Lebanese-born Japanese restaurant Mayha opened in London in January on Chiltern Street, the same road as celebrity-favourite Chiltern Firehouse in the chic Marylebone district, where it offers a fine-dining omakase experience full of flavour and flair.
Mayha’s black-on-black fascia is intriguing, indeed even intimidating, on a street known for eclectic shops and fashionable haunts. The nondescript facade makes the place a destination point for those in the know about discreet delectable dining.
Whether or not on purpose, the sombre exterior also reflects the tragedy behind the Beirut brand's journey to the UK capital. Opened in 2019 by Lebanon’s Nothing but Love group, Mayha relocated from the Middle East capital after the Beirut port explosion in 2020 destroyed the restaurant.
Where to sit and what to expect
With only 11 side-by-side seats around a curved wooden counter directly flanking the kitchen, this modern omakase restaurant creates a uniquely intimate setting and offers a dining experience the Michelin Guide describes as one of the most “revered and intimidating” in the world.
Literally translated from Japanese as “I leave it up to you”, omakase is where diners dispense with a menu, putting complete trust in the chef to select and serve seasonal specialities, which are made in front of them and presented one by one.
Pole Jurek Wasio and Japanese Yuichi “Gigi” Nakaya are in charge of Mayha’s kitchen, as executive head chef and executive sous chef respectively. The duo first worked together at Mayha in Beirut and continue to develop menus that change with the seasons.
Mayha’s interior is designed by Lebanon’s Maria Group Architects and our hostess explains that many of the pieces in the London site have been shipped over from Beirut. A dramatic cherry blossom light installation hangs above the chefs and diners, who are separated only by a slim wooden bank on which tiny plates with perfectly handcrafted pieces of sushi are placed.
Every course is served on bespoke ceramic tableware, every piece unique and each design and colour chosen to accentuate a specific dish. Each diner also has a bespoke chopstick holder resembling a different animal on which to rest their utensils.
There are two dinner settings – 6.30pm and 9pm – and both begin promptly and follow the same course and timing regardless of who is present, so don’t be late! The closeness of diners is neither intrusive nor uncomfortable, but ensures that each person has the same access to the kitchen, chefs and plates. The intimacy extends to the working staff as well. All members of London’s Mayha previously worked in Beirut before moving to the UK after the port blast.
The soundtrack, an eclectic disco-inspired mix put together by Wasio, is an auditory homage to Beirut’s best days, a nostalgic reminder of a pre-crisis era when Lebanon’s famously fun and hospitable social scene reigned supreme in the Mediterranean. Wasio says he loved living in Beirut and wistfully recalls having “the best times of my life” there.
As such, as well as stimulating the taste buds with refined contemporary Japanese fare, Mayha gives dinners a warm Beirut sensibility in London’s trendy gastronomical scene.
Built around a succession of meticulously handcrafted nigiri, the meal typically starts with a palate-awakening soup, followed by tartare or sashimi, hot dishes of meat and seafood, followed by another palate-cleanser before the sushi sequence finale. A dish of noodles or miso soup may cap off the savoury experience before a dessert to close.
The chef’s choices will differ season to season, but the late summer menu I indulged in can be headlined as a fruity, flora, fauna feast – a salute to the departing and coming seasons.
The meal kicked off with a deliciously hearty mussel broth and oysters, followed by the genius combination of tuna tartar with fermented strawberries and caviar – a burst of contradicting yet complementary flavours.
Having whet the appetite, the chefs next offered a carousel of hot dishes that quickly warmed it up. The carabinero prawns in preserved lemon butter and grasshopper salt were delightful, and the Hamachi ceviche in buttermilk sauce topped with kumquats, the sweet-tart “golden orange” from China, was equally fabulous. But the prize for the meltiest mouthful goes to the Wagyu beef sirloin with girolle mushroom and fried birch leaves. The green garnish’s nod to the arriving autumn reflects the kitchen’s attention to seasonality and harmony.
Lobster on sea buckthorn sorbet and Somen noodles capped off the warm plates, followed by another palate cleanser in the form of a yuzu granite.
The pinnacle of the omakase experience is arguably in the selection of nigiri sushi that the chef meticulously prepares and presents one by one. Like an artist preparing his canvas, Wasio dipped his brush into a row of ceramic cups of different sauces, meticulously “painting” each nigiri.
First came the smoked Scottish salmon, flash-fried for a second before it was staged before me – a beautiful melange of perfectly sticky rice and flavour in one mouthful.
Next was an intricately carved scallop nigiri that gave it a hedgehog’s appearance and enveloped the moist rice in its flavours.
Aged grouper and bluefin tuna nigiris followed, paving the way for a conversation between some diners and Wasio on the various ways to age fish (although it is rarely the case in omakase restaurants, Mayha encourages interaction with the chefs).
The hearty and generous lobster nigiri made for some Instagram-worthy pictures, while the pan-seared tuna belly was just the right amount of gluttony to cap off a magnificent repast.
The meal ended on a Basque cheesecake with fermented cherry sauce, sour cream ice cream and fresh strawberries.
A chat with the chef
Jurek Wasio was born in Warsaw, Poland, where his adventure with Japanese cuisine began in 2009 at So-An Sushi, one of the best izakaya restaurants at the time. He went on to dabble with Polish and Spanish cuisine, and he describes his cooking style now as a confluence of “Japanese fundamentals with additional touches of Polish, Mediterranean and a bit of Nordic cuisine”.
The chef says he is inspired by Marco Pierre White’s belief that philosophy is more important than recipes in cooking and follows his mentor’s advice to “always trust yourself”.
In 2018, he moved to London to train at Yashin Ocean House with Japanese chef Shinya Ikeda and his sous chef Dawid Uszynski. In October 2018, Wasio and Uszynski moved to Beirut to open Mayha. After the Beirut port explosion, Wasio decided to stay in the city to do an omakase-at-home version until Mayha found its new home in London.
Price point and contact information
Mayha offers omakase menus for lunch, from noon, priced at £100 ($122); and two sittings at dinner, at 6.30pm and 9pm, priced at £220. A vegetarian option is available but requires 48 hours' notice.
For reservations, visit mayhalondon.com.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant