Nestled away in the boutique Ham Yard Village, with fairy-light studded trees surrounding it, Engawa feels a million miles away from the garish tourist trap that is Piccadilly Circus. Despite being a stone’s throw from Ripley’s ‘Believe It or Not!’, Engawa is the picture of Japanese tranquillity and minimalism. Specializing in Kobe beef, Engawa serves modern Japanese cuisine of the highest quality alongside expertly paired sake in a beautiful, intimate setting.
Having never tried Kobe beef (I mean, it’s not exactly on the average person’s shopping list), I was very excited to sample some of the finest meat in the world. The extremely knowledgeable and friendly staff were only too happy to guide me through the extensive menu which offers three, five and eight course tasting menus, so there’s an option to suit every appetite (and budget!). The waiter obviously had me sussed straight away as he recommended the whopping eight course menu alongside a selection of sakes which accompanied each section of the meal. We also tried two cocktails, the subtly flavoured ‘Lemongrass Stinger’ and the delicious Matcha whiskey sours, which was a real winner in my eyes; sour, punchy and vividly green, it was practically a health drink.
Loosening my belt buckle, we braced ourselves as we settled in for the first of our eight courses, which was a Kobe beef appetizer cooked in a variety of ways, all of which were delicious. I had the Kobe beef yukhoe which was a type of tartare marinated in a savoury dashi stock while my chopstick-wielding accomplice went for the Kobe with ponzu jelly which was citrusy and fresh and had an interesting array of textures. Both dishes were served on blocks of carved ice with a garnish of deep-fried herbs which really added to the wow-factor. The second appetizers were egg-based dishes including an egg custard topped with shaved truffle which sounds bizarre but really was very good, with an incredibly velvety texture, quite unlike anything I’ve ever tried before. These dishes were then followed up with a tempura dish, created fresh daily using seasonal ingredients which included asparagus and prawn on our visit. The tempura was light, well seasoned and crisp and kind of like a giant savoury lollipop, something I am definitely on board with.
With our appetites well and truly whetted, it was on to one of the main events, the sashimi course. Presented in a stunning bento box, there are 7 different types of sashimi to try including raw squid, which really wasn’t my cup of tea, and yellowtail, which was sublime. We even got to try sea urchin which was a completely new experience, and it felt good to play my part in ensuring that there’s one less of those prickly bastards lurking in the sea, waiting to ruin people’s day. You’re welcome, folks.
Having polished off our sashimi, it was back to beef, this time with a choice of Kobe beef three ways. The Kobe beef daikon dish was melt in the mouth tender with a nice crunch from the daikon, but the sukiyaki dish really stole the show with thin slices of beef in the most delicious sweet and salty soy dressing. The sauce was so good that even after we’d finished all the beef, we had a cheeky slurp straight out of the bowl when no one was looking. Honestly, I could drink a pint of it, it’s that good. Having sheepishly surrendered our licked-clean bowls, it was on to the main event, the grilled Kobe with vegetables. This. Was. Sublime. The beef was unlike anything I’d ever tasted before, and my dining companion even went non-verbal for a bit, just emitting faint groans of joy every so often. Perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked, the beef was amazingly tender with the rich fat marbling giving it the most incredibly intense flavour. It was a sad moment when we reached our last morsel and we even cheersed our chopsticks to the best beef of our lives.
Our remorse at having finished the steak subsided however when we were brought a beautiful array of sushi, all individually pre-seasoned and expertly crafted. The delicate and fresh tuna sushi was my personal favourite while the fried eel was a hit with my friend. By this point, we were getting pretty full but somehow found room for the epic ‘Deluxe Engawa fondue’ which included a tofu cheesecake, a teeny tiny slice of fluffy cake and seasonal fruits alongside an unctuous dipping sauce which was described as akin to a ‘Matcha Milkybar’. Nestlé, you heard it here first, now hop to it.
Everything that Engawa does, they do it to utter perfection with the highest attention to detail possible. Every course was served on the most beautiful, individually sourced crockery imaginable, which was so nice that you’ll wish you brought a bigger bag. Even the coffee arrived in handcrafted unique earthenware, which was a lovely finishing touch. The open plan style of the kitchen allows you to watch the masterful chefs at work, as they lovingly craft your meal, working quietly and seamlessly, in weirdly impeccable chefs-whites. The staff are a testament to the level of professionalism that Engawa offers as they are courteous and attentive, and we were never once left to fill our own glasses, and every question was intelligently answered. If my waxing lyrical about Engawa hasn’t convinced you to try it out, then I urge you, go along, bring a friend (preferably a rich one, just saying) and prepare to be amazed.
2 Ham Yard,