Last Wednesday, Blai and I met in the evening after work under a tree in Ham Yard, the rather swish Soho courtyard that’s home to a few new shops, the Ham Yard Hotel, and Engawa, a Japanese restaurant specialising in Kobe beef (that’s Ham Yard below but it’s a photo taken about a month ago). We were, of course, visiting this last and we were there to sample (at their invitation) their 8 course tasting menu which costs a not insubstantial £100. There are £60 and £80 menus for fewer courses.
The restaurant, it turns out, is part of the Japanese Salt Group, which owns a number of high end restaurants in Japan. This, I believe, is their first venture into London; well, we’d get to see how the food translates over here! It’s only since last year anyway that Europe was allowed to import real Kobe beef from Japan again.
We sat by the counter and had a great view of everything being made in front of us by a number of white jacketed chefs. However, what I didn’t expect was how tiny the entire restaurant was. Apart from the counter seating, there were a few normal tables and then by the window, more counter seating. And things were tight – with the tables full and the counters full too, it was a struggle for the waiters to get through. It’s a shame the place isn’t bigger.
Anyway, we ordered our teas to drink and made our selections from the menu (on the 8 course menu, there are three courses for which you have to choose). Apart from the choices listed on the menu (for certain courses), we were also presented with this box of a couple cuts of beef and were asked to choose for our main course.
After getting our drinks (green tea for me and iced tea for Blai), we watched as two small glass bowls were filled with various bits of beef and dressings before being set into a large block of ice. It then occurred to us that perhaps those were for us! And they were!
This was the first course and the first with a choice (we, of course, shared between us). A Kobe beef yukhoe was a Japanese-style Korean beef tartare – raw Kobe beef had been chopped and served with a bit of jellied stock and a bit of slimy (but in a good way) grated Japanese mountain yam.
The Kobe beef with ponzu sauce was cold cooked slices of Kobe beef with a bit of ponzu jelly on top. These cold dishes were a nice way to get our appetites going.
Choices again for the second course; it was eggs all around this time. A Dashimaki with Kobe beef soup was a beautiful egg roll sitting in a pool of Kobe beef dashi stock and topped with a bit of shaved truffle and a thin slice of kumquat.
Chawan-mushi with Kobe beef soup was steamed egg custard made with that same Kobe beef dashi stock and again topped with a bit of shaved truffle. Silky.
The next course was a fried one, with it changing each day. That day we got a prawn and asparagus Kakiage, a crisp ball of the ingredients bound together with a bit of batter. Lovely but I could have eaten two!
Sashimi next. We were both presented with these beautiful compartmentalised boxes, with each compartment containing another beautiful little porcelain dish. Oh yeah, and the sashimi in those. There was a wide range of fishes represented: tuna, salmon, sea bass, red snapper, scallops, squid, salmon roe, sea urchin. It was beautiful to behold and beautiful to eat. Everything was extremely fresh.
And then again some choice between a few cooked dishes involving Kobe beef. Kobe beef daikon was supremely melting slow-cooked beef and daikon cooked in Kobe beef dashi stock.
Kobe beef sukiyaki was a different cut of beef cooked with onions and the sweet soy broth so characteristic of sukiyaki. While both these dishes were excellent, I just have no idea how the dish would compare with the same cuts but from…y’know…a cow that hasn’t had as good a life. Would the slow cooking tenderise everything?
Choice again! These were the cuts of Kobe beef available for the Kobe beef main dish that had been presented to us at the beginning of the meal. Two are available each day and they change often as they get sent the whole animal and have to break it down themselves. That day’s choice was rump or top round and we got both. The steaks were grilled to their recommendation (medium and medium rare, if I recall correctly), sliced, and served with lemon, salt, wasabi and ponzu (with a chunk of pink Himalayan salt for…saltiness) on the side.
Now this was a great way to appreciate Kobe beef and its tenderness and succulence. This was what I had been expecting! Now, strangely, the one takeaway message I got from this course was that wasabi is excellent with steak (which you would have thought I’d have figured out already what with the amount of Kodoku no Gurume I watch).
Each steak was served on a beautiful kidney-shaped ceramic place that turned out to the be cover of a box and within the box was grilled vegetables: okra, asparagus and green tomato. It was my first time having a grilled green tomato – I liked it!
Sushi was the final savoury course. There was some nigiri (tuna and salmon), a couple of sushi “balls” (scallop and eel) and a vegetable maki roll topped with Kobe beef. Apart from the previous course, this was my second favourite course. The sushi was overall quite excellent; it was some of the best stuff I’ve had in a while.
And we made to course number eight: a Deluxe Engawa fondue. We received a box of fresh fruits, tofu cheesecake filled with sweet red beans, and a small wedge of dorayaki. And the best part was the matcha white chocolate dipping sauce on the side.
In order to get every last bit of that sauce, Blai smashed up the last couple of bites of cheesecake into the green goop; and I followed suit! Genius!
It’s expensive, I grant you. While the food was lovely, I’m not sure I can see myself splurging on the £100 menu… perhaps the £60 or £80 menu is more like it for me. I suppose most of the cost is down to the import of the Kobe beef; gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to try Kobe beef in Kobe though? But still, it was a fun evening.
Thank you to Engawa for the invitation!
2 Ham Yard
London W1D 7LT