While St James’s Market gains more and more accolades, a new addition to Shepherd Market is a little more humble
Smart Japanese restaurant Taka has an unsightly neighbour or two, and is so dark inside that on a winter evening you might well miss it entirely. Having managed to locate the door, stepping in is like entering a corridor that is neither very long nor very wide. To the right, tables are laid in two rows, with some cafeteria bar-style seats for lone diners at the back. Straight in front of the doorway, a staircase leads down only to toilets and the bar (a compact set-up where it is surprising that the bartender has space to create drinks such as a Charcoal Fizz, a jet black concoction involving peach juice). Everything is in dark wood, with burnished gold accents for good measure.
After a prolonged wait, the welcome is warm and immediately accompanied by the offer of a glass of sake. I opt for Tedorigawa Iki na Onna (meaning lady luck), which was bottled to celebrate female sake shopkeepers. The portion is both a generous and tasty start to a chilly evening. A small lidded pot of miso soup with fresh tofu, spring onion and seaweed, alongside a dish of steamed edamame beans with sea salt are an ideal pairing for a starter.
But sushi is what Taka serves best. Hamachi and unagi nigiri each come with generous slices of the white fish and eel; wagyu gunkan is a bizarre yet enjoyable combination of beef, sushi and seaweed textures that would otherwise never be put together.
There are also two special rolls that are presented with flair and go well in combination with some simple, smaller tuna or salmon maki versions. The eponymous Taka is served with thin slices of avocado draped over the top and grilled white fish inside, while soft shell crab rolls pack in the works: tobiko (flying fish roe), an unagi glaze, spicy mayo, and some surprisingly crunchy mustard greens.
Large dishes, like miso-marinated black cod or Chilean seabass arrive carefully wrapped in houba leaves (Japanese magnolia, which resembles something between a chargrilled banana and oak leaf). However these dishes are less polished, and elsewhere on the exhaustive menu are tempura, robata and kushiyaki barbeque sticks. The bottom line: three skewered bites of grilled salmon with teriyaki sauce and cress make for more mouth-watering fare than a larger chunk of seasoned fish.
For dessert, a selection of small mochi rice cakes filled with various ice creams. I regret trying the green tea flavour, but the coconut and vanilla – and even the adventurous yuzu – make up for my misstep. Like the restaurant itself, the groundwork is in place but there’s room for improvement yet.