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Maru Makes its Mark in London’s Mayfair

Restaurant of the Week: The exclusive eatery is helmed by third generation sushi chef Taiji Maruyama.

By Irenie Forshaw

It’s 8.28pm and we’re starting to feel slightly flustered. “Let’s retrace our steps,” says my friend, striding with purpose back in the direction we came from. Mayfair’s Shepherd Market is filled with after-work drinkers, spilling out of the pubs onto the narrow side streets, glasses of wine in hand.

We’re looking for Maru – the exclusive restaurant run by third generation sushi chef, Taiji Maruyama. With just two sittings of eight diners each evening from Tuesday to Saturday, getting a table here is tricky. Even if you do manage to bag yourself a seat, the eatery has strict rules: turn up late and the doors will be locked.

Thankfully, a shopkeeper takes pity on us, pointing to an unassuming dark blue door we had walked past moments before. Inside, we’re ushered to our seats where we sit side by side at a simple wooden table that runs the full length of the tiny dining room.

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Maru front door
The entrance to the restaurant in Shepherd Market / ©Maru

All eyes are on Maruyama – the young Japanese chef with a ponytail who stands behind the counter, warmly greeting his diners as he prepares for the evening ahead. There’s a hushed stillness in the room and a sense that we’re about to experience something extraordinary.

Maru took over the space of Taka last summer. Now, Taka has a much bigger restaurant in Marylebone, but the team decided to keep the Shepherd Market site and launch a brand-new concept focused on a 21-course omakase tasting menu.

As you would expect, Maru is much more expensive than its sister restaurant – the fixed menu costs £210 per person before sake pairings – but with this heftier price tag comes a completely different dining experience.

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Drawing on the Japanese spirit of omotenashi, which roughly translates as ‘wholeheartedly looking after your guest’, Maruyama and his team of chefs prepare and serve each of the 21 courses from behind the counter, taking the time to talk diners through each ingredient and how best to enjoy every dish. A word of warning here: you might want to consider skipping lunch.

Chef

chef maruyama
Maruyama has the type of CV most chefs can only dream of / ©Maru

Hailing from Fukushima, Maruyama has the type of resume most chefs can only dream of. He cut his teeth at the two-Michelin-star Ginza Kojyu restaurant in Tokyo helmed by Toro Okuda, before taking over the coveted executive chef position at Nobu London.

But it was during his time as head chef at the Beaverbrook hotel in Surrey that he met his future business partners, brother-and-sister duo Andrey and Anastasia Datsenko. Together, they went on to set up Taka at the Shepherd Market site in London’s Mayfair, with Maruyama overseeing the menu as executive chef.

It was here that he made a name for himself with his inventive Japanese dishes that showcased British ingredients. Such was Taka’s success, that by 2020 the team had opened a new outpost on Marylebone High Street. Later that year they decided to replace the original Taka with a new high-end dining concept – Maru – with Maruyama brought over to choose every last detail from the menu and interior design, right down to the crockery and flowers.

Menu

Maru salmon dish
The 21-course tasting menu is based on the Japanese tradition of omakase / ©Maru

Maru takes its name from chef Maruyama’s family name which roughly translates as ‘circle’ in a nod to the ever-changing nature of the food. The 21-course tasting menu is based on the Japanese tradition of omakase meaning ‘I’ll leave it up to the chef’. In other words, you eat what you’re given.

You’re certainly in safe hands with Maruyama. The talented chef tweaks the menu on a daily basis to showcase the very best hyper-seasonal produce which is locally sourced wherever possible.  

This is farm-to-table cooking at its finest. From the moment we arrive, it’s clear that Maruyama has the utmost respect for his ingredients. The menu is bursting with British produce; there’s wasabi root grown in Dorset, cuttlefish and squid from Cornwall, and scallops from the Orkney Islands.

As you would expect seafood is very much the star of the show at Maru. Many of the dishes feature fish that has been carefully dry-aged for several days to enhance its flavor and texture.

Maru dessert
The food is served with a touch of theatre / ©Maru

The food is served with a touch of theatre; Maruyama assembles each piece of sushi by hand, stirring the rice in a traditional wooden tub and toasting sheets of nori over an open flame before adding wasabi and slices of fresh fish. “Eat it in one bite,” he instructs, as he passes each diner a delicious morsel.

Throughout the evening we taste everything from dry aged tuna and hay-smoked trout to Ikejime wild seabass in a rich mushroom broth, grilled langoustine, and buttery cabbage topped with lashings of black truffle and parmesan.

Just when it seems like we couldn’t eat another thing, dessert appears: a bitesize chestnut and chocolate nemesis, followed by creamy milk ice cream with baked sweet potato. The meal is perfectly paired with your choice of wines or sakes expertly chosen by the sommelier, Vitalijus, and you’re given a canvas tote bag with a pair of chopsticks and even breakfast for tomorrow on your way out.

Interiors

Maru interior
At the far end of the counter sits a gleaming dry-aging fridge containing a giant slab of tuna / ©Maru

The restaurant itself has been thoughtfully designed to let the food take center stage. At the far end of the wooden counter sits a gleaming dry-aging fridge containing a giant slab of tuna.

Beyond the simple Japanese prints adorning the walls and timber-clad ceiling decorated with white fabric details, there are few distractions. The blinds are drawn and the door is closed letting you forget almost entirely about the outside world. Tonight, you are only at Maru.

marulondon.com

[See also: The 12 Best Fine Dining Restaurants in London]

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