Every so often, an invitation drops into my lap that I can’t refuse. Sampling Yoshihiro Murata’s cuisine was definitely one of those. This famous Japanese chef has 7 Michelin stars between his three Japanese restaurants, with three Michelin stars at Kikunoi Honten in Kyoto. His London restaurant, Tokimeitē is located on stylish Conduit Street, its discreet exterior is no hint of the culinary delights inside. It’s the result of a collaboration with celebrated designer Yasumichi Morita, who also designed Aqua Kyoto nearby and operated by Zen-Noh Group, the business arm of Japan’s largest agricultural cooperative, JA. Spread over 3 floors, it’s inspired by the elements of fire, water and wood and the lighting is superb. I was meeting up with Angie, who is currently in Japan and looking forward to visiting chef Murata’s Kyoto restaurant. We took our seats at the bar where we had a prime view of the action. In front of us, the chefs got busy preparing our 9 course feast.
They welcomed us with a cup of cherry blossom infused sake. I’m somewhat of a lightweight but this was a really palatable drink. Omakase was a new term to me – it means “I’ll leave it up to you” and so the menu was not revealed until the evening itself. I love a good surprise so this was right up my street.
There was a full wine and sake pairing on offer, starting with a refreshing glass of Ruinart Brut Rosé Champagne. With notes of cherry and red fruit, it’s made with a high proportion of chardonnay.
I wouldn’t have thought to match it with Japanese food but it worked perfectly with our first course, morikomi hassun mukouzuke. This included 5 types of perfectly fresh sashimi: salmon, scallop, seabass, tuna and yellowtail. The scallops were a delight, with a firm consistency outside and soft buttery texture on the inside. Tokimeitē means butterflies in your stomach and I was definitely starting to get those!
Chef Yoshihiro Murata is an expert in preparing Kaiseki, a traditional Japanese dinner with multiple courses. Involving some serious knife skills and cooking techniques, it’s considered to be an art form in the manner that it balances flavours and colours. This dish was certainly colourful and a real joy to behold, with the serving dishes enhancing the overall appearance. Sashimi of butterfish and tai (red sea bream), wasabi, chrysanthemum petals, curled udo and carrot. I still cannot tell you what the jelly texture on the butterfish was but it was tart, soft and delightfully delicious.
Our next course was futamano, a traditional clear soup, served in a lidded bowl. It was a light, flavourful dish that reminded me of bone broth.
Next we sampled yakimono, or flamed chargrilled king crab legs cooked in an aubergine sauce. This was a definite highlight, with the green vegetables and lotus root being a perfect accompaniment.
We were then served another interesting palate cleanser, atsukebachi, grilled tofu and vegetables in a savoury sauce.
This paved the way for our next dish, a second yakimono, or flamed grilled seafood. This was a beautifully seared salmon with seasonal asparagus. It may look like a lot of food, but thankfully the plates are a reasonable size and many Japanese practice hara hachi bu. This means that you only eat until you are 80 percent full. It gives many health benefits and assured longevity.
The chefs had another palate cleanser up their sleeves, a strawberry sorbet with a crystallized strawberry on top and the surprising addition of wasabi – it certainly gave it a kick!
One of my favourite dishes was Yoshihiro Murata’s shiizakana signature dish, wagyu beef with cherries that has first been clay-baked in salt. Whilst I did find the beef slightly salty, the meat was incredibly tender and you could definitely taste the notes of cherry. It was also a real pleasure seeing it prepared right in front of us.
Chef Murata came to introduce himself – he’s utterly charming and clearly passionate about what he does. Having trained in France and learnt the techniques of French cuisine, he has since focused on accurately communicating Japanese cuisine to the world. He exudes a Buddha-like beatitude and I think it translates to his cuisine which is traditional yet innovative at the same time.
After all this, we were getting to the 80% full point, but I couldn’t resist our final savoury course, a selection of sushi with assorted nigri and maki. It included the finest wagyu beef, which is unusual as part of a sushi selection but worked really well with the other elements of the dish. There was even a little paint brush to apply the soy sauce to the sushi with precision, giving it the appearance of an artist’s palette.
For dessert, we were given the choice between a matcha panna cotta, or my choice of Yuzu cheesecake on crispy Japanese Monaka wafers with a delicate green tea ice cream…
or Angie’s choice of apple tatin with caramel ice cream. Both dishes hit the right spot, though I think I preferred the latter after becoming addicted to tarte tatin whilst living in France!
We’d come to the end of our gastronomic journey, but I’d definitely return to taste Yoshihiro Murata’s exquisite cuisine at Tokimeitē again – it’s my new favourite Japanese restaurant in London! Have you ever sampled omakase or Japanese food?
Tokimeitē, 23 Conduit Street W1S 2XS
Thanks to Yoshihiro Murata and Tokimeite for the invitation to review