4 June 2014

Matsuri, Teppanyaki in St James.

To my Western eyes, everything the Japanese do seems to have an air of Eastern mysticism surrounding it. From ethereal temples curling to the sky to kimono-clad geisha girls, Cos-playing Harajuku kids to Wasabi flavoured Kitkats.

Their cuisine is no different, and whilst travelling through Japan what struck us the most was the delicacy of unusual dishes and regional differences in flavouring. It's fairly obvious that Sushi is the most infamous Japanese dish, but Katsu Curry and Teppenyaki are close runners up, but wonderful examples of the delicate but powerful flavourings they manage to tease your tastebuds with.

Disclaimer: We were invited guests of Matsuri, but my (many) opinions are only ever my own, and I would never recommend anywhere that I wouldn't happily re-visit. 

If you haven't been to a Teppanyaki restaurant yet, I highly recommend it. Go in a big, social group (perfect for a corporate dinner the boss is paying for) and be prepared for the most theatrical dinner cooking performances you'll experience. Sat in a horseshoe around a iron grill, a personal chef cooks the main portion of your dinner - to order - in flamboyant fashion in front of you. Flame, steam and the flashing of swift utensils combine for a meal with a difference.
Matsuri in St James for that matter sure is an experience. Tucked just around the corner(ish) from the bastion of English-ness that is Fortnum and Masons', Matsuri is a quiet hideaway for Japanese businessmen and city workers spending their bonuses.

(Sorry for the blur, new camera!)

Welcomed with a lovely glass of wine, we were treated to a wee sushi making demonstration by the Matsuri sushi chef. Having trained for over 5 years, our demonstrator certainly knew his tuna from his salmon, and made lovely taste testers for us to sample.
Not being able to eat the normal tempura selection, us gluten-free diners were treated to a mouthwatering array of vegetables faux-tempura'd in a light potato starch batter. Normally as a trouble child harder to cater for food allergy we end up with cardboard copies of the gluten laid good stuff. This time we absolutely lucked in - the selection of vegetables in a wee broth with daikon were stunning - the aubergine alone had Ceri and I raving for a good 20 minutes afterwards.

Then the grill was fired up, and our main meal and chef came out ready for our theatrical delectation.
First up was a succulent piece of Alaskan black cod marinated in ginger. Grilled and lightly steamed on the hot plate in front of us, the flavour was simply stunning. Simple, fleshy but with a crisp overtone from the ginger. Mouthwatering.

Galician beef T-bone steak with green and white asparagus, followed by a garlic butter rice was then cooked in front of us. Good, but overshadowed by the cod, we enjoyed the texture marbled through the beef with a selection of wines hand picked (and presented) and matched especially by their sommelier.

Then, my biggest downfall. Plum wine. Plum wines are normally so rich and indulgent that there is no need for dessert, but make for a delightful punctuation to an indulgently playful meal. The Umenoyado Aragoshi Umeshu served at Matsuri was no exception to this rule, though slightly lighter in texture than many I have had before.

Our final course was their specialty fire-ball ice-cream, flambéed with pancakes and pineapple, and a flame spectacular eliciting gasps from the enthralled audience.

As gluten intolerant diners part of a large group we were treated like royalty by the Matsuri kitchen team. Served first (normally last once the rest of the party has tucked halfway in) every effort was taken to ensure we would have an gluten free meal. Served with a gluten free soy sauce, even our sushi was made specially. (See Fran's post for the low-down on their Gluten-heavy meal).
All the chefs were notified about our intolerances (though we had a slight mishap at dessert - to be honest with a glass of soft plum wine in hand it wasn't needed in any case). The food for the entire table was cooked carefully and sensitively for us.

The décor in the main basement restaurant though luxe is subdued, casting more attention towards the cooking area and method, the experience of the Teppenyaki grill taking precedence. With a relaunched sushi bar, and new head chef it should be rather interesting to see how this St James stalwart will flamboyantly continue to entertain and tickle the taste buds of their clientele.

Having tried teppenyaki before, I enjoyed being able to concentrate more on the flavour and ingredients cooked before us. Our prior experience was a little more down-to-earth in less luxurious surroundings, but still a wonderful experience.

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  1. I got really into Japanese food when I was living in Vancouver and have been on the lookout for good restaurants since coming back to London. This looks incredible! You mentioned city workers and bonuses, which makes me think it would be reeeeally expensive?


  2. Ohhh my, that fireball ice cream looks fantastic and then some.

  3. I ADORE Japanese food and this place looks amazing! I was Chisou in Chiswick recently and that was five star! Karen

  4. Japanese food is so different to what we are used to but really quite delicious. We're lucky enough to have quite a good restaurant in Plymouth that serves some interesting veggie dishes.

  5. rosiellewellyn4 June 2014 at 12:17

    It looks wonderful, and I love that you got to sit right there and watch them do their thing! It's gone on my list of must-visits :)

  6. In my hometown there's a great Teppenyaki restaurant and we used to always eat there for special occasions. It immediately forms a really strong smell-memory bond for me :) x

  7. I have a favourite Japanese restaurant in my area where you can sit at the bar and watch the sushi chefs work their magic. This restaurant sounds great and very tempting. Not been to a Teppenyaki restaurant before so here is one for the must visit list

  8. These photos have my mouth watering! Japanese food is some of my favorite, I seem to be constantly craving sushi :)

  9. I loved this restaurant. A bit pricey but worth it. Great flavours and attention to detail. Lucky girl!

  10. I absolutely love Teppanyaki, the food and the experience! Plum wine is my downfall as well ever since my mom brought some back from Japan, sooooo tasty.

  11. Ah I love this post! Japanese food is my favourite so I am literally drooling right now... :-)

    Gedlab.com – A blog for the modern man

  12. I love sushi and japanese food, think I should try this restaurant

  13. There's something delectable about it, isn't there? Just a beautiful moreish flavour...

  14. Ditto that!! I wandered through the Japan Centre in Piccadilly the other day, and discovered some amazing treats!

  15. We were very lucky to be invited, and looked after so well!

  16. I do, that & Chicken Katsu Curry. Have you tried making your own sushi? It's delicious!

  17. There is something so fun about it, isn't there?

  18. It's such a fun, enthralling experience, the delicious food you are served is almost a surprising bonus.

  19. If you like Japanese food, I highly recommend Fran's blog for recommendations http://sequinsandcherryblossom.com/
    It's definitely for special occasions, but not astronomical.

  20. Not yet, but I think about making it all the time. One of these days I'll do it. I love it too much not too :)


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