We have died and we have gone to sushi heaven. We are afloat in unpasteurised sake and vinegared rice. We have ginger. We have Asahi beer. We are slipping the most fresh, most delectable, morsels into our mouths decorated with salmon roe, mmm; with wasabi, nnnrgh; gold leaf, mm..and corn flakes. ...
This is the Sushi of the Year Award, aka the Seven Sushi Samurai with chefs from Japan, the UK, USA and Russia competing for a large glass trophy, some kudos, some Kikkoman Soy Sauce, and a plane ticket to somewhere exotic. And we are judging this beautiful stuff, we are voting for our favourite. But we are not in Tokyo, or even anywhere in Japan. We are in downtown London.
Japanese restaurants are established in the UK now, plus a growing number of supermarkets serving sashimi fresh fish, grade “A” Japanese Rice and all manner of tofu and vegetables, which suits people like me who love the stuff. But there isn’t a conveyor belt in the land offering anything like this.
We have, in no particular order….
“Whole Salmon” – roe, flesh, head and cartilage in sweet passion fruit juice and a mustard/coffee sauce knocked up by Jeff Ramsay of the Mandarin Hotel, Tokyo.
“Taco Sushi” – octopus, jalapeno, salmon, red and black flying fish roe from the chilli-soaked brain of Mexican chef Jose Calderon, theTako Grill, Maryland.
“Golden Shooting Star” – seaweed (representing sharks fin) daikon, gold leaf and cornflakes from Masashi Ogata, all the way from Asahizushi, Migaya, Japan, a prefecture I understand to be the home of sushi and sashimi.
“Fruits de la Mer Mille Feuille” – tuna, salmon, crab, scallops, paprika and perilla from Noriyoshi Watanabe of the Tsukiji Tamazushi, Tokyo.
“Red Square” – red tuna, beetroot, philly cream cheese, beetroot, sweet and sour jelly from Andrei Sim of the Planeta Sushi, Moscow.
“Miso Beef Sushi” – Scottish Beef Fillet, grapes, miso and sour cream from Tasuhiro Minano, here in Nobu, London.
“Seared Seabass Sushi” – seabass, daikon, chilli, white soy sauce from Masaki Anayama, of Matsuri, also in London.
Now, Yo! Sushi’s conveyer belt is OK, but I’ve been eating in two London restaurants for years. The Ryo (cheap diner open late night) in Brewer St, Soho, serves up great steaming bowls of ramen noodle till 1am, and Asuka in Baker Street where civilized Japanese salarymen mark their whiskey bottles before staggering out into the night from basement private rooms after their fill of sashimi, tempura, grilled fish, rice, pickles and soup. (The best ones are out of town now, Sushi Say in Willesden and Japan Café in Golder’s Green)
But nothing compares to what these guys are doing. There’s all the pomp and ceremony of a competition, and someone has to win – in this case it’s Masashi Ogata which pleases the traditionalists (like me) even though I’m not Japanese. I’m Scottish and lucky to have been to Japan often enough to eat things that would have made my granny’s hair stand on end. I’ve already written about Kaiseki , which I consider to be the greatest cuisine in the world, but that’s a no brainer.
Sushi, I’m told, is getting boring. Well it wasn’t tonight. Or possibly the endless supply of high quality sake was helping. A lot.