Junsei (“genuine”) opened in June 2021 on the site of a former Indian restaurant called Romna, not far from Marble Arch. It is the first solo venture for Aman Lakhiani, who was born in Jakarta and has travelled widely, including spending time at the Tsukiji Sushi Academy in Tokyo. He has previously cooked at a European restaurant called Locavore in Bali and also at the one Michelin star pan-Asian restaurant Dos Palillos in Barcelona. Junsei seats about three dozen diners, with a few bar seats as well as the tables in the dining room. A £60 omakase surprise menu was available, or you could order a la carte, as we did.
The wine list had 23 labels and ranged in price from £30 to £230, with a median price of £52 and an average markup to retail price of a fair (by London standards) 3 times markup. Sample references were Stormy Cape Chenin Blanc 2020 at £32 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £7, Saumaize-Michelin Pouilly Fuissé 2018 at £50 compared to its retail price of £28, and Chablis Forets Louis Michel 2018 at £74 for a wine that will set you back £38 in the high street. For those with the means there was Meursault Patriarche Pere et Fils 2014 at £210 compared to its retail price of £55, and Nuits St Georges Patriarche Pere et Fils 2014 at £230 for a wine whose current market value is £80. There was also Asahi beer at £7 a bottle and a sake selection, including the excellent Tamagawa Red Label, Kyoto Heirloom Yamahai Genshu at £72 compared to its retail price of £30.
The chicken used was an organic, slow-reared Suffolk chicken, the skewers grilled over binchotan-style charcoal briquettes. Mixed pickled included pickled cucumber, daikon carrot and mooli and for me were not pickled enough; a bigger kick of vinegar would have been beneficial. The sequence of skewers began with chicken thigh dipped in tare sauce, a dipping sauce made from sake, soy, mirin and sugar. This was very good, the chicken tender and having nicely taken on the taste of the tare sauce (14/20). This was better than grilled mushrooms, which were pleasant enough but not particularly exciting (13/20). I preferred skewer of chicken breast wrapped in shiso leaves. Breast is not the flavourful part of a chicken, so the shiso leaf and some quite bold seasoning were just what was needed to lift it (15/20). Also good was tenderloin with a wasabi paste made from wasabi stems. Again the seasoning was well judged, and the gentle bite of the wasabi enhanced the flavour of the meat (14/20). Chicken wing had plenty of flavour and was quite boldly salted (14/20).
At this point we tried a couple of rice dishes. Chicken rice hamachi had raw amberjack on a bowl of cold sushi rice, a style of sushi called chirzshizushi. The rice was flavoured with wasabi and nori, though a bit more wasabi in particular would have improved things for me, the rather mild flavour of the amberjack needing a bit more boldness in the seasoning (13/20). We also had “dirty rice” with egg yolk, the rice warm and mixed with minced chicken innards, which gave plenty of flavour and definitely enlivened the dish (14/20).
Okra was interesting, being a tricky vegetable to cook properly as it can turn slimy if you as much as look at it harshly. Here it was tender and still had crunch, quite aggressively salted but none the worse for that (14/20). Chicken oyster skewer was tender and well-seasoned (14/20) and grilled quail egg was simple but pleasant (13/20). I particularly liked the final skewer, a chicken meatball made with assorted elements of the chicken, including chicken cartilage to give a bit of crunch, along with spring onions, chicken skin and tare sauce. The result was deeply flavoured and delicious, a sort of tasty chicken sausage (15/20).
Service was friendly and the bill, with beer to drink, came to £95 a head with service. We ordered a lot of food, and if you were more careful then a more typical cost per head might be around £65 or so. Junsei was thoroughly enjoyable, the chef engaging and the quality of the chicken skewers high. This was a place that I would happily return to.