Modish, sleek Murakami makes authentic Japanese food irresistibly approachable. The spacious location in the West End is super handy; it’s open every day of the week; the straightforward food fresh and flavourful; the multi-national servers attentive. What’s not to like?
Why? Catching up with Helen, a friend I met in Japan and with whom I have enjoyed many a Japanese meal & chinwag *wink*.
When? 8.30pm on a Thursday evening in May.
First Impressions: The frontage of the restaurant is deceptively narrow, but widens up past the bar area, and is really surprisingly long and spacious.
Ambience: Following a recent refit, the contemporary interior looks swankily welcoming and was absolutely buzzing by 9pm.
The furniture is comfortable and stylish. A back wall, at first glance, appears to be covered in densely-packed broccoli. Up close, it reveals itself to be moss. Our server assured us it was real. Certainly a thoughtful addition to the décor with an appealing texture, and glowing greenly.
Clientele: Very varied. The location just near Leicester Square means Murakami is ideal for theatre-goers and workers, as well as for dates and birthday parties.
Description of food and drink: We started with cocktails, from the curiously entitled ‘Winter Murakami Menu’ (it being spring). I certainly won’t hold it against them, as I’d be happy to have another ‘Japanese Style for Expresso Martini’ (w/ green tea syrup) in any season. Helen ordered a Murakami Cosmo. Top tip: the cocktails aren’t so strong – but neither are they so expensive, so go ahead and have two!
The Murakami menu is easy-to-like. It isn’t challenging, rather, even those new to Japanese food will find lots of appealing options from the sushi rolls, robata grill and interesting accompaniments.
For starters, we went for a ‘Tuna Tartare’ (£9.50) with fresh avocado salsa and a fried wonton, and a ‘New Style Sashimi’ (£7.90) consisting of salmon seared in hot oil with yuzu soy and mixed cress (see photo above). The Tuna Tartare was elegantly presented in lucious layers but, disappointingly, I felt the dish was too cold to appreciate the flavour of the fish. It should have been left at room temperature before serving. Of course, seared dishes neatly circumnavigate temperature issues and we found the seared salmon simply succulent. ‘Yuzu soy’ is, erm, ponzu and is a traditional Japanese citrus sauce which I love, and appears to still be all the rage in London.
The Murakami roll (seen at the top of review) was plumply stuffed with salmon and tuna sashimi, and although not cheap at £12.50 for 6 pieces, it was filling. Our gracious server recommended we try the pressed seared sushi, which is something of a house speciality too. The ‘Salmon Oshi Sushi’ (£8.50) sounded intriguing – and is one of Murakami’s most modern dishes – verging on fusion. Consisting of a flame-seared pressed roll with Murakami sauce, salmon, red pepper and jalapeno (see above), I could see what she meant when she said some guests think the flavour is a little bit like pizza! I’ve never had anything like it, and I would definitely recommend it.
Although we were really groaning at the seams by now, we felt it rude not to order some items from the popular robata Japanese-style grill. I always love a nasu dengaku, and we teamed the classic aubergine and miso dish with ‘Spicy Maguro’ – tuna in a spicy teriyaki sauce. The nsau dengaku came topped with friendly, waving katsubushi flakes and sliced chillis: although unconventional, not unwelcome. The spicy teriyaki tuna was intensely flavoured and would have been better alongside a bowl of plain rice to mop up the rich sauce – but we were too stuffed for rice!
Finally, there’s always room for ice cream, right? We ordered mochi – at one time, a dessert rare to find in London, but now fairly ubiquitous. It’s no surprise that these little balls of deeply flavourful ice cream covered in pounded sticky rice have become so fashionable – they are unctuous, delectable little explosions of yum.
Service: The international servers were very friendly and approachable.
Toilets: Brand new and feeling fairly luxurious.
Prices: Sushi rolls range from £7.50 – £14 for 6-8 pieces, and the robata grill from £6.90 to £25 (that’s for 100 grams of wagyu beef). £100 for 2 people, including cocktails from £8 would be about right.
Come again? No doubt. Murakami is a satisfying choice for those who enjoy something a bit trendy, without the tiresome hipsters or sky-high prices.
Murakami http://murakami.london/ 63-66 St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4JS Tel +4402034176966