Restaurant Review: Murakami, Covent Garden in London
Leading food critic Nicholas Gibbons heads to the upmarket London district of Covent Garden to review Murakami, a minimalist restaurant that is known for serving authentic and high quality Japanese Izakaya style cuisine.
Situated in St. Martin’s Lane, at the heart of the world-famous West End, Murakami is the ideal place for a pre-theatre dinner or a venue to unwind after a hard day’s work or a spot of shopping in central London. The restaurant, which opened its doors in January 2015, has steadily been building a growing reputation for the quality of its contemporary Japanese dishes and extensive range of quality Japanese beers and cocktails. Izakaya, for those of you who are not in the know, is effectively a type of informal Japanese gastropub.
First impressions and atmosphere
The frontage of the restaurant is quite narrow, but widens up past the bar area, and was surprisingly long and very spacious. It lacked any real wow factor but the food smelt divine and I really liked the lively atmosphere. It’s the type of restaurant where you don’t have to whisper or try and be someone that is not you. I enjoyed the upbeat vibe and was made to feel very welcome by the staff. The clientele was extremely varied. Its Covent Garden location means Murakami is ideal for theatre-goers and workers, as well as for dates and family parties.
A statement on the restaurant’s website reads: “Imagine a place where authentic and high quality Japanese Izakaya style cuisine is served in an environment with incredible interior design representing the five elements of Japanese philosophy: Fire, water, earth, wind and metal… You have just imagined Murakami.”
I liked but was not completely blown away with the interiors. That said I tend to put more focus on the quality of the food than the actual setting. A green living wall catches your eye as you walk in, along with very contemporary light fittings and tones of grey and natural wood. It feels very clean, cool and minimalist, and offers a relaxed setting to enjoy some lunch or an evening meal. There is very little natural light, and the use of low lighting ensures an intimate setting.
We started our Japanese culinary journey with a selection of delicious small bites. My highlight here was the Yellowtail Carpaccio with Chilli, Yuzo Soy, Garlic Chips and Chives. The dish was light, fresh and beautifully delicate (with a lovely hint of warmth). The different ingredients worked really well together and I could not find fault.
We also enjoyed a mouth-watering plate of Shrimp Tempura with Spicy Yuzu Mayo and Chilli. The batter was light and crispy and perhaps more importantly felt clean and not too greasy. The spicy mayonnaise had a lovely hint of lime and complemented the fish extremely well. Overall this was a very simple dish that delivered great flavours and textures.
My main course of Wagu Beef with Truffle Butter and Black Truffle Paste was the one I was really looking forward to tucking into and thankfully I was not left disappointed. The beef was cooked perfectly for my liking (very rare) and it simply melted in the mouth. The meat had a butter like texture and was one of the best cuts of Wagu I’ve tasted in a long time. It had a near perfect meat to fat ratio which ensured a fantastic flavour. The Wagu was served with a simple side salad.
My dining partner, Natasha, opted for the Marinated Black Cod on Saikyo Lemongrass Miso, which was served with a mango salad. She said it was cooked to perfection but was “super sweet”. Natasha also found the mango salad a little overpowering but did point out that it helped to balance out the sweetness of the black cod and added a much needed refreshing element to the dish.
Overall I was left very satisfied, feeling as though I had experienced a cuisine, rather than a British imitation of it. The food was vibrant, fresh and innovative, offering something a little different from many of the other Japanese restaurants that have opened their doors in London over the last few years.
As well as serving up superb Japanese cuisine, Murakami offers a quite brilliant cocktail list. They’re packed full of flavour, taste and perhaps more importantly, lots of alcohol. Between us we enjoyed a few too many but it seemed rude not to at least sample a few different variations. My personal favourite on the night was the ‘Murakami Cosmo’ – which consisted of Cremorne colonel fox gin, Cremorne gentleman badger sloe gin, apricot liqueur, fresh raspberries, cranberry bitters, fresh lemon and grenadine. As you can probably guess, it packs a powerful punch and one is certainly all you need to get the evening started.
First class. We were made to feel very welcome and the staff on the night were highly knowledgeable and explained each dish in detail.
In a nutshell
Murakami takes a modern approach to Japanese cooking, serving up delicious and vibrant cuisine in a relaxed setting. I would highly recommend a visit and don’t forget to try a cocktail or two.
Address: 63-66 St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4JS / +4402034176966