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Sixteen seats and twenty courses: Taku takes London’s omakase obsession to the next level

Omakase means 'I'll leave it up to you' — a heavenly surrender in the hands of Chef Patron Takuya Watanabe at Mayfair's Taku

Taku is a brilliant restaurant behind a locked door. You might think that’s a metaphor for eating out in Mayfair at the tail-end of 2022, but I’m pretty sure it’s just to keep out the drafts. Or the latecomers. I was nearly one of these. Taku has two evening seating, one at 5.30pm and one at 8.30pm, and if you’re more than five minutes late the train sets off without you, so to speak (the single room, long and thin and clad in bright woods, does actually put one in mind of a heavenly dining car), and the door is locked upon you and the curtain drawn and you can’t get in, and you’re left panting on the platform, the promise of toro souring in your mouth, as the final chords from the Jiro Dreams of Sushi soundtrack ring out in your ears and you’re forced to get a late reservation at Hide or somewhere, god forbid.

At 5.29pm I was floundering about on Albermarle Street myself, batteryless and perspiring, unable to locate Taku’s low-key front door, squinting in at the bad office foyer art and dodging the young hedgies and their pre-Christmas Guinnesses. Outside Isabel the Spaniards simply shrugged in their OpenWalks and offered me a Watermelon-Lime Elf Bar, and I didn’t dare ask at the Art’s Club in case someone mistook me for a member. Finally, in the doorway at Brown’s, shivering against the cold like Dickens walk-ons, two doormen worked out what I was panting about and pointed me, in gloves as thick as a Premiership goalkeeper, towards Taku. “What’s Taku?”, one said to the other as I jogged away. “Fancy Japanese place. Some sort of restaurant.”

Well, yes, I mean, quite. Taku is fancy — but only in the way that the Queen was fancy, I suppose. It isn’t pretentious or grand or flashy or needy. It is stately and calm and sure of itself and its position in the scheme of things. (You aren’t late for an appointment with the monarch, either.) And it is, as the Brown’s doorman rightly pointed out, some sort of restaurant. It is not every sort of restaurant. There’s no menu to choose from, of course, because Taku is in the omakase tradition, which means “I’ll leave it up to you” in translation — a swift and happy rebuttal to the hoary old “the customer is always right” trope, because the customer is obviously not always right, and because what sort of customer wants to be right all the time, anyway? It is far more fun, once or twice a year, to be astounded, swept up, intensely hushed and vaguely overawed, as we were at various points during Taku’s standard 20-course tasting menu.

They take your name, lock the door behind you, peel off your coat, show you quietly to the high teak stool along the slender bar, and then the slow, metronomic theatre of the evening unfolds in front of you, as Chef Patron Takuya Watanabe (formerly of Jin — the first sushi omakase in Paris to receive a Michelin star) and Leong, his Head Chef, place all manner of little jewelled delights in front of you.

The front of house staff, in good blazers and with magnums of chilled sake, explain that you must pick up and eat the individual pieces of sushi within ten seconds once they are placed on your plate, as any longer than this the pliant, pearlescent rice, shaped elegantly but decisively by the palms of the chef, will start to harden up. I probably gave each piece 1.5 seconds max before reaching out shakily, like golem towards the Ring, my eyes wide and glowing in disbelief and rapture — though the woman next to us insisted on taking twenty photos of every single plate and seemed happy to let the sushi linger for some 30 seconds if it meant the perfect shot, which, as a satire on modern dining, might be almost too-on-the-nose.

Each dish was announced solemnly and clearly just before it was placed millimetrically onto the plate. There was very little kitchen noise or brouhaha, and the chatter from the other six diners was hushed and intimate and excitable — best behaviour stuff — as if in the calm before a wedding service where you actually like the couple. I remember the order of play as you might remember the order of the planets: sea bass, yellow tail, salmon, tuna, scallop, toro. It was spellbinding. Each little parcel, glistening and pearlescent, was really exquisite — truly great mouthfuls that I have thought about often in the weeks since. Especially that toro, that fatty fatty tuna. It is, to resort to cliche, melt-in-the-mouth and spiritual in its simplicity. You find yourself shutting your eyes in disbelief more often than you’d hope. At the end, as we left and the doors were unlocked, I shook the hands of Leong and thanked him, and I meant it. I wondered afterwards if that was a breach of the quiet, considered protocol and atmosphere of the place — to reach across the counter and heartily clap hands. But not to, with mouthfuls like this, would have been far worse.

Read next: It’s time to bring back the power lunch (and where to eat when we do)

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