Friday, 27 August 2010

Atari-ya Swiss Cottage – Stick to the Fish

I am an avid lover of Japanese cuisine, be it skewers of yakitori, sizzling teppanyaki, hearty donburi or straightforward ramen, but sushi and sashimidefinitely top the all-time-favourite chart. Sadly quality sashimi is a) hard to find, and b) not cheap in this city. The likes of Kikuchi and Nobu charging a scorching £8+ for one slice of O-toro, has gone beyond ridicule. Just as my craving for sashimi was creeping under my skin, urging me to hand over my wallet with both hands, Atari-ya came to the rescue.

Location is slightly off Central, well hidden in a residential area of Swiss Cottage. The longitudinal room is split between a sushi bar with c. 12 seats,and a few tables against the brick wall. There is small flight of stairs towards the back of the room that leads to a private tatami dining area. Ambienceand décor is summarised as “calm sophistication through the harmony of Japanese modernity and tradition on the website, and I tend to agree. It wasnt Muji-style minimalism, but things were kept simple.

O-toro (£12)
As a sashimi-grade fish supplier, providing for the top-notch Japanese joints, the quality and authenticity of food is guaranteed. 5 pieces of thick-cutsashimi per portion. Just look at the fat marbling. Temperature was spot-on, its distinctive aroma exploded as the piece melted in mouth. I am so going for seconds.

Hotate – scallops
Hotate was plump, fresh and sweet. It wasnt exceptional, because I absolutely despise sliced lemon placed with sashimi. I am sure it was carefully thought out by some culinary prodigy that the acidity gives it a boost. But I hate it. Its just the wrong type of zest.

Ikura Gunkan – salmon roe
A lot of people find Ikura too fishy or sometimes salty. I love it. I love the way it pops and the fishy juice mix into the sushi rice, where the vinegar gives it an extra lift. The spider roll was comparatively ordinary.

Shime Saba – Mackerel & Amaebi – sweet prawns

£3.20 for 5 pieces. Shut up. We are still in London, aren’t we?
A thin lining of fish oil on each piece of mackerel, the vinegar was faint that gave a zing as opposed to a sting. I am not a fan of sweet prawns but still enjoyed it.

Onto the cooked dishes.

Salmon Harasu (grilled salmon belly with chilli)
It must have been a salmon on diet, not a very fatty belly. The fish looked parched rather than glittering with oils. I never thought this dish could go wrong.

Iberico Tonkatsu (deep fried Iberico breaded pork)
This looked better on paper. It was sinewy and on the dry side, probably because the meat was very lean. Its not an easy dish; does the chef not read manga? The pork needs to be fried twice, first in medium temperature to retain its juices, second time at high temp to force excessive oils from the coating. And the key lies in..anyway, I have had better tonkatsu.

Kaki Fry (deep fried breaded oyster)

The deep fried oysters were even worse. They looked distressed and scrunched up. The breaded coating was obviously inadequate as I could see the meagre oysters inside, which have lost their creamy texture and instead, became chewy fibres.

Gindara Miso (black cod miso)
One of the many copycats of Nobus signature dish. And I must admit none of them are even close (the one Kobe Jones attempted was downright awful). Problem with the replicas is that while the cod is flaky and the miso is rich, the two dont bind. I think this is about as articulate as I can get on the subject. Id still order it though, it is nonetheless a good piece of fish.

Refusing to end the meal on a low, we went for a second round of sashimi. We repeated our first orders plus Hamachi - Yellowtail (£9).
AhNow we are back on familiar grounds.

Sadly Uni (sea urchin) was out of stock on the day. They ran out again when I went for lunch.
It could have been our fault for ordering everything in one go, so hot dishes and sashimi arrived at the same time. If we started with sashimi, hot food goes cold; if we started with hot food, our taste buds get numbed by the stronger flavours. It was a no-win situation. Other than that, it was a greatsashimi binge. Just, um, stick to the fish.

The bill came to just under £80 for two. It would buy me a black cod and 4 pieces of O-toro at Nobu? Dont get me wrong, my visits to the Nobus were my highlights of 2009; they invent chemistry between ingredients and redefine Japanese cuisine. What Nobu offer is a high class fine-diningexperience; sitting next to Victoria Beckham et al. (whether she enhances your appetite or has adverse effects is a different topic). For me, it was more of a one-off tick-box restaurant. Atari-ya, on the other hand, offers down-to-earth, value-for-money sashimi that has become my regular sushi fix.

75 Fairfax Road
Tel: 0207 328 5338

Atari-Ya Sushi Bar Swiss Cottage on Urbanspoon