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
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
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.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering