It can be hard to stand out in Dalston. It’s a part of London absolutely chock-full of vibrant nightlife and fantastic food options, with plenty of things to do. And because it’s East London, the venues skew slightly away from the norm – be it a brewery attached to a BBQ restaurant, a café that turns into a bar in the evenings, or a wine shop running a wine crawl around the area. It’s an area with loads to offer, yet “mu” still manages to stand out and make Dalston even more of a must-visit London area.
From the team behind Hackney favourites Brilliant Corners and Giant Steps, “mu” blurs the lines between a restaurant, bar, and live music venue. It’s not a new concept, but at “mu” it feels effortless – without lapsing into theatre or gimmick. Having opened in April of 2022, the site has a sureness of itself that no doubt stems from the founders’ slim but effective, portfolio of venues that have come before it. Brilliant Corners built a loyal following in the area for their own blend of live music, DJing, and drinks and food – and their ‘late night house parties’ are the stuff of Hackney legend. Meanwhile Giant Steps’ care for great sound and audio bleeds into “mu”‘s attention to sonic detail.
From the outside, “mu” doesn’t look like much – and could potentially be missed if you’re not sure exactly where you’re going. Graffiti-covered windows and walls ensconce an opening with a bare wooden door, above which a simple wooden block reads “mu”. But step inside and you leave the streets of London far behind. The minimal interior comes courtesy of the same designer who brought the spaces of Smoking Goat and Kiln to low-lit life. An underlit horse-shoe bar commands the space near the entrance, splitting the room into three parts. Immediately to your left upon entering is a small seating area for walk-ins, then the bar itself, which can seat up to 25, and beyond that the main dining area. Brick walls line the sides, with small tables scattered throughout and foliage peeking through the ceiling. It’s all rather, frankly, sexy.
It’s dark inside. But it’s not uninviting, nor is it the kind of smoggy dirty darkness that some places descend into when the lights are dimmed. The lighting is instead moody, almost dream-like, casting clouds of light instead of harsh beams or rays. No doubt some people may need their phone’s flashlight to read the menu, but it feels appropriate to the venue.
Dining at “mu”
“mu” serves up Japanese food that largely comes from the charcoal robatayaki grill. Traditional Japanese techniques meet the best of British produce, and the two coalesce into some of the best food to be found in London. Small plates range from yellowtail with yuzu and pomegranate, to scallop skewers with yuzu koscho – the latter of which found perfectly delicate scallops that knocked the offerings from seafood-specializing restaurants out of the water. The beef tartare with toasted nori was also exceptional, with the roughly-chopped meat contrasting larger chunks against tiny morsels, which you could wrap up in the fragrant toasted nori for a delicious mouthful. That nori proved to be a hint to an accent that would end up weaving it’s way through my meal.
The larger main plates included such offerings as nikiri glazed tofu, dry aged dexter beef striploin with caviar, and smoked salmon teriyaki. My companion opted for the hake tempura with wasabi and English peas, while I ordered the pork tonkatsu with white cabbage, pickles, and brown sauce. We also grabbed some of the oyster mushrooms with garlic and soy, and the nori fries – they had been calling our names since the moment we laid eyes on the menu. Next to the nori fries, the hake tempura became the most delightful fish and chips you’ve ever had. The pork tonkatsu was superb, a monster of thinly-pounded, succulent pork whose crisp crust still shone through pickles and brown sauce. The mushrooms were packed with garlic and touched with a none-too-delicate lashing of soy that threatened the possibility of too much salt, but settled down into glorious, rich umami.
Those nori fries though. We will be talk about those for months to come. And It’s frankly shocking that we haven’t yet returned just to nosh on bowl after bowl of them. It feels almost disrespectful to suggest that they might be the best thing on the menu – but they also hold the distinction of being the most perfect fries I’ve eaten, even before the addition of the flavour from the nori. Rounding it all out was the crème brûlée, that at first confused, and then delighted us. There once more was a touch of nori, with flakes of it adding the lightest touch of much needed salinity to the rich dessert.
At “mu” you have to try at least one cocktail, I simply demand it. They range from precisely executed classics to Japanese-influenced seasonal cocktails. The Saketini, for example, laces sake into your choice of a vodka or gin martini. The Jasmine old fashioned, meanwhile, blends Suntory Toki whisky with real jasmine tea. And the wine, thanks to curation from Amit Patel & Aleksandra Bober (previously of Terroirs & Soif), explores the world’s most interesting presentations of terroir. Long-established natural wine makers, and classic such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Jura and the Rhône regions, sit alongside new world bottlings from places such as Australia, and Chile’s Itata Valley. They also hold an incredible selection of Junmai sake, as well as mezcals that are available by the glass and in flights.
There’s tremendous satisfaction in visiting a place where a martini order can be so confidently, and comfortably, placed. Make it vodka or gin, dry or dirty – they’ve got you. My dirty vodka martini offered up a gorgeous creamy mouthfeel and a perfect hit of brine. My companion’s paloma stood out from London’s now saturated offering of palomas with less sweetness, and a suitably tart grapefruit flavour. We also opted for an orange wine from the Beck-Hartweg domaines of Alsace, whose salinity was a gorgeous complement to the fattier parts of the meal, while the umami-rich components opened up the floral notes. But plenty of tempting options also caught our eye, often available by the glass as well as by the bottle.
At the bar
A separate food menu is also available for those wishing to simply snack at the bar. There you can munch on a selection of skewers, including beef & shishito peppers, and traditional chicken yakitori, or choose from options like the Taiwanese fried chicken, and popcorn shrimp and spicy mayo. I will most definitely be returning for at least three more dirty vodka martinis, to try out the bar snack delights. And bowl after bowl of nori fries.
It’s all about the “mu”sic
In line with founders Amit and Aneesh Patel’s previous projects, the name “mu” comes from one of the duo’s favourite jazz records. Legendary jazz trumpeter Don Cherry’s “mu” married jazz with influences from around the world. Similarly, “mu”‘s music programme encompasses a considerable range of styles. With live music every night (two sets a night, between approximately 7.30pm – 9pm, and 9.30pm – 11pm), performances range from atmospheric solo piano from Yohan Kebede of Kokoroko to free jazz from London’s most accomplished improvising musicians, as well as traditional Cuban music, folkloric Mande music from West Africa, and Brazilian trios.
Of particular note for music fans is an upcoming performance at “mu” from the Dele Sosimi Quartet: one of the world’s most important voices in Afrobeat music. Across October 28 – 29, Dele Sosimi, one of the most active musicians on the afrobeat scene, will perform alongside bass, drums, and percussion, with a musical blending of Nigerian traditional music, African percussion, funk grooves, and rhythmical singing. Having performed all over the world at such events as the Montreux Jazz Festival, the Ollin Kan Festival in Mexico City, and Norway’s Sensommer Int Musikkfestival, he’s known for his electric, crowd-pleasing performances.. You’ll also often find him onstage at London’s Jazz Café.
So what is a night at “mu”?
Frankly, it’s pretty much whatever you want it to be. Delightfully, “mu” doesn’t mind why you’re there. You can turn up for a meal and enjoy the performance, you can simply enjoy a few cocktails as you check out some live jazz, or you can even just rock up and smash your way through a bowl of the nori fries. There’s a genuine sense of relaxation and welcome, it has the least expectation of guests I’ve ever experienced. If you’re dining during the live music performances, be aware that an optional £8 per person music cover charge is added to the bill.
The word perfect rarely feels necessary, or suited, to describe nights out. Even the greatest experiences can be marred by some small quibble, some tiny slip-up or error, even something indescribable and ephemeral. Perfection is far from an attainable goal, after all. But a night at “mu” is quibble-free, and deserving of such description. A night at “mu” is perfect. Fans of brilliant food, pitch-perfect drinks, and delightful live music, should make “mu” their port of call for their next night out.