, a little like a Korean bulgogi sauce. Personally I thought the latter rather overpowered the wagyu beef.

Alongside the Teppanyaki, we had a red miso soup (£3.50), with nameko mushrooms, wakame seaweed, tofu and spring onions. I loved this  – red miso makes for a rich, beefy-tasting broth rather like a posh Bovril, while the nameko mushrooms with their slimy texture (not a great way to describe this mushroom but I cannot think of a more befitting word), were a great addition, I haven’t had them since my last trip to Japan.

For dessert, we opted for the restaurant's signature Fire Ball Ice Cream with mango (£6.50). There is a nice sense of theatre about this dish as the mango slices and ice cream are quickly flambéed over the hot iron plate before being served.

We also had some delightful wakamomo (baby stoneless peaches), with lychee sorbet and Mio sparkling sake (£8), served in a Champagne flute. I love wakamomo, so this was a great treat - refreshing and palate cleansing.

What We Drank: While the teppanyaki meal we had at Matsuri was very good indeed, the highlight for us was the restaurant’s fantastic wine cellar.

We entrusted our wine pairing to the Head Sommelier Tommaso Riccardo Guzzardo, and he did not disappoint, choosing a selection of rare and unusual Italian and French wines that tickled the curiosity and palate while still maintaining value for money.

The cocktail of the month when we visited was London Sky (£12) - Nigori Ginjo sake with fruits and elderflower. Served with a sprig of mint, this had a touch of sweetness and a savoury notes from the sake. We also sampled the Miss Kubota cocktail from the Signature list - sake, lemon juice and lychee liqueur, decorated with physalis (£12). This was very refreshing from the citrus fruit, and aromatic from the lychee liqueur.  There was a comprehensive list of cocktails priced from £9 for a Negroni to £13 for a Champagne-based Nashi Royal with Asian Pear.

With the sushi and sashimi, we had a glass of Tiefenbrunner, Kirchleiten Sauvignon 2012, from Sudtirol, Alto Adige, Italy (£58 per bottle). This comes from volcanic soil giving a delicious minerality, and was rich, elegant and with crisp acidity and a long finish.

With the tempura, we had a glass of Pouilly Fumé 2012, Domaine Alexandre Bain, from Pierre Precieuse (£53 per bottle). This was a biodynamic wine, unfiltered, with just a hint of oxidation. Golden in colour, and slightly opalescent, it had lovely green apple on the palate.

With the teppanyaki, we had a Sicilian red, I Vigneri (£89 per bottle), from 100 year old pre-phylloxera vines.  Made from rare Nerello Cappuccio and Nerello Mascalese grapes, the vines were grown in goblet formation on volcanic, lava soil. Foot pressed, and matured in oak casks, this was a very elegant wine with red berry fruit.

With dessert, we had a glass of sweet Umeshu plum wine, served unfiltered and with a heavy sediment. Having been left on the stalk until the fruit was botrytised, this had a rich sweet almond nose, and sweet plum flavours on the palate.

As a digestive, we opted for the 21 year old Hibiki Suntory Whisky, in a very beautiful bottle that looked more like a decanter.  This was a top quality Japanese whisky.  

The restaurant offers a wide selection of wines and sparkling wines by the glass, from £9 to £23. In bottles, white wines start at £37 (for an Italian Blanc de Morgex et De La Salle), and reds at £39 (for a biodynamic Faugeres from Languedoc-Roussillon), and escalate rapidly from there.

There is an extensive sake menu, as well as a “Sake Course Menu” for £40, offering 5 glasses of sake.  There are two wine flights, priced at £44 and £60, each offering 5 glasses including a Champagne, white, red and sweet wines. 

Likes: The white fish sushi and sashimi platter was superb, and reasonably priced at £27. The Wagyu steak was excellent. The wine selection, chosen by sommelier Tommaso Riccardo Guzzardo, was original and interesting. I would strongly recommend one of the wine flights.

Dislikes: Prices are steep but these reflect the quality of the ingredients and the location. It would be nice if a more affordable teppanyaki menu option were available, not necessarily including wagyu beef or black cod.

Verdict: Matsuri offers the real McCoy of teppanyaki experiences in the heart of London’s Mayfair. A fantastic wine cellar and an expert sommelier made for a very special evening. Recommended.

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