Eating out: Belting it out

Itsu; 118 Draycott Avenue, London SW3, 0171 584 5522. Open Mon-Sat noon-11pm, Sun noon-10pm. Bar open in evenings. Credit cards accepted, except Diners

AT THE height of the Eighties stock market boom, a plague of heart attacks swept through the New York investment banking community, laying waste to dozens and dozens of fit, healthy young men. It turned out that their hearts were riddled with tiny worms - something which puzzled doctors until one bright spark finally worked out the reason. The bankers had picked them up from all the raw tuna they'd been eating at trendy new sushi bars. Unlike the Japanese, they had no built-in immunity.

I have no idea whether or not this popular urban myth from the Greed Decade is true. But I rather hope it isn't because I like raw tuna an awful lot. Almost as much as I like the green wasabi paste, the sticky rice and the razor-thin slices of tangy pink ginger. In fact, deadly worm threat apart, there's only one thing that would stop me wanting to eat sushi every day for the rest of my life: it's so bloody expensive.

Which explains why I was particularly pleased when the chance came to review Julian (Pret A Manger) Metcalfe's highly-rated new sushi restaurant, Itsu. If I had been paying, I'm sure I would have spent the whole dinner totting up all the dishes I'd had so far and agonising over whether my budget could run to yet another one. But in my capacity as reviewer, I felt actively encouraged to choose the more expensive dishes (they're all colour-coded according to price).

If you believe Itsu's marketing philosophy, the restaurant is just as well-suited to cheapskates as it is to those for whom money is no object. But I think this fails to take into account three vital human characteristics: snobbery, greed and techno-philia. The snobbishness is what stops you going for the white pounds 2.50 dishes rather than the gold pounds 3.50 ones; the greed forces you to eat more than your stomach really needs; and the technophilia is what makes you pick up plate after plate because they all pass in front of your nose on a shiny conveyor belt and playing with such a dinky new toy is so novel and fun.

He's no fool, that Julian Metcalfe. The restaurant hasn't been open long but already it's so popular that when you arrive (it doesn't take bookings) you'll almost certainly have to hang out in the bar upstairs before you can go downstairs to eat. While you wait, you're given a rectangular device which vibrates when your table's ready. Smarter readers will probably have encountered these things before, but I hadn't and I was seriously impressed.

There's something faintly sleazy about the atmosphere in the bar area which both X and I rather liked. Perhaps it was the hippy-ish cushioned alcove or the fact that everyone was gasping desperately on their fags before entering the no-smoking zone downstairs, but it reminded me vaguely of an opium den. Quite unusual, I thought, for Brompton Cross. What wasn't unusual for the area, though, was the clientele. Most of them were in business suits, all of them were playing with mobile phones and talking loudly about money.

Downstairs though, for some reason, the diners all seemed normal and unhorrible. Maybe they'd been transformed by the jolly communal vibe which results from sitting at bar stools in a big circle and picking out titbits from the same conveyor belt. It should be quite clinical, this mechanistic serving process, but somehow it isn't.

Anyway, to the food. Well basically, it's sushi - as fresh, tender and succulent as almost any I've tasted. Not that I'm the world's greatest sushi expert, but I did once go to a party catered for by a chef from the legendary Nobu restaurant, and the stuff at Itsu compared fairly well.

I do reckon, though, that if I'd been a serious sushi bore I might have been slightly disappointed. You won't find at Itsu, for example, that very dark, slimy, fatty cut of tuna which connoisseurs so prize. Also, there isn't a big enough range of fish varieties: smoked halibut's about as unusual as it gets. And I don't think there are enough variations on the California roll/seaweed theme.

But then, Itsu isn't aimed primarily at hardcore sushi junkies. You can tell from the large number of dishes that would be frowned upon in a serious Japanese restaurant: creme brulee, say, or the beef carpaccio with herb pesto, or the not desperately wonderful chicken and coconut soup which isn't half as good as their properly authentic miso.

Personally, I think this is a mistake. You shouldn't suck up to people who don't like sushi. You should tell them to bugger off elsewhere. But I suppose it makes commercial sense. God knows, if I had the money, I'd be on the phone to Mr Metcalfe's development manager like a shot to discuss the possibility of setting up an Itsu franchise. Like Pret A Manger, Itsu is an ingeniously simple concept brilliantly executed. It deserves to make millions and it will.

WHAT'S ON THE DRINKS LIST

Richard Ehrlich's selection

Apparently the folks behind Itsu agree with me that serious wine should not be drunk with Japanese food: their list is packed with poorly described also-rans, from a pack of producers few of whose names are found in either my memory bank or standard wine-reference books. But fear not, because their non- alcoholic fruit drinks sound scrumptious. Drink these instead - or beer or (humdrum) sake if only alcohol will do

Shiso Ringo, pounds 2.95

This one's fresh apple juice with freshly squeezed lemon and an infusion of mint and lemongrass

Shoga Apple, pounds 2.95

This is described as "fresh apple juice with crushed ginger and lychee". A great and unexpected combination

Moondance, pounds 2.95

This is fresh lemonade, iced ginger tea and fresh lime juice. Another winning combo

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas