New Japanese Izakaya restaurant in Covent Garden
What’s your favourite cuisine? Mine changes. Constantly. So when was I living in New Zealand and was young and (even more) pretentious it had to be old world. Thus French or Italian with a smattering of Spain reigned supreme. In the fusion driven 90s, Thai became my go-to-national dish, which was followed by my mid nineties arrival into London and obsession with all things British. Now, as a MyFitnessPal weight conscious 40-something with exotic pretensions it’s Japanese. Which when both Vietnamese and Korean are the Asian cuisines of choice for foodies; is quite something.
My early impressions of Japanese cuisine weren’t great. While I always enjoyed the food, it was often very expensive and in restaurants completely lacking any sort of atmosphere. So the dining experience became functional. Recently I’ve found that the boom of casual cafes and pop-ups has seen an improvement in ambience and price – although in my current favourite, Okan in Brixton, getting a seat can be a challenge.
Not so at Murakami in Covent Garden which looks like it’s trying to for Japanese food what Canteen did for British. By which I mean provide accessible, good quality food in a buzzing yet proper restaurant setting. Or in their words – ‘aims to give customers a cutting-edge, good-value dining experience showcasing Izakaya (Japanese tapas) cuisine at its best.’
Murakami is a good looking restaurant with tones of grey and dark brown wooden interiors. If you like fluorescent green moss then look no further to the feature wall to the rear of the restaurant. Its real and stops Murakami from being mistaken for an All Bar One. Heaven forbid.
In what is a relatively bold step the waiting team are all blonde and definitely not Japanese. They are charming and attentive. The other diners were a mix of Covent Garden tourists, workers and couples looking for a food sanctuary from the nearby burger and pizza joints.
The menu has recently been reworked to offer something more comprehensive then sushi. So tartars, carpaccios and salads flesh out the starter list, with hot plate, dumplings and a robata Japanese grill propping up the mains section. My Yellowtail Carpaccio with chilli ponzu and garlic chips and chives was delicious, although slightly too acidic. My rainbow roll, which offered up five of the chef’s seafood choices, was delightful to look at, and decent on the palate. The popcorn tempura of shrimp with spicy yuzu mayo was good albeit a little dry. My green tea cheesecake for dessert was flavoursome, well balanced and a real treat.
Murakami occupies a good midway point between the high-brow and popup-cum-cafe Japanese eateries. It isn’t the best Japanese food that I’ve had, but nevertheless it is good. It was also the first restaurant I’ve done for a while that kept me within my daily calorie allocation; the importance of which at this stage of my life, should never be underestimated.
On a scale of * to *****
Wining and dining ***
Schmoozing and boozing ***
Dancing and partying ***