Review: Sakura Japanese Restaurant, Oxford Circus
Published 12 August 2009
I like writing reviews about places that I really like, and Sakura is one such place. I have been a loyal customer of the restaurant from around 4 years ago, when I was still a student, and till date it is one of the first places that springs to mind when I need to get a sushi fix while about London.
Sakura is a Japanese restaurant located in the heart of Mayfair; minutes walk from Oxford Circus station and just around the corner from the iconic Apple Store on Regent Street. From the outside it looks like your typical small Japanese restaurant, quaint and homely. However, it is one of the most popular spots for Japanese food in London among the middle classes and students, in addition to the Japanese community. You know the quality is good when a good proportion of diners are native Japanese!
The last time I went, I had the Katsu-Don, which is the traditional Japanese pork cutlet with egg and onions on a bed of rice. My dining partner had a Sukiyaki-Don, the same concept except thin strips of grilled beef with veggie on a bed of rice. Both these main dishes came with a bowl of Miso soup, which was slightly salty, and a small plate of pickled vegetables. We also had the assorted sashimi platter, which came with huge succulent slices of salmon, tuna, and two other fishes that we couldn’t name. Sashimi is the hardest dish to get right at most Japanese restaurants; although it seems easy to prepare as its just slices of raw fish, some restaurants use very low grade quality fish and thus we were delighted that the sashimi here was fresh and extremely tasty. We also ordered two slices of inari, which is sushi rice wrapped in a thin tofu skin.
The portions here are certainly big; we struggled to finish what we had ordered, as the main “don” bowls were very big! Service was very prompt, and it was easy to get our glasses of tap water refilled quickly without much of a wait. The staff do seem a bit impersonal, perhaps a bit too professional. And although I have yet to experience bad service myself at Sakura, I have had friends who have had horror experiences there with rude waiting staff and an inflexible and unfriendly manager. This was a year or two ago though, and so far I have not heard any stories through the grapevine from my circle of friends, who regularly patronize this restaurant.
Price-wise, the above meal came up to £26 between the two of us, without any drinks. Many of the rice and noodle main dishes are only £7-9 each, and a plate of sashimi was £11. On Friday evenings they do a special sushi bento set (for lunch and dinner), which is a relative bargain for £10 considering that you get sushi, sashimi, tempura, side dishes, and miso soup.
Due to its location and its immense popularity with students as well as professionals, there is usually a queue for tables on weekends, as well as weekday nights. I was there on a Tuesday night at 9pm, and we still had to wait around 15 minutes for a table! On weekends, especially Friday night, be prepared to wait for around an hour plus if you do not have a reservation. Also be aware that the restaurant follows a strict rule that groups can only be seated once all the guests have arrived. If you are waiting for a table and your number comes up but your entire group is not there yet, they will make you take a number and join the back of the queue again.
Verdict: Sakura offers one of the best value-for-money Japanese restaurants in London, with very fresh sashimi and sushi, as well as big portions. It is also very centrally located for shopping or an after-work dinner, but be aware of the huge queues in the evenings and weekends that can usually mean a wait of more than an hour for a table. In addition, although rare, there have been dissatisfaction with staff who seem very impersonal and unaccommodating at times. Although these bad experiences are isolated cases, one should not expect the best of service at this place.
Rating: 8 out of 10 stars
Cuisine: Japanese hot dishes as well as sushi, sashimi, and sukiyaki.
Price Range: £26 for two, without drinks
Address: 9 Hanover Street, Mayfair, London W1S 1YF
Nearest Tube Station: Oxford Circus Station (2 minutes walk)
Tel: 0207 629 2961