Mushy peas be warned: sushi is heading north

It's raw, it's Japanese, and it could soon be on sale in a supermarket near you. By Michael Bateman

How Far can they go, those exquisite pieces of raw fish on top of little cakes of rice which have now conquered the capital? Can sushi conquer Newcastle upon Tyne? Can sushi conquer Belfast?

Sushi bars are opening all over the place, in London at least, and now supermarkets are stocking up on sushi trays. Waitrose was first, and Tesco and Sainsbury's have started up in their more avant-garde stores.

This uniquely Japanese speciality is an unlikely candidate for national acclaim, for until recently sushi has been consumed only in London's Japanese restaurants. But experts now claim it perfectly fits the buoyant mood of the day.

"Sushi looks good, it's tasty, and above all it's perceived to be incredibly healthy," says Nellie Nichols, food development officer of Pret-a-Manger, the burgeoning sandwich chain with 50 branches. It introduced sushi boxes several years ago and has seen sales rising steadily ever since. It sells 2,200 boxes a week at pounds 2.70 and 3,700 de luxe boxes at pounds 4.95. The latter consist of two rice rolls stuffed with raw slices of blue- fin tuna, one with raw salmon, one with white fish, one with prawn, and three rice rolls wrapped in the Japanese seaweed sheet called nori, with accompanying soy sauce, a blob of green wasabi (Japanese horseradish), marinated ginger and a pair of chopsticks.

"People of all ages love it," says Ms Nichols. "They really like the look of it, it's so colourful and interesting. And, especially, there's the feeling it's really good for you."

It took off in London, and now it's beginning to catch on in such branches as Oxford, Cambridge and Birmingham, she says. And sushi bars are popping up all over London. Liverpool Street was the first railway station to boast its own sushi bar, and Harrods has been the first department store, its nine sushi staff hard-pressed to keep up with demand.

Anton Edelmann, the health-conscious chef des cuisines of the Savoy, was first to introduce sushi to the clientele of a top hotel. He says: "I visited Tokyo in 1986 and thought it was wonderful. All you need is some Japanese rice, Japanese vinegar, horse radish and some very fresh fish. It's very easy in its simplest form. I'm told the Japanese require a three- to 10-year apprenticeship to learn to make it. I can't think why."

He is not surprised that sushi is taking off. "Sophisticated eaters caught on very quickly. The broad masses haven't. But they will - it floats down."

Raw fish, he realises, isn't everyone's idea of fun, so he doesn't yet offer it on the hotel's daily menu. But it's an option for customers booking parties there.

"Sushi rolls are lovely," says Mr Edelmann. "I call them Perfect Morsels. They are food for the eye. They stir your senses, they are very sensual."

But sushi is not necessarily a cheap option. "The fish has to be very, very fresh, and tuna, sea bass and brill are expensive. On the other hand, a little fish goes an awfully long way."

If sushi does become widely popular, much of the credit will have to go to Werner Schulz, Waitrose's sushi buyer. He approaches his role with missionary zeal. He has introduced sushi to 14 stores and by the end of February it will be 18. Prices range from 99p to a family-sized pounds 14.99.

"Before it goes on sale, I visit the store with some packs the Friday before. The staff meet me with some trepidation. They have an idea what it is, rice and raw fish, and they frankly admit they don't like the idea. 'OK, I say, but what is smoked salmon but basically raw fish with the addition of 3 per cent salt? You eat that.' Gradually they try it, and they all like it. 'I'd buy that myself,' they say. This gives them the confidence to recommend it to customers. It's going great guns."

He did a Tasting Table in South Harrow. "I was really surprised to see middle-aged gents and elderly ladies tucking in. I believe the customer recognises quality. Freshness is essential. The sushi are actually made during the night, and go on sale in the morning."

But is the rest of Britain ready for raw tuna? Tesco and Sainsbury's have put Mr Ko's sushi on sale in a few key stores. Marks & Spencer has been watching too, but says it wouldn't be happy to put out a product that couldn't go into stores right across the country.

"It's a London fashion," says chef Mark Gregory, a New Zealander who worked in Japan and introduced sushi to his own country. "I don't mean it in a rude way, but it will be a long time before sushi goes north of the Watford Gap."

Mr Gregory serves it at Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire. "I do compromise," he confesses. "Most of my customers don't like the idea of raw fish, so I use smoked salmon or cooked crab or avocado in the rice. It's still a wonderful lunch snack."

The Michelin Guide and the Good Food Guide are not aware of any serious signs of a sushi surge outside London, although the odd sushi bar turns up in Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh and Glasgow. "I'm surprised it hasn't happened before," says Jim Ainsworth, editor of the Good Food Guide. "Sushi is very attractive and it should be cheap. I foresee a snag, though: can we get our hands on enough spanking fresh fish?"

In Newcastle, chef Terence Laybourne, owner of the Michelin-starred 21 Queen Street, says he buys sushi at a little Japanese deli in Heaton Road. "I love it, but sushi hasn't made the headlines up here yet. Of all the new food fads, I don't think it's one that would ever work in the North- east. The flavours of Japanese food are too subtle for crude northern palates."

At the Roscoff in Belfast, where owner-chef and TV cook Paul Rankin occasionally makes some for parties, his assistant explained that he does them only for people he knows very well. "The idea of eating raw fish here in Ireland, you know ... they won't do it."

Japanese restaurants apart, sushi hasn't filtered through to other London restaurants.

Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Central London - £45,000-£55,000 + bonus

£45000 - £55000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: The focus of this is to deve...

Application Support - Enterprise Java, SQL, Oracle, SQL Server

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A well-established financial soft...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape