Editor's note: it appears that Sakura closed in January 2015. The site has been acquired by the owner of Kikunoi in Kyoto.
Sakura (cherry blossom) is a Mayfair restaurant that has been operating since 1975. Like many Japanese restaurants in London it has a very varied menu, from sushi to shabu shabu, tempura to yakitori. In Japan many restaurants specialise in one particular style of cooking, sometimes to extremes – there are restaurants that serve only eel, for example, or only horsemeat. For some reason most London places (with exceptions like Sushi Tetsu) seem to want to spread their bets when it comes to style, which is not necessarily a good thing. If all you make is, say, tempura then you have a chance of getting pretty good at it over the years.
There was a short wine list without any vintages shown, as well as some sake available. False Bay Chenin Blanc was listed at £24.50 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £7, Moko Black Sauvignon Blanc £29 compared to a retail price of £8.
The dining area is spread over two floors, with quite small, closely packed tables. We tried a variety of dishes. Tempura prawn was pleasant enough, with decent batter and acceptable quality prawns (12/20). Grilled mackerel was less good than at, say, Kiraku, cooked a touch longer than I would have liked, though pleasant enough (12/20). This was more than I can say for chicken teriyaki, which had poor quality chicken that was rather chewy in texture (9/20). Sushi of tuna and horse mackerel suffered from rice that was too cold and pretty ordinary fish (11/20).
Sakura has a reputation for brusque service, which is very unusual for Japanese restaurants. Service in Japan itself is almost unfailingly polite and attentive at all price ranges. I found service perfectly acceptable here today, if a little scatty. The bill was £28 a head before service at lunch, with just water to drink. If you shared a bottle of wine or sake then a more realistic bill per head would be perhaps £45 a head or so. This is not particularly costly, but then the food was not particularly good. Despite this the place was very busy at a weekday lunch. Sakura apparently serves as many as 400 customers a day, so they are clearly doing something right. However its evident appeal was lost on me based on this meal.