Sushi Tetsu quietly opened in June 2012 and is the creation of Toru Takahashi and his wife Harumi. In just a couple of short months the restaurant has received near reverent praise from many quarters. Such is the minuscule size of Sushi Tetsu (just seven stools surround its blonde wooden counter) that many dare not even speak its name for fear that the restaurant will be fully booked in perpetuity. But it would be a shame to keep such a wonderful place a closely guarded secret. If you love the precision, theatre and ritual of authentic Japanese sushi then a pilgrimage to Sushi Tetsu is a must.
Toru Takahashi himself hails from the Yamagata prefecture of Japan, an area known for its natural beauty – a feature that seems to be reflected in the food that Toru-san serves. After spending some time training as a sushi chef in Kobe, Takahashi moved to London where he spent seven years working at Nobu. Turning his back on the famous restaurant's modern Japanese dishes such as yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño and its iconic black cod with miso, Toru-san and his wife decided to create a simpler restaurant that is more reflective of the traditional minimalist sushi bars you'd find in Japan.
There is a menu at Sushi Tetsu, but you're best advised to leave yourself in the capable hands of the itamae and opt for the omakase menu. But be warned, the bill can add up fairly quickly. Especially if you, like me, decide that one or two pieces of the heavenly o-toro tuna is simply not enough. On both my recent visits to the restaurant the bill came to around £150 per person, but there may have been more than a bit of daiginjo sake and cold beer involved too.
We begin by watching as Toru-san elegantly prepares some impeccable cuts of sashimi: sweet scallop slicked with a mystery soy-based sauce is lightly singed with a blowtorch; soft pieces of chu-toro (medium-fatty tuna); gleaming ama ebi (sweet prawns); a quick flash of the knife creates vibrant slices of hamachi (yellowtail); and suzuki (sea bass) is coated with a refreshing ponzu sauce.
Chopsticks are available, but you're encouraged to eat your nigiri in the traditional way with your fingers; a folded wet napkin is handily provided for you to clean your hands. A soy sauce dish is also provided, although this proved redundant for the nigiri sushi as they come perfectly seasoned after being brushed with soy sauce.
We began with tai (sea bream), which had a sliver of shiso leaf tucked underneath the fish. The effect was to give the whole thing a zesty peppery freshness. The first thing I noticed though was the rice. Always the mark of good sushi, the rice Toru-san makes is served at body temperature and its seasoning is well-balanced, perhaps being a tiny bit sweeter than is typical. It's perfectly formed too, having just the right stickiness and density.
We watched as Toru-san picked a cut of o-toro from a wooden box containing various pieces of tuna gleaming like rubies in a jewellery box. He then sliced the fish and lightly scored each piece to increase its surface area, before brushing it with soy sauce and quickly grilling with a blowtorch, giving the o-toro a gentle hint of smokiness and released some of the fatty oils in the fish.
This was nothing short of stunning! 'Melt-in-the-mouth' is such an overused phrase, but I can't think of anything more appropriate to describe the way the tuna just seemed to disappear on the tongue.
Aji (horse mackerel) was spankingly fresh and was served with a few curls of spring onion underneath, all the better to cut through the oily richness of the fish.
This was in fact ika no shiokara, or fermented squid guts. Toru-san occasionally makes it himself by salting raw squid viscera and letting it ferment in a closed container.
I live in Norway and here there is a strong tradition of fermenting fish, so the flavour of the shiokara was not alien to me. In fact it was a little bit like a milder, but much tastier, version of the infamous Norwegian rakfisk, which is fermented for much longer. It's an acquired taste, but I can easily see its complex savouriness becoming quite addictive.
We ended our meal with a piece of tamagoyaki (grilled egg). This is a real test of skill for an itamae, and Toru-san's example was simply stunning. It's made with beaten egg to which (among other things I'm sure) sugar and prawn paste were added. It had such a light cake-like texture with a wonderful sweet/savoury taste. In fact, for all but the most hardened of sugar addicts, it was probably sweet enough to pass as a dessert proper and was a fantastic way to end the meal.
It's difficult to sum up a meal at Sushi Tetsu. The tiny dining room with just seven stools surrounding the chef lends the place a real intimacy. Toru Takahashi and his wife Harumi play the role of extremely gracious hosts and the small room quickly fills with laughter and playful banter.
But the real joy is the food, which is made with such precision and elegance by Toru-san and the almost balletic movements of his razor sharp knife. It really is some of the best sushi I've had outside of Japan, and for a few moments during your meal you'll feel transported back to some tiny Ginza sushi bar. But forget the comparisons with Japan, we're in London after all, and Sushi Tetsu is quite simply one of the best restaurants in town. So go and make a reservation, you'll love it.
Food: 9 / 10
Service: 9 / 10
Ambiance: 9 / 10