It’s no secret I love Asian food, especially Japanese. I’m also not against indulging in a bit of opulence at times despite a lack of ‘occasion’. So when my friends with similar such tastes suggested an evening of feasting on the world’s “caviar of meat” and the most beautifully presented delicate & delicious sashimi I’ve ever experienced, my answer was an obvious and instant yes.
Having gotten suitably excited for what we were confident would be a very special meal, we made the short walk across the fairy-light lit square and entered the tiny restaurant.
And when I say tiny, I mean tiny, with only 29 covers and a fairly serious food-focused atmosphere, don’t go expecting a party vibe, but do go expecting an incredible culinary journey that will delight all of your senses.
Engawa specialises in the precious commodity of Kobe beef and stunning selections of raw fish. Kobe cows are reared under exceptionally strict conditions; they come from pure and ancient Tajima-gyu lineage, are born and raised in Hyogo Prefecture, and fed only grains and grasses from the prefecture to ensure the all-important specific fat marbling ratio. Only around 3,000 such cattle are raised each year, of which only around 10% are exported, with all of the meat readily traceable online. Hence Kobe beef has acquired itself the status as the “caviar of meat”, and is not to be confused with the more common Wagyu beef, which simply means Japanese cattle. Urban legend would even have us believe that the few happy Kobe cows alive in this world are played music, given massages and drink beer, although the Japan Meat Grading Association has yet to confirm this.
With Kobe beef banned from import until last May and only a small handful of Japanese restaurants in London offering the most expensive and sought-after beef in the world, Engawa is certainly a specialty restaurant, particularly since it is the ONLY restaurant in the UK to import the entire Kobe cow, which means it can offer a wide range of cuts including sirloin, rump, fillet, rib-eye and oyster blade steaks.
We started with sake, ‘Fukuju, Junmai Ginjo / Kobe’ (£89.00). Balanced, light and delicious.
Closely followed and accompanied by wine, ‘Sauvignon Blanc First Sighting Strandveld, Elim, South Africa, 2013’ (£36.00).
For dinner, you choose between three tasting menus; an 8-course tasting menu (£100), a 5-course tasting menu (£80) or a 3-course tasting menu (£60). We took the middle ground, which left us fully satisfied and very happy.
First things first, we were asked whether we would like the lean (right) or fatty (left) cut of Kobe beef for our main-course.
The girls opting for lean and William choosing the fatty. Spoiler: Both were mind-blowing but I would recommend the fatty more highly.
Then our appetiser of Kobe beef tataki with fresh vegetables served with grilled seaweed and truffle in white onion dressing arrived. It was spectacularly served atop a giant block of ice, with the meat drier than expected with a sort of biltong texture and deeply meaty in taste, which I know might sound odd, but is the only way that I can think to describe it.
The assorted sashimi selection was exceptionally presented in a compartmentalised 9-section Hinoki box, with each type of fish served in its own unique stunning ceramic bowl alongside carefully chosen complementing garnish. Each tiny dish was a miniature masterpiece and a feast for both the eyes & the tummy.
The fish featured squid, scallop, sea bass, prawn, tuna and salmon, and more, though the selection changes on a daily basis.
The sweet prawn and scallop were probably my favourite, though every slice was melt-in-the-mouth eye-rollingly delicious.
Then it was time for the ‘main event’, though, to be honest, I was in a place of food ecstasy after the sashimi course and couldn’t possibly imagine things getting better. Yet, somehow they still did.
The rare Kobe beef arrived sizzling atop a hot stone accompanied by Asian vegetables, salt and an orange segment. A sauce monster through-and-through, I can honestly tell you that this was the first time in my life that I didn’t wish to drown my meat in some thick delicious fluid. The Kobe beef was immensely juicy & tender, and a total standalone triumph. I was also really impressed with the portion size considering the same cut at M Restaurant will set you back £1 per gram (YIKES).
Next up was the sushi course. Again, an impressively generous assortment of beautifully presented raw fish & rice delights.
The rice was the perfect consistency & temperature and melded with the butter-soft fresh fish like nothing I’ve ever tasted in London before. In my opinion, the quality was on par with that which Michael & I enjoyed at Sushi Nakazawa in New York, which is run by head chef Daisuke Nakazawa, the apprentice of Jiro Ono – supposedly the best sushi chef in the whole world. In short, it was exquisite.
Then came the sad realisation that our luxurious fish & meat courses had come to an end, and it was time for dessert. As one with an insatiable sweet tooth, to be sad when it’s time for dessert is truly saying something.
We lifted the lids to our beautiful, patterned ceramic crockery to discover our homemade Japanese sweets with seasonal fruits and green tea-infused white chocolate dipping sauce.
Our ‘treats’ involved a Japanese-style cheesecake and the best damn mochi I’ve ever tasted, which I can only recall as a blur of spongey, creamy, icy, fruity joy. Stress on the creamy though. The strange-sounding dipping sauce didn’t initially have me jumping for joy, but I can attest to the fact that dessert ended with all three of us singing its praises and greedily scraping up any last remnants of the magical green liquid.
Our meal was absolutely faultless.
The service was professional and incredibly efficient, with plates cleared and the next course served like clockwork. Although such a small restaurant and slightly quieter atmosphere wouldn’t usually be my preference, it works with the intensely-focused kitchen and enables you to fully appreciate the food journey that you are taken on.
The quality, freshness, flavours and textures of all of the ingredients is absolutely second to none and, together with the love & care that so apparently goes into the preparation & presentation of every course, makes for an immensely luxurious meal and unforgettable dining experience.
£80 for such a treat is daylight robbery.
Go, go, go.
Oh, and then cross the courtyard to Ham Yard Bar for further food-intoxicated chat and bubbles as the perfect end to the perfect evening.