Editor's note: this restaurant closed in August 2015
Takashi Takagi has uprooted from his small sushi bar in Euston and moved to Bayswater, returning to his kaiseki roots. He trained in Kyoto in a kaiseki restaurant (now closed) before moving to London and working at Umu. His wife Hitomi does the service, and together they run this little five table restaurant in a Bayswater backstreet. Kaiseki is all that is offered, but you can have either an eight course (£65) or full twelve-course version (£105).
There is a sake pairing available, or you can choose from a short wine list with offerings such as Apello Malborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 at £24.50 for a wine that you can find in a shop for £9, Domaine Jean Deydier Chateauneuf du Pape 2010 at £52.60 for a wine that will set you back about £20 to buy, and Bollinger Rose champagne at £93.20 for a wine that retails at £53.
Kaiseki is the most elaborate form of Japanese cooking, and its home is Kyoto. It consists of several small dishes designed to reflect seasonal ingredients prepared in a variety of styles. There is no set length to a kaiseki meal; originally it was just a few snacks to accompany the tea ceremony, but these days has evolved into a more elaborate sequence of dishes. The most famous kaiseki restaurant is Kitcho, though for me Mizai was at least as good.
The meal began with potato stems with sesame vinegar, the su-zakana (vinegared appetiser) stage of a kaiseki banquet. The vinegar was well balanced with the potato, though there is a limit to how exciting potato stems are ever going to be (13/20). Yuba (tofu skin) was filled with Japanese bracken, and was pleasant though the bracken did not have a lot of flavour (13/20). Better were lobster balls served with pickles, the lobster flavour coming through nicely and going well with the pickles (15/20). A soup had within it lady fish, aubergine, Japanese broad beans and watershield, an aquatic plant known more for the colour of its leaves than much in the way of distinctive flavour. The broad beans were the most interesting element for me, having unusually good flavour (14/20).
Sashimi comprised lobster, sea urchin (from Canada), eel roll, chu toro tuna, kingfish (from New Zealand) and razor clam, the glass dish decorated with Japanese flowers. This was prettily presented, but although the lobster and tuna were fine and the kingfish was good, I was not overly impressed with the sea urchin, though the razor clam had no chewiness (14/20). Halibut with lotus root tasted merely pleasant to me (13/20). Better was duck breast with oyster mushrooms and peas, a hint of mustard lifting the dish (15/20).
Sushi of toro tuna, turbot and horse mackerel was fine, the horse mackerel lacking the flavour of those I have eaten in Japan, but certainly pleasant (14/20). Two further sushi elements followed: Japanese scallop was very good, with lots of inherent sweetness (16/20), whilst spot prawn was also good (15/20). I was less convinced by sushi of Australian wagyu. I just don’t think that the wagyu raised outside Japan has remotely the flavour of Japanese beef; certainly this one did nothing to change my opinion (13/20). The final savoury course was red bean miso soup with lobster, which was rich and enjoyable (14/20). There was no rice course, which differs from traditional kaiseki. The meal concluded with yuzu sorbet, which was very nicely made (14/20).
The bill, with plentiful beer, came to £152 a head including service. Service was friendly and efficient. There is much to like about Shiori, and certainly considerable thought has gone into the design of the dishes and even to the plates on which they are served. The trouble is that Japanese kaiseki cuisine is at its heart a celebration of ultra-seasonal high quality ingredients, and this is very difficult to replicate in London. I do think that it is possible to find somewhat better ingredients even here though, as can be seen at the excellent Sushi Tetsu, so the sense I had here was of a lot of money for the level of food that was delivered, very enjoyable though it was. It is certainly easier to get to than Kyoto though, and I hope it does well: London needs more good Japanese restaurants.