Matsuri – St James

When I was a little one, my family and I used to go to the Benihana in Troy Michigan sometimes for Christmas (or was it Thanksgiving?). It was a special treat to see the stone-faced chefs showing off with their ginsu knives. I remember vividly being enthralled when he would chop off shrimp tails, catapult them up with the blade of what was nearly a hatchet and watch as they calmly landed in his chef’s coat pocket.

Matsuri is not that kind of place.

It’s teppanyaki, sure. You still sit around a table with six strangers (mostly tourists or visiting business people, it seems) while a very skilled Japanese chef cooks effortlessly in front of you. But the theatre? The whimsy? Not so much.

That doesn’t mean that they’re not big on service though. From the moment I walked in, I felt very welcome. The maitre’d smiled warmly, called me by name (I’m assuming we were the only reservation at that time), and showed to the bar where the boy had already had a glass of wine and a bowl of complementary wasabi peas and nuts waiting for me. Lovely start.

We were shown down to the restaurant in the basement, a dark sort of place where the geisha-like servers floated across the dining room. The decor was pretty outdated, but it sort of added to the charm.

We decided on the spring tasting menu for £35, plus one maki roll to get a taste of their sushi.

The ‘Hors d’oeuvre’ was a miso soup with flower-shaped daikon, spinach and tofu cubes.  It wasn’t an overpoweringly salty miso, so I like this.

Next we were served eel with grated cucumber, which I was told  – with my hand plugging my nose (cucumber, again) -  was very nice. I didn’t try it.

The salmon and avocado roll took a beautiful picture, but was nothing special:

The next dish was a bit of white fish I couldn’t quite put my finger on, wrapped in a banana leaf with rice, and a piece of prawn sushi.  I liked this alright, but again, it wasn’t anything you couldn’t get elsewhere.  The fish was good quality, but I always think putting a piece of prawn on rice is a bit of a cheap cop-out.

For the mains you had a choice.  I went with the seafood of Salmon, Prawn, Scallop & Squid with an upgraded egg-fried rice for an extra charge. I can’t remember what it was, but it was exorbitant – maybe £4?

The chef came out with some gorgeous looking fish and got to work.  Matsuri’s chefs make it look so easy.  Whiz, bang chop, fry, done. Food in front of you.

Unfortunately though, it didn’t live up to my hopes.  Everything was overcooked. Not to the point of being inedible, but part of me wishes they would have asked a temp on it.  The egg fried rice, however, was excellent.

We also had the Rib-eye Steak, which was far far superior to the seafood (even though it looks a bit sad in the picture)

Served gorgeously rare, the meat melted in your mouth. Juicy, flavourful with a touch of soy – this was very yum.

The dessert that came on the tasting menu – Rhubarb Sorbet – was also fantastic.

And for a £2.50 supplement, the Fireball ices cream.  Ka-pow!

I have to admit, the kid in me did enjoy the theatre in this.  Nothing like a giant fireball rising up in front of you.  The ice cream wasn’t what I was expecting. It was much more normal than I thought it would be, but still, it was good.  Served along some lovely dragon fruit, passion fruit and warm oozing pineapple, I was happy with it.

And then the bill came.

With the tasting menu, maki, two supplement charges, two glasses of wine and two itty bitty carafes of sake, the bill was £144.  Ouch.  It’s not like I didn’t know how much everything cost, and had I added it up in my head before, I don’t think I would have been as shocked… but over £70 a head?!  Let’s just say for that price, we should have seen some prawns landing in shirt pockets.

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