A tiny slice of Tokyo in London
If there is one thing that the Japanese like to do, it is to over-engineer things. The epitome of this has to be the Japanese loo: The Araki has one of the finest examples I have come across outside of Japan. Not only does it warm your cheeks, but it squirts little cleaning jets, both front and back. Why? Who knows. It is fun, and I would have stayed for hours, playing with the vast array of buttons, but for the fact that we were at the first sitting and they wanted us out.
The reason for mentioning this, other than that I find the whole Japanese obsession with loos quite fun, is that the restaurant and food served are the exact opposite. The room, a long, pale wooden counter that serves as place mat and plate in front of a long, pale wooden work-surface, interrupted only by a stainless steel sink at either end, is effortlessly simple. The fridges are out of sight, the beautiful serving bowls hide behind pale wooden doors; no door handles, a simple push to open.
The food too is simple: a clear fish broth with a few strands of yuzu; simply grilled abalone with an egg wash; tuna tartare; and sushi. Lots of sushi: four types of tuna, from the darkest maguro to the softest, most melting oo-toro; marinated salmon; turbot. Each one atop the most perfect of sushi rice. OK, so maybe "simple" is an understatement: any dish that, between the eight of us sat at the counter, uses a white truffle the size of my fist, is hardly "simple", but each dish is but a few, utterly fresh, utterly perfect ingredients working in total harmony.
There is no choice (although, should you not like an ingredient, you will instantly be offered an alternative), but then everything is being cut, cooked and assembled in front of you by the master himself, with the aid of but a single acolyte.
Much has been made of the price, but with only two sittings per evening of a maximum of nine covers (of which only eight were taken when we were there), mountains of white truffle, caviar, oo-toro and one member of staff per person, it is going to be expensive. Which begs the question: is it worth it?
Well it is certainly cheaper than flying to Japan, which is the nearest that you will get to anything of this quality. And that is the point; there are many "Japanese" restaurants in London. Some are good, some are bad, some are modern, some traditional. This is like no other restaurant in London: it isn't so much a Japanese restaurant, but Japan transported to London, with one of the greatest living proponents of the sushi master's art donning the apron.
If you can spare the £300 a head (without drinks or a 15% service charge), I would advise grabbing a seat now whilst it is (almost) possible to get one. Come September when the Michelin stars come out, Araki will get at least a couple of the three he had in Tokyo (if not all three), and the star chasers will arrive, chasing away the Japanese who we were lucky enough to share the counter with.