Pete and I recently celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary, and booked dinner at Engawa restaurant to celebrate. Located in Soho (and attached to the Ham Yard hotel), Engawa specialises in wagyu (Japanese beef), specifically in Kobe wagyu. It also has a sushi counter, and guests can choose between regular tables or stools at the counter to watch the chefs.
Because they import the whole cow, Engawa are able to use all cuts of the animal, thereby offering a range of wagyu dishes, some of which are very reasonable. I was also attracted by pictures of their hakozen bento boxes filled with beautifully presented morsels.
We took the £65 per person omakase menu which includes an appetiser, an 11-piece hakozen bento of sashimi and vegetables, and a main course of either wagyu with salad, soup and rice or a 9-piece sushi selection with soup. There is also an £85 per person version which adds an additional special of the day, and dessert. In both cases, you can upgrade from the standard wagyu to a more premium Kobe cut for an additional £45, which we declined.
Before the appetiser, we were served an additional amuse of noodles in a cold broth, slippery and delicate, and a refreshing flavour to kick-start the palate.
The appetiser, presented in a double bowl with a beautiful (but somewhat akward) wooden spoon, was a pile of toro sashimi with asparagus, dashi soy jelly, wasabi and a kimchi dressing. Toro means a fatty cut from tuna, more often specified as chutoro (medium fatty) or otoro (most fatty). The jelly and dressing were fresh and brightly flavoured, contrasting well with the slippery pieces of raw tuna. Delicious!
The hakozen bento was a thing of beauty! Set down with a lid which the server then removed, inside the 15 compartments were six items of fish, five ‘vegetables’ and 4 condiments. Atop these contents were plump salted edamame (fresh soy beans) in their pods.
The sashimi items included toro, akami (lean tuna), yellowtail, salmon, seabass and bonito. Each piece of fish was superbly fresh and beautifully garnished.
Vegetables were a salad of onion, wakame (seaweed) and mizuna (Japanese mustard greens) with ume shisho dressing; bok choi in a dashi sauce; sweetcorn and edamame kakiage (fritters, served hot from the fryer); and a dish of braised aubergine, beans, butternut squash and asparagus, agedashi-style.
Lastly, a beautiful slice of dashimaki – also known as tamagoyaki, egg is beaten with dashi stock and then cooked and formed into a rectangular roll before being sliced.
Condiments included mayonnaise, fresh wasabi, a rich soy sauce and a fourth dressing that eludes my memory.
Neither the soup nor the salad did much for me but the grilled Ragashima wagyu was wonderful – the evenly distributed fat made it succulent and melting, and the flavour was superb. The vegetables served with the beef were so-so – I liked the purple potato crisps but the parsnip and pepper didn’t appeal. But it was all about the beef for me and I was also blown away by the gyudon (beef rice bowl), which I guess is made from off-cuts of wagyu; its rich flavour was spot on, and this classic comfort food dish transported us straight back to Japan.
To drink I ordered sencha tea (£4), which was attentively refilled throughout the meal, making it very good value. Pete had a glass of junmai-grade sake, the Kikuisami 36 Samurai (£9.50) which was light, aromatic and full of fruit on the palate.
Service was attentive and smiling, as expected. The only thing I would change would be the speed of the meal, as courses were served in very quick succession, such that the meal was done in little over an hour – we’d rather have a little gap between each course to relax and enjoy the experience, and make the most of the celebratory meal. The super speedy approach is very Japanese, but not very London, and the restaurant was almost empty, so no pressure on tables.