Nick finds this classy Japanese in St James is an absolute treat, but not cheap

I don’t claim to be an expert on high end Japanese cuisine, I shamefully often get sashimi and sushi confused, but I do know quality.

Given its ritzy (sic) location, it’s no surprise that Ginza St James is up at the top of the Japanese dining scene on price alone. Nothing in St James is ever cheap, but Ginza is not a showy place, at least not from the outside. In fact you might even walk past its small entrance by mistake and turn instead into the more blingy doors of Quaglinos.

Because T and I are both talking, and not concentrating, we do just that. Put right by Quag’s  large and impassive security, we soon find the right door but still aren’t entirely sure. Are we there yet? 

This is because the door leads to a smart area but it’s one that’s rather small, surely this is not the restaurant proper? No it’s not, we’re led downstairs to the main restaurant which is very large indeed, spreading out under the neighbouring buildings for quite some distance.

Here there are private rooms and a cocktail bar, as well as robata, teppanyaki and sushi stations. Twenty five years ago, which was roughly the last time I deliberately went into Quags, this place was called Matsuri.

Today refurbished at great cost and called Ginza, it’s one of an international group, with outlets in New York, Paris, Shanghai, and Tokyo. The name GInza apparently comes from an upmarket shopping district in the latter.

Seated in a very luxurious space, off to the side are impressive floor to ceiling wine and sake cabinets, we agree to have the tasting menu as the best option, neither of us being entirely confident enough to order a la carte. A sake pairing menu is available, but we stick to wine matches.

The menu is a ‘journey through Japan’s regions’ and begins with theatre, a miniature pirate’s sea chest – an amatebako “jewel box” – that opens to reveal a sea of small treasures including tuna sashimi with seaweed sauce, salmon tataki with ponzu, mackerel with pickled red onion, tenderstem with truffle miso and  chicken karaage. They are one bite wonders that are all very delicious, apart from one that has too much hoisin sauce under its keel.

The precision is otherwise that of a Swiss watch; not just in the way the ingredients are artfully combined together, but in the attention that’s paid to the appearance. I turn each piece with chopsticks, admiring it from all angles before popping it in.

The yellowtail carpaccio next is superb.  Drizzled with a little soy yuzu sauce, it needs nothing more. So buttery that I really hate to say that it  ‘melts in the mouth’, but on this occasion there really is no other way of putting it.

Arabagani is Alaskan king crab tempura, the best crab of all in my opinion, although the monsters in Dr Who are more attractive looking. It’s the legs that are the delicious bit, and here the tempura is delicate enough to not drown the meat. One of my tempura seems to be empty though, the crab must have scuttled off. An empty leg on the plate is however both deliberate and decorative.

So far, so very fine dining. We’ve enjoyed the food, and the wine pairings have been thoughtful, effective and quite generous, all too often on tasting menus I find the paired wines barely wet the glass.

Chilean sea bass, roasted in a magnolia leaf, has a pleasant aroma from the plant, which gives it an intriguing semi-bitterness too. This dish, perhaps designed to be a change from the more usual Black Cod, is a semi-success with me but a complete success with T.

We both love the Wagyu steak though, how could you not? Even Lynda McCartney might have enjoyed it. These pieces of perfect meat and buttery fat have been barely singed by the grill, but it’s enough to provide the texture contrast, as well as the flavour hit. 

Six pieces each to dunk in the dipping sauce doesn’t sound much, but it is actually just enough. You can have too much of a good thing, less can indeed be more.

That said, we are still a bit hungry, but Ginza has thought of that because the last course is a Nigiri and Maki selection – the maki being salmon and avocado while the nigiri are tuna, yellowtail and salmon.

These little delights are probably the Japanese food everyone knows best and are available now almost everywhere, even in CostCutters. Needless to say these are well above average and we happily dunk them in the dressings. Now we do feel full.

Dessert I failed to take proper note of, perhaps the wine pairings were a bit too generous after all. I did like it though, which I know is not terribly helpful to you. On the other hand desserts are seasonal, so you are unlikely to have the same dessert as us anyway.

Would you like GInza? Yes I think that you definitely would. Although your bank balance may feel a bit bruised afterwards, you will have had an unique experience.

Ginza St James
15 Bury Street 
St. James’s 
London SW1Y 6AL

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