Exclusive Japanese ideal for intimate dinners.
Category : Restaurant
| Cuisine : Japanese
Address : 2 Ham Yard, Soho , London, W1D 7DT, UNITED KINGDOM - Directions
Web : www.engawa.uk
Opening Times : Mon-Sat 12pm-2.15pm & 6pm-10pm; Sun 12-2.15pm & 6-9pm
Closest Tube : Piccadilly Circus
In 2012 Larry Olmsted at Forbes broke the story that no Kobe beef had been exported from Japan since 2009, and anything claiming to be so was a fraud. In 2014 he wrote another article on the changing of the laws, allowing small amounts of the meat to enter American and European markets. And in 2015, we‘re beginning to see a trickle of the coveted beef into top London restaurants, including M and Sushisamba. Engawa, opened in the Ham Yard courtyard by the Salt Group - one of Japan‘s foremost restaurant groups - will be the first London dining experience to showcase the incredibly marbled beef in a traditional, kaiseki-style experience.
The restaurant itself is to be found along the southern side of the sophisticated Ham Yard complex. Just a minute‘s walk from Piccadilly Circus, it‘s a welcome enclave from the tourist fracas, which was perhaps why we spied Gerard Butler chatting leisurely over his iPhone, possibly waxing lyrical over this new restaurant. Once entering Engawa, it‘s impossible not to notice its wee dimensions, with only 27 covers on offer. There‘s a striking mobile suspended from the ceiling with hand-stencilled Khanji calligraphy, two levels of seating, a lone bar in the corner, and a sushi counter inset in the back wall. The watchwords here are intimacy and exclusivity.
Menus quickly followed, and required a fair amount of explanation. At dinner, there are three separate menus to choose from, a 10-course (£100), 8-course (£80) and 3-course (£60). The latter is ideal if you‘d like a larger cut of the beef. The former really lets you explore Kobe in its various iterations. Head chef Akira Shimazu is a deft hand in the kitchens, having headed up a number of the Salt Group‘s fine dining and yakitori restaurants, and teases out the nuances of the ingredient like sunlight behind the clouds.
We commenced our meal with a trio of sakes served in ornate flasks. We were instructed to begin with the pure rice Junmai ginjo and work our way through to a fortified daiginjo, which would complement the procession of the courses. Rather than walking you through all of these (of which there were ten) it‘s probably best to cherry pick the highlights. Chawan mushi with kobe beef soup was a truffle lover‘s dream: a steamed egg custard was immersed in a Kobe beef dashi stock infused with shaved truffle. Spooning it out of the narrow pottery proved a bit tasking, but it was well worth the effort. The sashimi is a centrepiece of the meal. An arrangement of raw fish and beef sparkled like gemstones in the dim light - tumescent salmon roe, lustrous squid with caviar and radish, blood red tuna toro and seared wagyu with that that looked like a delta seamed with fat.
The ‘Kobe beef main dish‘ compensated in flavour what it lacked in name. A cut of chuck was seared on a hot stone, then sliced into slivers and served with a ponzu and rock salt dip. Applying a modicum of heat really brought out the luxuriousness of the fat. It forces you to realise that Kobe Beef is that good. It‘s a game changer. A matcha tea fondue hit all the high points and was a refreshing point of departure from the meal. Engawa, due to its small size and unreal offering, is sure to bait some accolades in the near future. Best to investigate early before it blows up.