Yoshi Sushi 210 King Street, London W6
Once he'd 'got' Japanese food, our critic couldn't get enough. But can London match New York in the sushi stakes?
Sunday 28 March 2010
Before I moved to New York in my early thirties, I'd never tried sushi. The idea of raw fish repulsed me. Eating raw beef was one thing, but fish? There was something viscerally disgusting about it, like eating raw pork or chicken.
Then, one day in the mid-1990s, my flatmate forced me to accompany him to Blue Ribbon Sushi, a Japanese restaurant in SoHo. He pointed out that it's perfectly possible to "go Japanese" without eating raw fish. That night I discovered tempura, edamame and miso soup. I liked the fresh, clean tastes. Maybe this cuisine wasn't as weird as I'd thought.
I returned to Blue Ribbon Sushi with my flatmate often and he kept pushing me to be more adventurous. I started out on the nursery slopes – a selection of nigiri with a California roll – then became more daring. Within three months, I was ready to tackle the black run of Japanese cuisine – fugu, the potentially lethal delicacy prepared from raw puffer fish. By the end of my five years in the city, I would march into Japanese restaurants all over town, sit down at the sushi bar, and say "omakase" – Japanese for "I'm in your hands".
Moving back to London in 2000, I found that the thing I missed most about New York was the vast array of Japanese restaurants. Sure, there were some high-end establishments in Mayfair, but where were the little takeaway places that I had come to depend on? In Shepherd's Bush, there wasn't a single Japanese restaurant.
Clearly, if I wanted to feed my new habit, I'd have to find a reliable supplier. It was then that I embarked on my search for the perfect Japanese. A friend who'd lived in the Far East took me to Kikuchi, a hole-in-the-wall on Hanway Street, just off Oxford Street. The interior was reassuringly spartan and the menus were printed in Japanese only – surely a good sign – but it was a bit of a hike from Shepherd's Bush.
Then I found what I'd been looking for. No, not Sushi-Hiro in Ealing, which many people claim is the best Japanese restaurant in London. I'm a fan, but its opening hours are ridiculous – lunch stops at 1.30pm and dinner at 9pm – and the owners are almost comically unwelcoming. No, I'm talking about Yoshi Sushi on King Street in Hammersmith. Not fancy, not trendy; but a perfectly prepared selection of fresh fish every day. They deliver, too.
One of the most appealing things about Yoshi Sushi is the sheer range of food on offer. In addition to the sushi menu – "sushi" is generally taken to mean nigiri, sashimi and maki rolls – there is a four-page menu offering everything from ika natto (sliced cuttle fish with fermented soybeans) to chawanmushi (steamed egg pudding). A couple of my favourites are yakitori (bite-sized marinated chicken pieces grilled on skewers) and yaki gyoza (grilled pork dumplings).
I visit on a Friday lunchtime with my friend Grub Smith. This has become a fortnightly ritual and we always order the same: two lots of prawn tempura to start, some yaki buta niku (fried belly pork with vegetables in a spicy sauce) to tide us over, and, for our mains, a soft-shell crab roll, a salmon-skin roll and a California roll, and a selection of nigiri, including tuna, salmon, yellowtail and flying-fish roe. No sake for us, just two cans of Diet Coke.
It's always good. The tempura is succulent and not too greasy, the fried pork combines with the vegetables and the spicy sauce to produce something irresistibly moreish, and the maki and nigiri are full of rich, fishy flavours. This is freshly prepared, well-balanced food made by an experienced chef.
Just as importantly, the Diet Coke is served ice cold. The waitress brings a can to your table and leaves it there, allowing you to fill your own glass. And there's no nonsense about ice and lemon, either. A simple enough procedure, you'd think, but in my experience Yoshi Sushi is one of the very few restaurants in London to serve Diet Coke properly.
After 90 minutes, I clamber back on my bicycle and pootle back to Acton, my craving satisfied. But if I'm gripped by an uncontrollable urge for Japanese food in the days to come, I only need pick up the phone and the delivery boy will be there within half-an-hour. Thank you, Yoshi Sushi. You have made living back in London bearable.
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
Yoshi Sushi 210 King Street, London W6, tel: 020 8748 5058. Lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday; Sunday dinner only. About £64 for two, without wine
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