Tag Archive for: MUSU

The oddest of avenues opened up after one of the best dinners I’ve eaten in recent times. I just can’t resist researching a bit of arcane back story. So picture a victorious Sumo wrestler, at the end of his bout, typically brandishing a red sea bream – potent symbol of good fortune and abundance for Japanese folk. Endorsed by the ‘Fish God’, consumption of this prestigious ‘celebration’ fish with the coppery red sheen is reputed to ward off evil spirits, too. 

Pagrus major is the Latin name for the species; more prosaically the Japanese call their ‘King of the Hundred Fishes’ Madai. A nigiri of which (above) I have just gulped whole, as is the custom at a certain stage of a Kaiseki banquet. Bookended by mackerel and chu toro (tuna back and belly morsels), it is part of a trio of mouthfuls that showcase immaculate sourcing. Attention to detail is everywhere from the flecks of proper wasabi root, the 10-year aged soy with mirin and sake, top of the range hamachi and akami to match the madai quality.

No, I’m not in one of those exclusive downtown Kyoto supper clubs but in Lydgate, hilltop outpost of Oldham. The setting is the home of Vincent Braine co-founder of Musu, an extraordinary restaurant project arriving imminently in Manchester. His chef patron Mike  Shaw has brought along his meticulously assembled brigade to cook a preview of the menu promised for the £2.5m transformation of the former Randall & Aubin site on Bridge Street. 

No pressure then? Not if the actual 55 cover restaurant can regularly serve a meal as amazing as the one proffered to us, the elite few. Me neither on why I was invited. Just thankful. Maybe it was down to the effusive welcome I gave to the project. Much of it down to my awe at the cultural leap made by Shaw, a chef steeped in Francophile and Modern British cooking. Think a CV that includes Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons via Hambleton Hall and Aubergine, then at Michelin-starred Neat in Cannes. 

Now he is charged with curating high end Japanese cuisine, albeit filtered through his own kitchen sensibility. Japanese with a contemporary twist, he’s calling the style. It oddly mirrors his namesake Simon Shaw’s adoption/adaptation of Catalan cooking at El Gato Negro. Fittingly the name Musu translates as ‘infinite possibilities’. 

In all this it helps that Mike’s head sushi chef sidekick is Brazilian Andre Aguiar, trained by ‘renowned Japanese Sushi Master’ Yugo Kato. The first six months of his apprenticeship at Kato’s Dublin restaurant were consumed entirely by learning to properly cook rice – the priority in sushi. Cooked rice is referred to as gohan in Japanese. In a broader sense the word denotes ‘food’ or ‘meal’.

Andre will helm the intimate six-cover ‘Omakase’ counter in Musu, one of three menu options; the other are the flexible a la carte ‘Sentaku’ and ‘Kaiseki’, a seven or 11 course tasting menu. We get the latter at Lydgate.

It kicks off with chawanmushi, that savoury eggy custard seemingly ubiquitous at high end UK restaurants these days. This one, intense with garlic and parsley, is as good as it gets with a bijou morel mushroom tart sharing the Instagrammable ‘nest’. After which there isn’t a dud note. Exquisite sashimi to match the sushi; treatments of scallops, black cod and wagyu beef each transcending the Nobu wannabe clichés. Throughout assiduous application of caviar (kaluga and oscietra) feels like the hand of Shaw. Ditto the remarkable final pudding – a fusion masterpiece of iced white chocolate, fennel seed crumble and yuzu sorbet.

So a rewarding culinary experience, but is it true Kaiseki? And does it matter? On my trips to Japan I was never lucky enough to bag a seat at one of those elaborate almost meditative showcases for kyo-rori (traditional Kyoto cuisine), served in ancient wooden villas. Reservation for non-natives are as rare as hen’s teeth (not a dish by the way). This dining ritual has been honed for centuries, yet my it’s-becoming-a-habit research discovers the term Kaiseki wasn’t attached until the mid 19th century. It means ‘bosom’ or ‘stone’ and  refers to the practice of monks holding warm stones to their chests to stave off hunger during winter.

I guarantee no server at Musu, due to open on Friday, November 18, will offer you a warm stone on arrival. Warm welcome definitely plus food that should radically upgrade the perception of Japanese food in the city (ramen an honourable exception). Despite a cavalcade of sushi rivals recently it has remained devalued culinary currency. Manc cannot live by California rolls alone.

Chawanmushi is a passion of Mike Shaw’s. Sounds like a Japanese martial art? No, it’s a savoury custard, prepared with dashi and finished with an umami-rich topping. It was the amuse bouche during our epic 30 course tasting menu at Ynyshir. It will form an equally indispensable part of a more manageable tasting menu at MUSU.

This might be the most striking new addition to the Manchester restaurant scene since Mana.

Classically trained chef-patron (from Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons via Hambleton Hall and Aubergine to Richard Neat’s eponymous Michelin one star in Cannes) Shaw has made a daring leap into an alien gastronomic culture to create this showcase for ‘contemporary Japanese cuisine’. It is due to open on October 6 in the former Randall & Aubin site on Bridge Street. 

An estimated £2.6 million has been lavished on the refurb, while Saddleworth-raised Shaw has spent the last 18 months immersing himself in Japanese food in all its arcane glory. Among the ports of call on his learning curve was Araki, the tiny Mayfair sushi restaurant controversially stripped of all three of its Michelin stars in 2020 when the chef/patron retrenched to Japan.

Ah, sushi the rice-driven standard bearer of Japanese cuisine. Purist Umezushi aside, it has been a debased culinary currency in the city. Witness the recent arrival around the corner from MUSU of a ‘Japanese/Brazilian’ all-you-can eat  steak and sushi joint. 400 covers, but possibly the focus more on partying than edible authenticity.

In contrast, the 55-cover MUSU aims to live up to its name, which translates as ‘infinite possibilities’. That extends to its elevation of rice to centre stage; among the team is a specialist who trained for years in preparing the perfect grain. As Shaw says: “Despite the presence of the finest fish rice is the most important element in sushi. We will concentrate on nigiri, no rolls.”

Advance images of dishes are as ravishing as the CGI shots of the interior. Diners will be given three menu options – an a la carte ‘Sentaku’ menu, which allows guests to choose their dishes from each section of the menu to suit their own personal taste preferences, ‘Kaiseki’, a set menu curated by Michael that comprises seven and 11 course options, which together provide the guest with a balanced choice through the seasonal menu.

Watch out, too, for the puddings. Shaw is a trained pastry chef and has been exending his creative tendencies around the likes of a take on pineapple tarte tatin with ancho pepper but without the pastry. Raspberry dashi, lemon verbena, shizo sorbet are all on the horizon. And just look at those yuzu meringues.

Finally there’s an ‘Omakase’ menu, which will be served at six-seater omakase counter ruled over by head sushi chef Andre Aguilar. He trained under Japanese sushi master Yugo Kato, a specialist in this theatrical experience, entrusting choices to the chef in front of you. I regard it as a form of culinary therapy!

Sourcing for all this will be divided between Japan (A4 grade Wagyu beef, kombu, high grade traditional soy sauce) and the UK (Skye langoustines, salt-aged free range duck from Devon, Wiltshire truffles). There will be N25 beluga and an array of top of the range seafood – bluefin, hamachi, carbonero prawns – some sourced from Out of the Blue in Chorlton, some imported via the legendary True World Foods in London. Special ultra-cold -60C fridges have been installed to ensure the certified and sustainable bluefin remains in perfect condition.

Remarkably the same attention to detail has gone into the surroundings. Every vestige of the ill-fated Randall & Aubin has been stripped away. Replaced by the clean lines and precision associated with Japanese design, but also featuring bespoke Italian furniture and video walls providing an ambient backdrop that strays way beyond a dalliance with Mount Fuji.

Beverage Director Sean McGuirk, is behind an equally creative drinks menu; in-house sommelier, Ivan Milchev has arrived from Manchester’s 20 Stories with a glowing reputation; the wines come from Miles Cornish. Sakewill be as good as it gets. The bar itself is made from Dekton stone, brass and onyx; its fascia is layered in brass, detailed into a banana leaf pattern and softly back lit. It dovetails with the central open kitchen with its large pass. 

Booth tables can transform into cocktail tables, emphasising the fluidity of the whole space. For smaller parties, MUSU’s private dining room accommodates up to 14 guests and can be completely separate or adjoined from the main dining room. Separated by a glazed telescopic wall, the latter can be frosted at the touch of a button to deliver total privacy.

If it all sounds quite a game changer, well it it is. My remit in this website is not to provide news of restaurant/bar openings. In this case I’m making an exception. I’m really that excited.

MUSU, 64 Bridge Street, Manchester, M3 3BN.