Places To Eat In London: Murakami, Covent Garden [Now Closed]
At least a couple of years ago now I promised my friends and fellow Japanese food/ green tea ice cream lover Eddie that the first sushi restaurant I was invited to review, I would invite him along as well. So, Saturday lunch time found us both sitting down to cocktails, a veritable feast of sushi and other Japanese delights at Murakami in Covent Garden. Incidentally, it has taken me this long to get over the trauma of testing out different supermarket sushi sets for The Debrief to actually want to eat sushi again for my lunch.
We both really loved the atmosphere at Murakami. The restaurant is warm, relaxed and modern, and even though we were sitting right by the window, it was so easy to forget that there was a cool and rainy Autumn London afternoon on the other side of the glass. While we sat at the front of the restaurant, there is a great cozy dining area at the back, a row of seats in front of the kitchen so you can watch the chefs work, and seats down the middle of the house so that you have a prime view of the raw bar where the sushi chefs are at work.
While we were actually both pretty set with two tall glasses of ice cold mineral water, we both decided that we would be amiss not to sample something from the extremely creative and Japanese inclined cocktail menu. Eddie, who is also a fan of all things Negroni, opted for the ‘Negative Negroni’, a delicious, slightly bitter and slightly unusual blend of Gin, Kamm and Sons, and Akashi Tai Honjozo. While I was not entirely convinced by my ‘Plum Plum Plum’ on the first sip, I quickly fell head over heels for the slightly sweet, very refreshing, and also slightly unusual blend of Akashi Tai Plum Sake, Cherry Bitters, Gin, Lemon and Sugar in my glass.
To kick off proceedings we were brought a bowl of Soft Shell Crab Tempura, served on a bed of Asian dressed salad and with a side of Japanese mayonnaise. Usually I have a love/ hate relationship with tempura – it is horrible if it is too heavy and/ or greasy, but this was deliciously, light, crisp (so much so that it was crumbling if we were too brutal with our chopsticks) and without a hint of excess fat. The meat inside the crab was pretty flavourful too, there was a generous amount of crab in our portion, and while we could not work out what exactly the salad was dressed with, we polished it off pretty quickly!
Unable to decide which sushi roll to go for (the Spicy Mango and classic California rolls were all too tempting), we opted for the Rainbow Roll, which is simply the chefs choice of whatever fish they fancied dishing up that day. Our avocado and crisp cucumber filled rolls came topped with insanely fresh salmon, tuna, yellowtail, and some plump and flavourful prawns. They and really were the perfect bites of sushi, and beautifully presented. I don’t think I’m going to be able to eat supermarket sushi ever again.
Honestly we could have happily eaten anything on the menu (except perhaps the Philadelphia roll – I will never be on board with the concept of smoked salmon and cream cheese in sushi, rather than a bagel), and if you’re in the said same position as us and unable to choose I’d recommend you do what we ended up doing, and choosing one of Murakami’s ‘sets’ instead. They have a separate lunchtime offer of several sets, but we decided to select two off of the main menu. I chose the premium set on the menu (£23, in case you were wondering) which included four salmon and avocado (every piece of avocado we ate was perfectly ripe and creamy, by the way) maki rolls, three mixed pieces of nigiri (prawn, salmon and tuna), hot salmon teriyaki, a bowl of sushi rice and a mountain of edamame, generously sprinkled with sea salt and black sesame seeds.
While I am usually partial to the stickier type of salmon teriyaki (the version that comes in the salmon teriyaki bento box at Tamago in Canterbury is usually my gold standard), the dish of salmon that I found before me was absolutely perfect. Perfectly cooked, flaky fish with a nice, sweet, oily layer of fat under the crisp and glossy skin, glazed and charred in a slightly sweet, savoury teriyaki sauce, topped off with some light, but still fresh and crunchy pickles. This is how fish ought to be cooked.
My various pieces of sushi were just as good as expected after the Rainbow Roll (the rice at Murakami is beautiful, and wonderfully flavoured), and I was pleased to have more of the simply excellent salmon – after scallops, probably my favourite fish to eat raw. I was supposed that I also really enjoyed the edam too, as it is not usually my thing served up like this (I like eating them raw in noodle salads instead).
While I throughly enjoyed everything that was set down in front of me, I will admit to also having a little order envy of Eddie’s Deluxe set (£19): the same edam and rice, served alongside spicy salmon and spicy tuna rolls, miso aubergine, chicken yakitori (this is so simple and delicious to make at home, I’m actually working on perfecting a recipe to share with you all) and a grilled salmon skewer, standing in for chilli beef that they had sold out of. While I only stole a bite of one of his skewers, I think his set really showed off what Murakami has to offer; great sushi and simply mouthwatering bits from the grill.
Once we had eaten our fill of sushi, we asked for the dessert menu. I’m not sure why, though, because to be perfectly honest all we both wanted was a big bowl each of Green Tea Ice Cream. When our two (very generous) scoops arrived in iced stone bowls we were both thinking to ourselves how were were going to manage the ice cream mountain, but it was so good we swiftly polished it off. Some of the best matcha ice cream I’ve had in a good while. There are also a great selection of green, jasmine and other Asian teas on the dessert menu too, if that is your sort of thing after a meal.
Aside from how happy and satisfied we both were after the meal, for me a mark of a restaurant that really, really has me excited is that as soon as I get home I’m editing the pictures of the meal that evening and already starting to write the introduction of a blog post in my head, as I’m so excited to share the experience with you all. Murakami was one of those experiences, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend heading over there for either lunch with friends, somewhere to hold a working lunch, or somewhere to celebrate a special occasion in style.