The Araki

12 New Burlington Street, London, W1S 3BF, United Kingdom

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Editor's note: Mr Araki returned to Tokyo in March 2019. The restaurant is now in the hands of his former deputy, Marty Lau. 

When a well-known chef from abroad opens up a place in London it is often an outpost run by a junior chef, living off the reputation of the parent restaurant. This is the case with Ametsa or the late and unlamented Bo London. By contrast, Mitsuhiro Araki, who had three Michelin stars for his sushi bar in Tokyo, has burnt his boats. He has shut his Tokyo establishment and moved to Piccadilly lock stock and barrel. The cypress wood counter in London has just nine seats, with two dinner sittings per evening.  

This is not the only bold step he has taken. There is no a la carte menu, just an omakase menu set at the eye-watering price of £300 per person (not including drinks), making it by a wide margin the costliest in London.  By comparison, the priciest menu at Gordon Ramsay is currently £195. Top quality sushi is expensive, as can be seen by the prices of some other high-end establishments such as Masa in New York and Sushi Shikon in Hong Kong, though in both these cases the fish is imported either mostly or entirely from Japan, which clearly adds to the costs. Mr Araki has decided to try and source his fish locally rather than having it flown in. The tuna is caught off the coasts of Ireland or Spain, for example. The rice, however, comes from a farm in Saitama that is run by his father-in-law.

There was a short wine list – so short that there are more seats at the restaurant than labels of wine. It ranges in price from £50 to £190, with a median price of £110 and a mark-up average of 2.8 times retail price, which is actually not bad at all for central London. The choices, put together by master sommelier Gearoid Devaney, were thoughtful. Example wines were Domaine Foreau Vouvray Sec 2011 at £50 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £19, the excellent Riesling Geisberg Domaine Kientzler 2009 at £75 for a wine with a shop price of £25, and the very enjoyable Domaine Ballot Millot Mersault Perrieres 2010 at £150 for a label that retails at £61.

The meal began with a simple snapper soup with yuzu. The first fish was sashimi of snapper from France wrapped up with Beluga caviar inside. This was actually impressive, the snapper avoiding any hint of chewiness, the caviar top notch (18/20).  The fresh grated wasabi served with this was from Japan. Steamed French abalone was pressure-steamed for an hour and was also very good. Abalone requires a lot of preparing to mitigate its inherent chewiness, and this was up there with all but the very best that I have eaten in Japan (17/20).

Next was tuna tartare mixed up with soy sauce and a generous shaving of white truffle from Alba and a mayonnaise made in front of the diners. This was a lovely dish, the tuna of high quality, the truffle fragrance working well with it (18/20). The tuna was Spanish, from a 180kg fish. A grilled red prawn from Spain felt like a misstep, the prawn pleasant enough but a little dry and not a patch on the quality of the best prawns that can be found in Spain (13/20).

The meal got back on track with chu toro tuna, the fish having a lovely rich degree of fat (18/20). Similarly otoro, aged for 8 days, was beautifully rich (18/20).  After this, salmon was a let down. It is hard to find really top salmon these days, and sadly this was not it (14/20).

Sprat with dried flaked snapper was much better (17/20). Gilt head bream was the only fish tonight imported from Japan, and was excellent (17/20). Squid from Cornwall was boiled and served on the diner’s hand with a little wasabi. This was pleasant but not even close to the quality of squid I have eaten in Japan (15/20).   

Next was marinated tuna sushi, which was genuinely superb (18/20). A clam from Dorset was reasonably tender but again would not compare well with one from Japan (15/20). Better was unagi (eel), which had lovely flavour, served in a delicate nori roll (17/20). The meal concluded in traditional fashion with tomago omelette, but in this case garnished with white truffles.

Service was very good, attentive and courteous. The bill for the evening was £439 a head including wine, which is a chunk of change in anyone’s book. If you drank a few beers then perhaps your bill might be £375 a head, with the 15% service charge that is levied. Even at such an elevated price there appears to be a market for such food in London: all nine seats were taken at the 6 p.m. sitting on this weekday evening. Moreover they were almost entirely fully booked for the following couple of months ahead, so the pricing has not so far been a deterrent.

I think that Mr Arak has done a pretty good job of replicating the experience of a sushi bar in Tokyo, given the constraints of using fish from Europe rather than the stunning produce available in Japan. The quality of the fish at its best was impressive, such as the snapper and the tuna. However the prawn and the salmon showed the limitations of what is available in London, and in such cases I think he would have been better editing such things out and focusing just on the very best fish he can get, supplementing where necessary from Japan.  The use of the caviar and white truffle could be seen as a luxurious distraction to avoid lingering purely on the quality of the fish, which as can be seen was somewhat variable. At such an elevated price expectations are inevitably high, and so when the meal dips into the merely ordinary it is disappointing, even though the best elements of the meal were genuinely classy. As to whether this price point is sustainable once the initial novelty has worn off, only time will tell.



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  • TS

    Visited the Araki two weeks ago. My first time and expectations were high after hearing all about it and reading the reviews online. I would agree that the wine list was good and carefully chosen, and the produce fresh inspite of the limitations of it being in London. However, I was severely let down by what could have been a better meal... (1) Three courses were a variation of the Spanish toro - of which one was 'drowned' in a heap of shaved truffle. I think where one lacks imagination, one compensates with expensive ingredients that reminds me of a restaurant in Saigon that attempted to introduce 100g foie gras pieces to the newly initiated - too much of a good thing is not necessarily the best! (2) For GBP300/head there was no sea urchin (uni) nor was there any special sashimi/sushi as one would get in season in a Tokyo restaurant. It was pretty run of the mill stuff - just better cuts and produce than say a mid-tier Japanese restaurant. Finally - the dessert was a tamago! Yes - sushi usually ends with a nice sweet tamago - but its never the dessert for the night especially when one pays that kind of money. Where was his creation of dessert or some hard to obtained fresh fruit? Finally, to top it off I found Mr Araki's demeanour to his guests somewhat condescending and arrogant. Firstly, I might have offended him by eating the sushi first with my fingers as his assistant was attempting to teach the other guests at the counter how to pick up a piece of sushi with her fingers. But then again - Mr Araki should be prepared for guest s that are experienced in sushi dining and have some knowledge of the cuisine. Then, after that kerfuffle with him and his assistant, I found that the wasabi in my sushi was slightly more than usual - that it was really pungent! And I can take pungent. Hmmm... I wonder why?? I told him politely to decrease the wasabi, and he politely admonished me by speaking to me through his other assistant by explaining the use of wasabi in his sushi. I have eaten in many, many sushi establishments from a no reservations 6-seat counter operated by an old couple in Hokkaido to what some have considered the very best in Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, L.A. and New York, I am not sure what he did to get his 2-stars in London but if he were to pull the same stunt in Tokyo or Asia - he wouldn't survive a month especially with that attitude. I have only eaten there that one time, and I don't think I will ever be going back. I have to say his sake selection is decent and his burgundy went well with the meal. To the people, reading this - caveat emptor!

  • R.H.

    Very interested to read your views, I know opinions are mixed. Taste is subjective, but on my 1-10 scale The Araki is the basis for a 10. There are inevitably better restaurants out there, but having visited most of the UK's 2/3 starred establishments in the last 12 months (The Araki a total of six times), in my eyes it is currently the best in London. I wholeheartedly agree that it is no small chunk of change by any means, but on the basis that food is a passion and one of life's pleasures, the memory of good meal should last longer than that of a bargain. I love the quality and provenance of the ingredients combined with skilled execution. Every meal has been memorable and every meal has been different - never faultless but always excellent. That said, tomago has never been particularly to my taste. Maybe it's just me, but I love the unashamedness of not catering for dietary requirements and the removal of all choice when it comes to the food.

  • david

    hmmm... think you were a little generous, i found it ok at best though the tuna tartare is awesome! at a quarter of the price it might have appeared better but i don't think it compared well with anything in tokyo. glad you liked it though