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Restaurants & Bars 2

MJU in London

magnolia | Nov 2, 2001 05:42 AM

I made a reservation at Mju, a newish Pacific Rim "fusion" restaurant (for lack of a better description) -the Head Chef/owner(?) Tetsuya Wakuda is Japanese via Sydney, a big star in Australia( but there are many French influences too) - on behalf of a fellow Chowhound who is coming to London.

In the course of my conversation with the gentleman who took the reservation, I quizzed him about the meal scenario: it's a fixed tasting menu and also prix fixe, and I wanted to make sure there was enough flexibility for the Chowhound, who is adventurous but has some restrictions...and ultimately I asked about the wine list, which is heavily French & Australian (in a good way) but I was curious as to why there was no Saké; as I have a new-found interest. He said there are some very special Sakés but they don't promote them heavily yet be3cause most of the diners aren't familiar and prefer wine. To make a long story short, he ended up inviting me to a Saké tasting, and I ultimatley ended up making a reservation at Mju because my curiosity was piqued - I ate there last night. Because I'd met the gentleman at the Saké tasting, my friend and I were definitely fêted - with several items on the house. That's my full disclosure before I give this place a rave - I have to say that I saw similarly attentive service and care given to other diners (I was paying close attention because I am embarrassed to stand out.)

Anyone who is pretty adventurous and doesn't mind the idea of a fixed menu that has raw items - fish, shelffish, meat, etc - is in for a huge treat. I won't give away the specifics unless someone insists, because I think the element of surprise is part of the fun - and the menu changes anyway. But I can describe obliquely what you can expect.

Basically, it's a tasting menu with with a series of French-Japanese-esque (the cuisine really defies categorisation) dishes. They are small but there are enough - and flavourful enough - to fill you up. They are served beautifully, and get progressively more 'complicated'. For example the first dish had two-three ingredients; the second, maybe four - and so on. I don't know if this is deliberate or not.

At the beginning of the meal, they will ask you if you have any allergies or dietary requirements and will
'substitute' based on your preferences. They are very accommodating, keen to please, service was excellent...The wine list seems to be split between
French and antipodean (NZ and Aus), with over 10 interesting choices by the glass in the £4-6 range, and many, many bottles under £30. I guess they are able to accomplish this by having recent vintages. They also have some wallet-busters for those who are so inclined. As I was particularly interested in Sake, they served up a really special example (gratis) called "Manju" which was indeed like a fine
wine. But I believe you have to ask for Sake.

Rather than getting a bottle, my friend and I just put ourselves in the hands of the sommelier who picked out a glass for every dish or two, and it ended up being a great way to do it...we had about six glasses
*each*! and spent no more than if we'd ordered a splash-out bottle, which have yielded what, four or five glasses total. We got to try things that, had we bought a bottle, would have cost more than the meal.

After the meal, we sat at the bar and talked to the chef Chris Behre: his boss Tetsuya Wakuda...is there part-time (other time in Sydney, and leaves things in Chris's hands. We talked about everything from the Yankees to Jamie Oliver to the World Trade Center to where else he has worked. He is personable and interesting, a bit shy but clearly dedicated. I can't imagine him ever having a hissy fit in the kitchen and it is clear to me that he and his staff are treated well by their boss, too. They seem genuinely happy to be there and interested in the food they are serving.

We were shocked to see that we had been there for well over three hours - time flew. We were pleasantly full but not stuffed. The meal - which is £50 prix fixe at dinner, which includes dessert, coffee/tea, petit fours, and service (£25 at lunch, which has fewer courses)came to £180 with 10 glasses of wine.

I hope they do well - London diners and critics (this Board's company by and large excluded) are relatively conservative. If this place opened in NYC, it would be the Next Big Thing. But it is not for everyone. You really need to be fairly adventurous and not have issues with raw fish, odd textures and flavour pairings.

I have had some spectacularly bad meals for nearly the same amount of money so while it's still a splash out, it was so worth it.

Run, don't walk.

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