Omakases not cutting it today? How about extra-spicy Thai joint Speedboat Bar in Soho?
Or if you just want the hits, check out guide to the best restaurants in London.
What's the deal?
Organising dinner at MARU is like pursuing an out-of-your-league love interest. First you spend three months courting them to even get a date. Then you have to decode their enigmatic signals (in this case, an unmarked door down an alley in Shepherd’s Market). And if you dare be late for your rendezvous, you won’t be allowed any dinner. Luckily, the thrill of the chase isn’t more exciting than the experience itself. Far from it.
Once you’ve secured your spot at one of the two nightly sittings of just eight people each (5:30pm and 8:30pm), you’ll be treated to a 21-course omakase – chef’s choice, basically – tasting menu that combines classical Japanese flavours and techniques with a farm-to-table ethos that focuses on sourcing ingredients from the British Isles. We taste crab from Cornwall, scallops from Orkney, and cabbage from Lincolnshire, for example.
Almost everything at MARU is the brainchild of third-generation sushi chef Taji Maruyama. And his experience working in Tokyo’s three-Michelin starred Ginza Koju is evident in the creativity and precision he applies to every facet. As well as devising the menus, sourcing and cooking the food, he also inputs on the decor, designs the flower arrangements, and hand-makes the crockery. He even plops his made-before-your-very-eyes sushi pieces directly into the palm of each guest’s hand. “Place it on your tongue fish-side-down,” he directs us all, to ensure we get the best flavour and freshness.
At the end of the night, guests are presented with a list of the dishes they’ve eaten and the wines or sakes they’ve drunk as a memento of their visit. Our wooden chopsticks, handcrafted in Japan, are wrapped up and given to us too. We’re also sent home with the 21st course that we’re told will make a perfect lunch, meaning this wasn't just a one-night tryst.
What should I eat?
Given that MARU is an omakase restaurant, you don’t need to order anything. The only choice you’re given is whether you want wine or sake pairings. Your menu’s then left to the whims of chef Maruyama, who changes the dishes every day depending on the best ingredients available. Much of the menu is seafood- and fish-based, and, ever uncompromising in his vision, the chef doesn't cater to dietary restrictions.
Our visit kicks off with a clam-based soup served for sipping in a gilded cup – warm and clear, with a palate-cleansing hit of saline. Its purpose, apparently, is to prepare our stomachs for the rest of the meal, like a good gastrointestinal stretch.
In the twenty courses that followed, the nine-day dry-aged tuna temaki was the most transcendent. There's something gratifying about watching chef Maruyama make it in front of you, gently pressing handfuls of brown rice and unctuous fish into sheets of seaweed and passing them across the counter. The outer layer of nori gives the dish some crunchy, textural intrigue before you get to the main event: a pillow-soft tuna centre that melts like butter on the tongue.
Why should I go?
For an impressive Japanese feast made right in front of you by a master chef. And for the free fancy chopsticks.