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.
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.
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.
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