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30 November 2006

Masa London?

Rumour has it that Masa Takayama, chef patron of Masa in New York is scoping out sites in London. Masa is regarded as one of the best sushi restaurants in New York and is renowned for the exceptional quality of its fish. It is also one of the most expensive sushi restaurants around, charging in the region of $400 per person, plus drinks and service.

I have not eaten there but supposedly Masa should be compared with Kuruma Zushi and Urasawa. These restaurants get away with extortionate bills because the fish is exceptional. Customers understand that if they want the highest quality, they are going to have pay through the nose for it. Even Sushi Yasuda, which is closer to $150 per head for its omakase, is much more expensive than what we in the UK regard as our very best sushi restaurants.

The most well regarded British sushi places tend to be relatively low key, suburban restaurants like Sushi Say or Cafe Japan. Nobu and Zuma are exceptions, because they are expensive, but they trade on their celebrity status as much as their food. As far as I am aware, there are no examples of the 10-seat sushi bar, overseen by a sushi-master, obsessive about the quality of his fish.

Since eating at Yasuda, Kuruma and Urasawa, I have been sorely disappointed by sushi in London. The quality and therefore flavour, of the fish is incomparable this side of the pond. If he does open in London, one of the hurdles Chef Takayama will have is sourcing his fish. I assume he will have to fly it in from Japan, as he does with some of his fish in New York.

Before we get too excited about the prospect of Masa London, we need to remember that this is only a rumour. Masa might have just been here on holiday - we do get a lot of American and Japanese tourists you know. Additionally, he has made very clear that he frowns on the idea of chefs with multiple restaurants, let alone chefs with multiple restaurants on multiple continents. He shut Ginza Sushi-ko in Los Angeles, before opening in New York, because he felt it was impossible to run both to his self-imposed high standards. In Michael Ruhlman's latest book The Reach of a Chef, Masa is crystal clear that the success of the restaurant is predicated on him and his interaction with the food. So, for example, if Masa is unwell, the restaurant is closed.

This therefore begs the question whether he really would contemplate opening in the UK. It seems unlikely, it also seems unlikely he would repeat his previous trick of shutting his existing restaurant to re-open thousands of miles away. More likely is that he was on holiday or he was acting as consultant to someone looking to open up a Masa-a-like. If it was the former I hope he enjoyed himself, if it was the latter, it would be very good news. It would raise the game of UK sushi restaurants, unfortunately it would also raise prices.

Hat-tip: Snack


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