In recent years, there has been a steady stream of Japanese restaurateurs braving the convoluted world of the London restaurant scene. Engawa has a fine pedigree coming from the Salt Group who already own a host of restaurants in Tokyo and Osaka. I would not be surprised at all if all their chefs have come from Japan.
The restaurant is intimate in size with seating for 29. Given space is limited, they do make fine use of their open kitchen as a centrepiece part of the restaurant. The beautiful resin artwork above the open kitchen adds an elegant touch to the surroundings, as well as their oriental lighting design using hand-stencilled Kanji writing. My minor complaint would be the seating was very tight between the dining tables and the bar seats.
The highlight at Engawa is Kobe beef. You might be confused by the difference between Wagyu and Kobe beef. Essentially Kobe is the most exclusive Wagyu beef in the world and has to come exclusively from Hyōgo Prefecture, of which Kobe is the capital. Wagyu is intensely marbled with softer fat and lower cholesterol than standard beef. Kobe beef is an even more premium version of this. With only about 3,000 cattles obtaining Kobe certification each year and a very small percentage getting exported, it is unsurprising only very few restaurants offer this rare delight in London.
An inexpensive way to sample the dishes would be their Hakozen lunch time bento box at £40. With 14 pieces and a look that is almost as beautiful as a Japanese cherry blossom tree, it tends to be one of the most popular menu ordered during lunchtime.
The dishes are changed seasonally, so you won’t find it on their website, but they will always have some form of sashimi, cooked Kobe beef, other meat dishes, seasonal vegetables, yam cake, rice and miso soup.
The small piece of Kobe beef I tried was buttery and as marbled as the Parthenon. Although it was rather like eating canapés, you are momentarily entertained but it leaves you wanting more. However, other restaurants charge typically £1 per gram, so you wouldn’t expect to try much in a £40 bento box as part of 13 other dishes.
With the sheer variety, you wouldn’t expect everything to work. The salmon roe lacked a little crunch, some of the pickled vegetables are odd bedfellows with the Kobe beef. However, overall you would struggle to find a more rounded, nuanced and carefully prepared bento box in London.
Their sake tasting set is an ideal pairing option for the Hakozen box set, with the Sakura Masamune the perfect accompaniment for their Kobe beef. Even their non-alcoholic options like the Yuzu Fizz will add a sparkle to your meal.
You might have to save up before treating yourself to a meal at Engawa, but it is one experience not to be missed.