Thursday, 27 September 2012

Sushi Tetsu = Sushi Heaven

Kian said, “Win you have to go to Sushi Tetsu. If you don’t, I’ll kill myself.”

Well, I don’t usually give into death threats, especially when it doesn’t concern my life. But I like the sound of eating to save my friend’s life. And more importantly, Kian knows his stuff. Turns out getting a seat at the sushi counter is a challenge, as more bloggers dub this little 7-seater London’s best kept secret. When I called in August, the earliest for 2 people was end-Oct. So I decided to go solo and got myself in before the end of Sept.

Given the intimacy of the sushi bar, I didn’t feel like a lone diner. Harumi, chef’s wife, is very conversational; she shared Chef Toru was helping out at Shiori as Tetsu was being set up, and this husband-and-wife team is good friends with the other husband-and-wife team.

I thought about going omakase, but decided against it because I was pretty sure there's sea bream and akami somewhere in there. So I went wild with the a la carte. Sushi is served piece by piece here. Love it already.

Harumi explained chef gently brushes his special soy sauce on the fish, so we don’t have to flip and dip or drown the rice, hence the slightly brown appearance.
The temperature was oh-so-perfect. Rice was body temperature-warm, and the fish was just ever so slightly cooler. Chef’s pressure on the rice was impeccable; the grains held together in its perfect shape, but disintegrated, almost candy floss-like, on tongue; gentle rice wine vinegar brought out the sweetness of rice... just a full mouthful of perfection. Never have I had better sushi rice.
The piece of yellowtail was more white than pink before the soy sauce, which means I luckily got the fatty belly part of the fish. The scoring was so delicate, it tenderised the fish to melt onto the rice without losing the bounce of fresh raw fish. Absolutely master-class.
Razor Clam
Didn’t recognise the razor clam until chef said so. Lightly torched, followed by a sprinkle of sea salt and a squeeze of lime. It was razor clam like no other; the clam was vertically scored to ease off the chew and tone down the contrast with the soft sushi rice. Flavours were balanced, instead of gushing rush of seafood sweetness, it was balanced and delicate.

Harumi and I chatted a bit more as Chef attended the omakase diners. Unlike chef Toru, Takashi-san at Shiori trained as a Kaiseki chef, which explains his immaculate presentation of every course as edible art.  Kaiseki cuisine is often served as portrayed scenery, with various elements of Japanese cooking contributing to the overall piece. Takashi-san is now setting up his full-scale joint at Queensway to flex his muscles.
Again lightly seared, lightly brushed with soy sauce, lightly scored. Top notch stuff. It is somewhat less remarkably different to the usual hotate nigiri we get elsewhere, that said the searing helped to reduce the excess moisture, concentrating the flavours without compromising the creaminess.
Watching chef at work was mesmerising. The tip of the knife touched the fish, then he flattened the tendons with the blade near the base of the knife. Every tiny detail was taken care of. The otoro melted, oils mingled with the rice; the small bits of tendons left encouraged chewing to unleash more fragrant grease. Oh-so-rich.
Snow Crab
Chef skinned a thin sheet of cucumber, so skilfully as if he could do it with his eyes closed, to replace seaweed for this gunkan. The cucumber was less overpowering so the crisp, clean taste of shredded snow crab came forward better.
If I am forced to pick a weakness of the evening, this might be it. Probably because the flavours were less powerful, perhaps I was still lost in the word of tuna oil, or maybe chef wanted to cleanse my palate before the next course... whatever.
Seared Otoro
Ta-da! I wish you could smell the dining room when this was blow-torched. The quiet sizzle, light crisp on charred edges, melted fat infused with sweet sushi rice...  I thought I was going to pass out. Last food before I die? This might be it. On that thought, I indulged on a second round of the mighty seared o-toro. It was simply eyes-rollingly good, I knew I had that stupid grin on my face.
We all know I love Ikura. The pearls at Tetsu are less marinated, so there was a cleaner, fresher taste to it. Just blissful, so much so I went for another round.
The piece of fish was incredibly soft and incredibly fat. The special touch was the thin sheet of transparent konbu (wet seaweed) that accentuated the dissolving effect and made up the lighter touch on the marinade. Seconds please.
Botan Prawn / Jumbo prawn
I saw my neighbours having this with their omakase menu. It looked so much like a meringue I had to dig my teeth into one. It tasted as good as it looked, it carried the smoky aroma of grilled prawns, but held onto its playful springiness. The small curls added an interesting texture to the roof of the mouth too. And boy, it was a big prawn.
Harumi recommended this, she said it’s nothing like the usual Japanese omelette. I was dubious. Chef waited until I finished my second rounds of sushi before serving up the omelette.

And Harumi was right, it was nothing like the typical tamago. The cubes were feathery, Japanese cheesecake-kind of feathery, or angel cake, but moist, not soggy. The omelette somehow evaporated. It was truly unique. A perfect way to finish the meal. In fact my look of satisfaction was so pronounced, I managed to convince my new friends next door, lawyer at Blackrock and South African IM, to order a portion each.

The place was cosy but not cramped. It almost encourages conversations with the lucky people around you (lucky in the sense they got a seat, not because they sat next to me... though one could argue...) One of the fellow diners asked if Chef could seat people at the tables by the door. Chef explained those seats are for waiting, he doesn’t serve food outside this counter.

I think this is it. The Best Sushi of London. I can’t think why not. I am running through all the good sushi bars I have been to in this city... Yashin? Tetsu is in a different league in terms of authenticity and skills. Shiori? Not in the raw fish department though the overall dining experience is not too far behind.

And I get it now. I understand Kian’s odd death threat. Deep down I’m hoping you won’t believe how crazily stunning the food is here, yet it’s too good not to share - almost sinful. Oh, by the way, Harumi said Tetsu is booked up for dinner until Christmas. Lunch is looking more hopeful, but solo diners are more likely to get lucky.

I died and went to Sushi Heaven.

12 Jerusalem Passage
Tel: 0203 217 0090

Sushi Tetsu on Urbanspoon
You may also like: YoshinoAtari-yaSushi of Shiori

Thursday, 20 September 2012

LIMA may not be my Cuppa

My first encounter with Peruvian cuisine was pleasant enough at Ceviche in Soho; I thought the flavours were fresh and different to the typical raw fish dishes I am accustomed to. So when Lima crept up in the Charlotte Street area, I promptly made a booking to avoid awkwardly perching at the bar.

I also gave the option of Duck & Waffle for Ana to choose from, she went for Lima because it happens to be her married name, and the chef shares the first name of his father-in-law; I guess it’s meant to be. Ms Torres, by the way, was glowing. Not the easiest place to find, I managed to walk pass it twice before spotting the tiny logo. We were seated at the back of the restaurant with high ceilings and two slanted mirrors to reflect natural lights from the glass roof. Comfortable, chic and stylish.

We settled for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc before our server elaborated every dish. The menu is fish dominated; list of 8+ starters that were either cooked or raw seafood, maybe a couple of vegetarian options. I think I’ll go all fish today.

Sea bream ceviche. White tiger’s milk. Sweet onion skin. Inka corn.

This was apparently one of the best sellers. I wasn't sure about sea bream before, but the thick cut always helps. The fish has taken up the milky lime juice and was squirting juices with every chew, not hugely different to what I had at Ceviche, equally refreshing with mild kicks from chilli confetti.

We both thought the roasted corn was unnecessary, hard and brittle, a bit similar to the roasted peanuts on the streets, but minus the sweetness; it was just very hard corn...

 Bay Scallop tiradito. Yellow aji emulsion. Umami salt. Cassava
The vivid yellow was lively, but it was a no-winner in presentation. I get the contrast with yellow and grey for the visual impact, but thin slices of translucent scallop on this plate gave an unhealthy greyness to the raw shellfish, losing the glowing radiance of pearl-like flesh. I mean, this pool of watery yellow liquid with floating islands of grey... doesn't it remind you of something else one involuntarily churns out...?

That aside, it was quite a good recipe. The scallops were thinly sliced but just thick enough to experience the luscious creaminess before they dissolved away to leave sweet oceanic trails. The tiradito marinade was subtle and faintly tangy, not too overpowering to kill the delicate scallop sweetness, but not as exciting as the ceviche.

Crab. Purple corn reduction. Huayro potato 4000 metres. Red kiwicha
The vibrant fiesta theme continues onto the mains; this was colourfully chaotic. I was forewarned by our server that this is a very rich dish. I think what he meant was this was a substantial, filling dish.

The base of the harlequin mountain was laden with mango-coloured potato cubes. The textures were distinctively unique from the usual potatoes we have. It's velvety and sticky on the outside, almost yam-like, but crunchy in the centre, akin to cooked apples! I prefer grainy starchy baked potatoes, but these are definitely lighter.

Not much in terms of taste though, the crab roe, fluorescent oils and dollop of crab with mayo were bland. The only flavours came from stingy drops of caramelised balsamic vinegar, except for those six or seven forkfuls, it was merely cold mouthfuls of unrecognisable blandness. For £20, I was expecting fresh crab meat, this wasn't up to scratch.

Merluza. Kohlrabi with capers. Piquillo and maca root compote

It’s a kind of hake, we were told. The fish was beautiful cooked, slightly under for that moist, flaky texture; crispy skin lubricated with healthy oils. It was, again, the flavours I couldn’t quite grasp. The bed of red compote on the left resembled salsa, while the white cream on the right was not dissimilar to aioli. I can’t say I was overly impressed. I appreciate simplicity, but this was more sloppiness and reluctance with the recipe. The halibut next door looked much better.

Chocolate porcelana. 75% cocoa with blue potato crystals, mango compote
Ana, the Portugese that also speak fluent Spanish and possibly another five European languages, translated porcelana as porcelain. So I speculated a thin shell of dark chocolate encasing exotic mango puree with blue potato dustings... totally off the scale.

Porcelana turned out to be small blocks of chocolate delice, dense, smooth and slowly melting away on tongue like toffee. It didn’t feel like 75% cocoa though, probably a tad too sweet for my liking, I prefer something more bitter. The gentle fruity acidity lifted the solid sweetness of the choc, though the natural mango fragrance was somewhat lost. As for the blue potato... they might have turned brown as they warmed up.  I thought it was the best part of the meal.

I think I’m a bit weary of reading menus with too many odd words. I’m not even talking about Thai or Vietnamese menus, just words that are seemingly English. Take the Merluza for example, out of the four ingredients that make up the dish, I can’t accurately explain any of them, not one out of the four. I only guessed it was fish because it was sitting under the “mar” heading!

There were lots of cute light touches throughout the meal to give it an exotic twist, like blue potato cubes in the bread, roasted corn on ceviche, the green blob in the yoghurt that came with the bread... but none of them had much flavour, so they became food colourings. Did I grow fonder of Peruvian cuisine? I think I’m exactly where I was before I came to LIMA; found it interestingly different and fairly enjoyable, but I haven’t bought into it.

31 Rathbone Place
Tel: 0203 002 2640

Lima on Urbanspoon

You may also like: Corner RoomKopapaOne O One

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Mishkins - The Ultimate Deli

We are catching the last glimpse of this year's summer. So I took it easy on a Friday afternoon and cycled into Covent Garden. Do I feel like a bit of salt beef? Hell yea.

There used to be raving reviews for Mishkins at inception, people liked the extended vibe of Spuntino with a 'Jewish-like' spin on it. Then the records were marred by diners not getting the Jewish side of things, and portions being inconsistent, then overpricing kicked in. I didn't think I needed Mishkins until a recent visit to Spuntino turned out kinda disappointing.

Basically I fell in love with Mishkins within minutes. It was nice and quiet at 3pm, with Sitting on the Dock of the Bay cooing in the background. Elliot, who used to work at Spuntino, showed me a seat at the bar and I rehydrated on tap water. We chatted until my stomach started growling audibly, but was still advised to cut back on my orders.

Half Reuben on rye with pastrami, sauerkraut, Russian dressing & swiss cheese 
I never thought an out-of-this-world sandwich could exist, I mean, bottom-line, it's two pieces of bread with some protein and veg in the middle, right? Nope, not this time...this Reuben was no ordinary feat.

The toasted bread infused with melted swiss cheese was made ultra crispy on one side, glazed with fragrant oils. Thin layer of sauerkraut softened the harshness and lifted the weighty combination of meat and cheese, leaving each bite oozing with delightful meat juice, tangy dressing and fluid cheese... Whoa! It re-defines a deli sandwich.

There used to be a time when I thought Selfridges Brass Rail did the best salt beef, pastrami and ox tongue on foccacia. Sadly the sandwiches became so salty last couple of years I found myself downing coke to wash the salt off.

Meatballs : Veal, chilli and sultana
Their meatballs change daily, and often have at least one meat and one veggie version. I think I mentioned somewhere that I am no meatball fan. Well, Mishkins had me converted.

These were about the size of a baby fist, super moist and smooth in texture with a rich, almost foie gras-like centre, which was almost instantly counter-balanced by plump sultanas. These were addictive. Heat from chilli was subtle, more likely lingering aftermath to prompt you another mouthful.

I thought the half portion sandwich was substantial, together with the meatballs it made a pretty complete lunch. For me, Mishkins muscled its way to the top above Spuntino and the Polpo franchise. I'm going to have to try their salt beef and Rachel sandwiches next.

25 Catherine Street
Tel: 0207 240 2078

Mishkin's on Urbanspoon
You may also like: KopapaMEATmarketPrinci

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Ittenbari – Battle of Ramen

So I liked Tonkotsu, Hakata ramen from Kyushu prefecture sat very well its thick, porky soup. And the immediate question from most friends was: Tonkotsu or Ittenbari? Well, here we go.

This noodle bar is much more simplistic, bare walls and wooden furniture; it’s basic, almost canteen-like. The energy and enthusiasm of the staff lighted up the place though. It was early evening when I visited and saw head chef briefing the rest of the team for evening service. Menu is more expansive here, it offers sushi & sashimi and a few set lunches. 

Mini Char-shu don
This was actually bigger than I anticipated, and very generous with the meat. The cubes of pork were heavenly, succulent meat with a small lump of lard, with teriyaki sauce drizzled, not drowned. The fat burst to release nutty grease that fuses with the warm rice... hmmm... The sauce was pretty spot-on too, not overly sugary or viscous, just savoury with an addictive sweetness.

The regular size version has one slice of pork belly and half an egg, probably a bit meagre for an adult, but given I got my share of pork from the mini-don, this was okay. The soup base was made with chicken and vegetable stock with seafood extracts, much thinner, clearer and lighter. But I prefer the rich soup at Tonkotsu, this by comparison felt somewhat lacking in substance and texture.

I did, however, prefer was the noodles here. I am a die-hard fan for the eggy ramen. This was the kind of ramen I was first introduced to in my childhood; they kick a tone of alkali into the soup. It may sound weird, but I love that gentle nose-prickling alkali, just a subtle hint of it would do, it brings a certain roundness to the flavours.

My first impression tells me Tonkotsu beats Ittenbari. However I need to come back for their miso soup base ramen to know better...

84 Brewer Street
Tel: 0207 287 1318

Ittenbari Ramen Restauant on Urbanspoon
You may also like: KimcheeBurger & Lobster (Soho)Atari-ya