There are 131 three Michelin starred restaurants in the world meaning a restaurant has to be absolutely extraordinary to achieve such status. I have personally visited 16 three Michelin starred restaurants internationally (one is now closed) and each and every one has created a lasting impression. It was only recently that the UK welcomed another three star restaurant to the fold which already included Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck, The Waterside Inn, Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea. The Araki is the first Japanese restaurant in the UK to achieve three star status and as such I was determined to get a booking – with my birthday being the perfect occasion. Now, not only is the Araki one of the best restaurants in the country but it is also the most expensive.
Reservations can only be made by phone and you must pay a deposit of £300 per person at the time of booking. This doesn’t cover service or drinks and these extras must be covered after the meal. We asked for confirmation via email (especially having just shelled out £600), but that isn’t an option. If you cancel less than 24 hours in advance you lose your deposit. If you’re half an hour late you lose your deposit. Also for those asking, I didn’t have to go on a waiting list or make 45346344 calls, we got a reservation for the day we wanted as soon as we called.
And honestly – I can see why. The sushi counter has only nine seats and the food is prepared directly in front of you by chef-patron Mitsuhiro Araki and his assistants. That’s basically almost a private audience with a three-Michelin starred chef.
Having already established himself as a three star chef in Tokyo at his restaurant also called Araki. The chef made the decision to close his restaurant in 2013 choosing London as his new base in 2014. Establishing itself quickly, the restaurant was awarded a coveted two stars in the 2016 Michelin Guide, before being awarded three in the 2018 guide.
The restaurant itself looks exactly like the traditional sushi restaurants that we visited in Japan – read my post on Sushidokoro-Kurosugi to see what I mean. The counter is made from 200-year-old cypress wood that gifted to Araki by Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto and a curtain separates the counter and the guests from the kitchen. Food-wise it’s traditional edomae sushi with an omakase menu selected by the chef – the focus is solely on seafood both raw and cooked so if this is problem for you, you are respectfully asked not to book as no adjustments can be made the set menu. Though in reality the genial Mr Araki did double check for dietary requirements and allergies.
In terms of wines, you won’t see anything under £100 so honestly it made sense to order a bottle of Vintage Dom Perignon as it wasn’t that much more expensive than the other wines. Plus we were celebrating! Beer and sake is available too.
We watched with wrapt attention as Chef Araki and his team skillfuly sliced the fish with the absolute utmost precision. Realistically it can take up to ten years to train as an expert sushi chef, otherwise known as an itamae, but it can even take up to twenty. You only have to watch for a few minutes to see that they’re true craftsman. It’s all presented in the ‘Sado’ tradition of the tea ceremony.
There’s around eleven courses served at The Araki, all using the finest ingredients and served on beautiful china dishes, directly on the counter or even put into your hand with instructions on how to eat it.
To ensure freshness, many of the ingredients are sourced from Europe but Araki returns to Japan on a regular basis. His rice comes from the Saitama prefecture and is grown by his wife’s father, while the squid is sourced Cornwall, salmon is Scottish, tuna from Ireland and truffle is from Alba. The ingredients may not be from Japan but the preparation is totally and utterly authentic, just as I’d seen last year – you won’t see any California rolls or westernised sushi here.
There’s no written menu and the whole experience left me a little shell shocked plus so I can’t describe all the dishes perfectly but some appetisers and soup preceded the sushi courses with plenty of lavish additions in the shape of caviar and truffle.
I watched in admiration as the sushi was prepared and placed on the counter slightly warm and we were instructed to pick it up with two fingers and place the fish directly on our tongues.
The tuna was utterly melt in the mouth with such perfect marbling and a light brushing of soy. This is how really good sushi is supposed to be – the cheap stuff is often rice heavy but here we watched as Mr Araki moulded the perfect rice block with his hands.
Last time I had abalone was at Ukai-tei in Tokyo, here it’s pressure steamed for an hour to stop it being chewy.
And topped with Beluga caviar.
Again we watched in awe as the perfect sushi rolls were constructed, each course look deceptively simple but some took around 15 minutes to prepare.
Finally when the omakase menu came to an end we were asked if we were still hungry and quite honestly there was a resounding yes! Mr Araki’s assistants went about assembling some hand rolls for us to enjoy before dessert.
As in traditional Japanese restaurants, desserts is a light palate cleanser, a simple mouthful beautifully presented.
Now I’m sure what you’re wondering is, was it worth a nearly £1000 price tag? Now of course, I’d only recommend The Araki to absolute die-hard sushi fans but for an almost private audience with three-Michelin starred world class chef with faultless precision and skill coupled with the standard of the ingredients served for me it was worth every penny.
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12 New Burlington St