16 January 2011

Yashin Sushi, London – Restaurant Review

I'm back! Firstly, a somewhat belated Happy New Year. The holiday season always seems to be so hectic, leaving me in desperate need of another holiday to recover, and this year was no exception. Christmas was spent in Mrs. Nibbler's hometown of Lillehammer. For the New Year festivities we rented a little house on the beach in Whitstable with friends, followed by two weeks in my beloved London. While we were away, Oslo seems to have been blanketed with more than a liberal dose of snow. I would say it's quite charming (and it is really) but I'm a touch concerned that our impending house-move next week might be affected, mainly due to the movers' insistence that they use a crane to remove our belongings from the apartment, rather than carry them down two flights of stairs. Oh well, we shall see. In the meantime, though, a serious backlog of blog posts has been building up. So without further ado I thought I'd start the New Year with a look at Yashin Sushi, which at the moment is probably serving some of London's best sushi.

Yashin Sushi is London's latest high-end sushi restaurant. It is the brainchild of two experienced itamae: Yasuhiro Mineno (ex-head chef of the now defunct Ubon restaurant) and Shinya Ikeda (ex-chef at Yumi). Although it opened at the end of October 2010, Yashin has already been causing quite a stir among London's sushi lovers. So, when I was in London recently, Mrs. Nibbler and I decided to go there for dinner with a couple of friends who used to live in Tokyo.

On entering the smallish restaurant, the first thing you're aware of is the long sushi bar and the rather fetching glazed Victorian-style tiles. Behind the sushi counter, in bold blue neon, was a sign saying "Without Soy Sauce", swiftly followed with the subscript, "but if you want to". On seeing this I instantly fell in love with the place, as it reminded me of some of the more memorable sushi experiences I had in Tokyo, where the itamae would lovingly brush the sushi with the optimal amount of soy sauce. To then go and dip the thing in a great big lake of wasabi-laden soy sauce, as we uncouth gaijin are apt to do, would have been a terrible insult to the chef.

As we were a group of four, we were seated in the downstairs section to give us more space (sitting four abreast at the sushi counter would have been a bit odd). Unfortunately, this meant we missed out on watching our sushi being expertly crafted – a big part of the sushi experience for me. However, the downstairs space was lovely and intimate, which was only slightly let down by the cheesy 'Euro chill-out' soundtrack playing over the speakers.

The menu at Yashin is fairly straightforward; there is a selection of smaller dishes, such as salads and carpaccios, while the main courses consist of three omakase menus of 8, 11, or 15 pieces of sushi (£30, £45, and £60 respectively).
To begin with we were offered a plate of amuse bouches, from which we were to select one piece each. I chose a wonderful piece of fatty and sweet unagi (eel). I think the other choices were octopus and scallop but I can't quite remember.
While we looked at the menus we ordered some edamame (£3.80) that was served warm with yuzu salt and grated yuzu rind – we dipped the pods in the salt and sucked out the beans inside. Edamame has to be one of my all-time favourite snacks, and these were delicious.
I decided to go for the 15-piece omakase menu, but we started off with a few smaller dishes for us to share. First up was Goma Ae (£5.80) – vegetables in a sesame sauce. Carrots, green beans, courgettes, asparagus, figs and other goodies were smothered in a thick sesame paste sauce. The vegetables were fresh and crisp, and the accompanying sweet and nutty sauce went really well with them.
Next was wagyu beef carpaccio with wasabi sauce (£13.50). Thin slivers of wagyu beef were spread on a plate and dressed with a zingy wasabi sauce and garlic chips. A great dish, although the wagyu beef was not quite as tender as I've had in the past.
I adore soft shell crab, and at Yashin they serve it deep-fried in a salad with mizuna leaves and tosazu vinegar dressing (£8.40). Tosazu is a rice-wine vinegar flavoured with soy sauce, konbu, bonito flakes, and a touch of sugar to balance the flavours. This was a truly delicious dish, but I would have liked to have seen a bit more crab at this price point.
A simple green salad (£6.40) was next. There's not a huge amount to say about a green salad really. It was a salad, it was green, and it was fine. I particularly liked the zesty (ponzu?) dressing that came with it.
Kaizuka Sumiso (£6.60) – mixed shellfish salad with potatoes and miso vinegar dressing was next, and very decent it was too.
The next dish to arrive was a bowl of Yose tofu (£6.20) – handmade Japanese tofu. We all had a spoonful and were stunned into silence. I can honestly say this was perhaps the finest tofu I have ever tasted. Served still warm, and barely set, it came with grated wasabi and diced tosazu jelly, whose tart acidity was a perfect complement to the clean and fresh flavour of the tofu. Within seconds, we had scraped the bowl clean, and promptly called the waiter over to order another one. Heavenly!
Miso soup (£2.50) was then served in dainty tea cups and was packed with tiny flavoursome mushrooms.
As Mrs. Nibbler isn't too much of a fan of nigiri (I know, I know) she opted for a sashimi platter (£25) that arrived literally looking like a beautiful sculpture. Expertly cut pieces of o-toro, wagyu beef, and scallop, among others, were presented resting on crushed ice in a lacquered bowl. I wasn't allowed to try any and, judging by Mrs. Nibbler's smiles, she enjoyed it immensely.
The sushi omakase menu is served in two parts. First to arrive was a beautiful arrangement of eight nigiri sushi. These were (from top left in the photo):
  • Madai (sea bream), slicked with soy sauce and sprinkled with tiny balls of rice cracker
  • In a nod to Nobu's famous yellowtail sashimi there was hamachi (yellowtail) served with a thin sliver of jalapeño
  • Chu-toro (medium-fatty tuna) lightly grilled and sprinkled with sea salt
  • Maguro (tuna) with kisame (fresh) wasabi
  • Hirame (turbot) with chopped spring onion
  • Ebi (prawn), lightly grilled and served with salt and a touch of foie gras
  • Sake (salmon), lightly grilled and topped with ponzu jelly
  • Suzuki (sea bass)
The nigiri were just incredible and so intelligently put together. The fish was exquisitely fresh, and each piece was a well-crafted and well-thought out masterpiece. The various toppings (with the exception of the spring onion on the hirame that was way too overpowering) all added a fascinating extra dimension, in taste as well as texture. The light grilling (by blow-torch) of some of the nigiri gave a lovely hint of fire and smoke and transformed the character of the fish, turning the well-known, like salmon and tuna, into something novel and exciting. The rice was perfect too. One of the real revelations of eating sushi in Japan was the sheer quality of the rice, and at Yashin their rice was spot on – perfectly seasoned with vinegar and served with a touch of residual warmth. I also loved the gari (pickled ginger), instead of the usual thin slices, here at Yashin they pickle their own and serve it in great big chunks, which leaves much of the spicy ginger flavour intact.

The second plate of nigiri arrived looking (and tasting) every bit as spectacular as the first. This time we had:
  • Saba (mackerel) topped with kisame wasabi
  • Matsuba kani (snow crab)
  • Uni (sea urchin) served in great big blobs in a nori wrapper topped with wasabi
  • Wagyu beef, lightly seared and sprinkled with salt and pepper
  • Mate Gai (razor clam), also lightly seared and sprinkled with salt and pepper
  • More of the Madai (sea bream) with rice cracker
  • Hirame (turbot), this time served with microgreens
Desserts are typically not a lavish affair in Japanese cuisine, and at Yashin we finished our meal simply with a selection of the four different ice creams on offer, which are served with a small bowl of fruit salad. My mix of sencha (green tea) and goma (black sesame) ice creams was delicious - creamy, but not overly heavy, and packed full of their respective flavours. I managed to sneak a taste of the shiso and yuzu sorbets and can report that they were excellent too, being lighter and zestier than the ice creams.
Yashin's nigiri might not be for sushi purists, but not only are they beautiful, they are also full of exciting flavour combinations. The ingredients used here are impeccably fresh and the sushi is so visually stunning. The other smaller dishes were also of a very high standard. I must admit though, I tend to prefer my sushi to be a bit more traditional (like that I had at Tokyo's sublime Sushi Dai), but there is just so much to love about Yashin that I may have to change my mind about that.

In summary, don't come to Yashin expecting a traditional sushi experience, instead come and be wowed by their flawlessly crafted modern nigiri served in an equally modern dining room. At the moment, Yashin is serving probably some of the best sushi in London, and a trip here should not be missed. I can't wait to return.

Food:         8 / 10
Service:      7 / 10
Ambiance:  7 / 10

1a Argyll Road
London W8 7DB
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)20 79381 5362
Yashin Sushi on Urbanspoon
Square Meal