There is food you eat soberly, in broad daylight. And then there is food you eat late at night, in the dark, to a background of loud music. This food is different, not to mention difficult to see. Whatever you call it – drunk food, date food, gay food – it is usually sushi.
Sushi isn't really a meal – not even the Japanese would make an entire dinner of it – but something you can inhale without thinking about; without even having to lock yourself in a cubicle. This is fine for the tribes of people who frequent London's club/bar hybrids such as Buddha Bar at Embankment, Loungelover in Shoreditch, and Clerkenwell's Fluid, but now the trend is invading our restaurants.
Take Sushinho. It bills itself as a restaurant, and yes, it has tables, chairs and menus, but in all other respects, it looks, feels and acts like a clubby bar, with its attractive, black-clad, high-heeled greeters at the door, sleek lines, dark woods, sexy lighting, and glamorously lit cocktail bar as its heart.
So far, so King's Road, Chelsea, where regulars of establishments such as Mamilanji and Crazy Larry's, including Princes William and Harry, would probably be surprised to hear that food is even served in the vicinity.
Sushinho's claim to fame is to be a cocktail-friendly fusion of Brazilian and Japanese, inspired by the fact that Brazil's sizeable ethnic Japanese population is the largest outside Japan. Of course, Nobu Matsuhisa has been incorporating South American influences in his restaurants since working in Peru in the 1970s. Here, though, the Brazilian effect appears limited to the odd sighting of cassava chips or crumbed plantain, and a small list of specials.
The crowd – a smart/casual post-gym mix of mostly couples, many American – don't seem to mind. They order caipirinhas instead of wine, and sushi instead of those big plates of food you used to get... What were they called? Ah yes, main courses.
And they might have a point, because everything other than sushi seems to be squishy and soft. A starter of sweet-potato gyoza with truffle (£9) is simply four pale saggy dumplings filled with sweet-potato purée, sitting on even more sweet-potato purée. Such excessive use of purée must be to justify the price, as the amount of truffle involved is not going to do it on its own. Next, a tempura sushi roll with spicy tuna sauce (£10) and a couple of small, delicate fingers of salmon nigiri (£6) indicate a sushi chef with a light touch.
But I just don't fit in here. I drink wine instead of cachaça, and I order old-man food like main courses. Cue more gloopiness, in the form of a strangely translucent cassava mash with a grilled tuna steak (£15), a so-so dish that needs more pep than it gets from the runnels of pesto-like chimichurri sauce. Another long, oblong dish carries "crispy pork belly" (£12.50). It is also soft, but has good flavour, with (bless!) a little crunch coming from scattered crumbs of crackling. Yet dabs of squishy black bean and mango salsa do not combine with any great success.
The French-based desserts are a surprise, suggesting a talented pastry chef lurking out the back somewhere. The ubiquitous molten chocolate fondant (£7) oozes on cue, mixing with smooth coconut ice-cream and fresh mango. Just as good is a zingy "passion crumble" (£6.50), a sweet, textural exercise in crunch and cream, that is layered in a glass like an exotic cocktail trifle.
As a clubby bar that does food, Sushinho fulfils its side of the bargain with style, though it could do with some mad Brazilians on the floor to pep things up a bit. As a dinner destination, it is less appealing. So come for the cocktails, the buzz and the party atmosphere – and you may as well have a little sushi while you're at it. n
Sushinho, 312-314 King's Road, London SW3, tel: 020 7349 7496. Lunch, Mon-Sat; dinner daily. Around £95 for two, including wine and service
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets
The crunch bunch: Sensational sushi
1 Station Parade, Uxbridge Road, London W5, tel: 020 8896 3175
Sushi-Hiro doesn't take credit cards, serves no wine and does nothing but sushi and sashimi – which would be a problem if it wasn't so good
46 West Richmond Street, Edinburgh, tel: 0131 668 3847
This cosy, cheerful Japanese bar/bistro serves up small plates of everything from teppanyaki to teriyaki, with a good range of fairly priced sushi and sashimi
36-38 Whitworth Street, Manchester, tel: 0161 279 0022
New Samsi has brought the dishes of Japan to Manchester for more than 15 years, including a wide variety of sashimi, sushi and maki rolls
Read Terry Durack's food blog at independent.co.uk/terrydurack