Engawa's stunning Japanese bento box, plus meet the chef, Akira Shimizu
There are bento boxes, and then there is the Engawa bento box, served as part of its tasting menus. This jewel-like restaurant behind Piccadilly Circus specialises in kobe beef, sourced from the Tajima breed of wagyu, as well as sushi, sashimi and sake. We also meet the chef Akira Shimizu.
Executive head chef Akira Shimizu’s approach to Japanese cuisine is illustrated in the choice of dishes in the bento’s hand-painted pots and bowls. While the presentation is precise, it’s not at the expense of taste - each tiny mouthfulis flavour-packed.
On our visit the top row included chu toro tuna yellow fin sashimi from Spain; scallop sashimi (from Japan) with fried rosemary and micro radish; shiso cress and purple watercress with fresh grated wasabi. The middle row included lean cut kobe sashimi; salmon egg and yuzu slice; kobe tataki (there the beef fillet is seared then plunged into ice water to stop the cooking process) with kumquat & micro white radish; squid sashimi – finely scored and quickly blanched – served with caviar; sea bass sashimi with yuzu zest garnish on bed of purple shiso cress.
There’s an imaginative cocktail list, too – try the Japanese negroni, which adds a measure of sake to the usual gin, vermouth and Campari mix.
Meet the chef: Executive chef Akira Shimizu
At Engawa we specialise in Kobe beef, often described as the caviar of meat, prepared in a variety of traditional Japanese cooking styles. We also serve the freshest sushi and sashimi in our intimate dining room.
The best thing on my menu is Kobe beef cooked teppanyaki style, the highlight of our dinner menu. The meat is just incredibly tender.
In my fridge there’s always Kobe beef, seasonal vegetables, citrus fruits such as Yuzu and Sudachi, freshly caught fish and various seasonal fruits
My most-used cook book, though it’s not a cookbook per se, is Japanese lifestyle magazine ‘Kateigaho’. The magazine has the most beautiful photos – they’re very inspiring.
My favourite 15-minute supper to make at home is chankonabe - hot pot with chicken breast, wings and vegetables. Bring a pan of water to the boil, and add 10 chicken wings, one chopped chicken breast and a couple of slices of ginger. Cook for 5 mins, and add Chinese cabbage, onions, shirataki, shimeji, grilled tofu and mixed vegetables. Cook together until the chicken is cooked through. Serve with ponzu sauce and chopped chives.
A restaurant trend I see sticking around or being the next big thing is authentic ‘Robata’ cuisine. It’s a Japanese cooking style, using a charcoal grill to slow cook skewers of meat, fish and vegetables. Delicious!
My guilty pleasure food is chocolate. With as high a cocoa content as possible.
A fellow chef I admire is sushi chef Mitsuhiro Araki of The Araki, on New Burlington Street. He has a really strong concept behind his cuisine.
Never trust a chef who cannot organise himself and tidy his surroundings. I don’t believe a disorganised chef can cook beautiful and delicious food.
I love eating out at Ishikawa, in Tokyo. They serve delicate, pristine dishes and the interiors are spectacular. Everything from the chopstick rests to the coasters is made out of the finest Hinoki wood.
A place I love is Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo – it has a host of tiny restaurants serving up wonderful fresh produce.
If you gave me a tenner I‘d spend it on Kikkoman soy sauce (£2.49) - everyone needs a bottle of in the store cupboard.
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