Taste of Japan

Savor in London, the much talked about and exceptional “WAGYU SANDO”

Japanese restaurants already have classic popularity in London; with a wide range from top class restaurants for fully enjoying authentic Japanese cuisine, to noodle shops for casual enjoyment, the variety is becoming more diverse every year. Japanese words are used there, such as SUSHI, KATSU, UDON, EDAMAME, and there are many foods and ingredients that have become familiar in British life. One of them is WAGYU.

Restaurant “MARU” offers a course decided by the chef strictly using only seasonal ingredients, while “TAKA” provides a menu with rich variety where the customer can enjoy diverse Japanese cuisine to their taste. The chef involved in both restaurants is Mr. Taiji Maruyama. Mr. Maruyama gained much experience in Japan before crossing to Britain in 2006. After working at the leading restaurant that has taken top class Japanese cuisine to the world, “NOBU”, and others, he was appointed executive chef of “TAKA” in September 2020. This spring, he also opened “MARU” after his own name.
“If you are creating Japanese cuisine, it is true that the most important thing is to cook using only ingredients produced in Japan. However, in London, it is difficult to cater using everything produced in Japan. I took the opportunity to combine Japan-produced ingredients with those from Britain, and thought I would create a Japanese cuisine that you cannot eat in Japan”

Chef, Mr. Taiji Maruyama. He works as Executive Chef of restaurants “TAKA” and “MARU”.

Ingredients necessarily produced in Japan are white rice, miso, soy sauce, sake and nori. And also Wagyu beef.
Wagyu beef was apparently already being talked about when Mr. Maruyama came to Britain 15 years ago, but at that time, only Wagyu-variety meat raised in places like Australia was available. 7-8 years ago, at last the ban on Japan-produced Wagyu beef was lifted, and its popularity suddenly rose. At restaurant “TAKA” set up in Marylebone, an affluent area of London, there is much desire for pricy, yet premium quality, Wagyu beef. In response to such customer requests, Mr. Maruyama takes great care to select good-quality Japan-produced Wagyu beef, and features several dishes on the menu that use Wagyu beef.

Some of the Japan-produced ingredients used in the restaurant. In particular, the proviso is to use Japan-produced condiments and rice.

Among the dishes, the treasured Wagyu beef sandwich that adorns the restaurant sign, called “ARIGATO SANDO”, is something that people want to try, and is much talked about.
It uses Sakura Wagyu beef produced in Kagoshima Prefecture. It is procured through a supplier specializing in Wagyu beef. In quality grading, A5 indicates premium quality, and that is known within British gourmet circles, too, with the words “KAGOSHIMA A5 SAKURA WAGYU” appearing beside the Wagyu beef sandwich on “TAKA”’s menu.

“Previously, in fact, we sometimes served up Wagyu steak. However, I took a hint from the boom a while a go in Japan for Wagyu sandwich, and partly because at that time nobody had put it on their menu in London, I took on the challenge”
From the point of view of labor and efficiency in the kitchen, offering it as steak is much simpler and easier. However, that could not be the Japanese cuisine “that cannot be eaten in Japan” that Mr. Maruyama was aspiring to. “ARIGATO SANDO” is the best cut of Wagyu beef, carefully grilled, and set between thickly cut loaf bread made with British flour and spread with miso sauce and English mustard. It is an original and exceptional dish bringing out the deep flavor of Wagyu beef. Realization of a harmony between Japanese and British ingredients, shows Wagyu beef not only best eaten as steak, but also as an ingredient displaying optimum performance under other cooking methods.

Furthermore, “I am also aware of the importance of using all of an ingredient, without creating waste”, explains Mr. Maruyama. The Wagyu beef used in “ARIGATO SANDO” is cut square to fit the shape of the sandwich bread, with the best part in neat form. “I had a go at boiling those off-cuts of meat over 10 hours until they were all soft. They were incredibly delicious mixed in Sukiyaki”. And so, the resulting “WAGYU DRIPPING BOWL” is a dish of Wagyu beef boiled until melting consistency, put in a salty and sweet sauce and poured over rice. Although Japanese people cannot help but remember Sukiyaki on top of rice with a sort of nostalgia, it is apparently held extremely highly in London, too.

“WAGYU DRIPPING BOWL” is the off-cuts from WAGYU SANDO boiled slowly then poured over rice. Dressed in salty and sweet sauce, it is a rare dish.

“Wagyu beef is an ingredient that commands a high price just in this form. I don’t think that other restaurants take the time to use off-cuts, as they emerge, in positive ways in other dishes”. Yet Mr. Maruyama’s policy makes that a necessity. There is a sense of deep affection and respect, too, for the ingredients, as well as for their producers.
“The lure of ingredients produced in Japan, is, more than anything, their good quality. In their background are farmers who put their heart into producing them, with their lives, it is no exaggeration to say. I consider it our role, as chefs, to convey thoughts of those producers to the people who visit the restaurant through the cuisine.

Now, Mr. Maruyama is said to have newly started a project to disseminate a taste of Japan in London that is completely different to what he has worked on to date. The actual details are still secret.
“The popularity of Japanese food in London knows no limits. I predict that in the future there will be a further increase in specialist stores, like Wagyu butchers and sake shops, for example”.
The taste of Japan created by the challenges set by top chefs active overseas can be expected to continue to delight people not just in London, but around the world.

Restaurant “TAKA” in the Marylebone district is recognizable by its sophisticated blue exterior.

Text: Miyuki Sakamoto; Photography: Miki Yamanouchi 

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