sushi (chirashi) in london – part 2
Judging from the enthusiastic response to my initial chirashi post (I received enough recommendations to last me till at least part 4), you lot are just as passionate about sushi as I am. As promised, here is the second installment where I check out the lunchtime chirashi on offer at old favourite Sakana-tei, the revamped Sake no Hana, Atari-ya‘s latest outpost in Swiss Cottage, Japanese housewife hang-out Mitsukoshi, and the institution that is Sushi Hiro.
I discovered this tiny restaurant when I worked in nearby Golden Square years ago, during a lunchtime wander, and it has since become a regular haunt. Coincidentally my first meal there was the special chirashi, a choice selection of sashimi piled up high on sushi rice in a traditional lacquered bowl. It may look a bit messy but that’s my fault – I shifted the pieces to better display the impressive array. I found this very reasonable at £18.80 considering the quality and extras (a daily starter and small teapot of dobin mushi, a delicious clear soup) that came with it. A real treasure trove of fish: turbot, otoro, yellowtail, mackerel, salmon, surf clam, herring, octopus, maguro, squid, cooked prawn, crab sticks, flying fish roe and tamago, all of exceptional quality, on shiny delicately vinegared rice. What’s not to like?
Sakana-tei, 11 Maddox Street, London W1S 2QF (0871 075 7855)
Atari-ya in Acton has long been our go-to shop for buying sashimi-grade fish to serve at home. However my recent trip to their newly-opened Swiss Cottage branch was the first outing to any of their sushi bars (there’s also one in Hendon and a small takeaway near Selfridges). The lunch crowd comes in mainly for the sushi and the three chefs behind the counter get inundated with orders so the wait can be long. A small starter of bean sprouts helped to tide me over until the arrival of a bowl similar in appearance to the one at Sakana-tei, featuring a humbler, but no less fresh, range of fish: scallop, fresh crab meat, salmon roe, ama ebi, maguro, bream, salmon, prawn, tamago and flying fish roe. It was well-portioned, with a perfect sashimi to rice ratio. The room temperature rice had the bonus of being strewn with black and white sesame, nori and tasty marinated shitake. Unbelievable value for £10, and the free-flowing green tea didn’t cost a penny.
Atari-ya Sushi Bar Swiss Cottage, 75 Fairfax Road, London NW6 4EE (020 7328 5338)
#8: Sake no Hana
I’ve eaten several times at Sake no Hana, but not post-renovations and was sad to find they had gotten rid of the sunken tatami tables. The menu appears to have had a makeover as well, and after a quick perusal I zoned into what I was looking for – the Bara Chirashi. Given the posh surroundings, sleek interiors and sharply-dressed staff, I was surprised to find it priced at a distinctly low £12.50. 20 minutes later I found out why – it was essentially a bowl of sushi rice scattered with maki off-cuts: scraps of salmon, tuna, unagi and some mystery white fish, dried-out bits of tamago, cubes of cucumber and avocado (possibly from the california rolls), and a smidgen of flying fish roe. Fair enough, Bara Chirashi traditionally features diced fish, but I’ve never had one as pitiful as this. It came with four different types of pickles and the best thing in the set – a lovely daikon-laced miso soup. I was so dissatisfied that I ordered an additional botan prawn nigiri and a seared toro nigiri, the combined cost of which equalled that of the rice bowl, and those provided a better gauge of the sashimi quality. The otoro, although stingy portion-wise, had a good amount of marbling and the meaty prawns were sweet and creamy. Good nigiri, rubbish chirashi.
Sake no Hana, 23 St James’s Street, London SW1A 1HA (020 7925 8988)
#9: Sushi Hiro
As a lover of sushi I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t made the pilgrimage to Ealing’s Sushi Hiro until now. The stark but tranquil sushi house had supposedly dipped in quality since a change in management, but my Deluxe Chirashi revealed otherwise. Obviously with it being my first visit I couldn’t comment on the standard of sushi before, but what I sampled – ama ebi, otoro, turbot, maguro, horse mackerel, ark shell clam, snapper, salmon roe, squid, scallop, unagi, cooked prawn and tamago – were all excellent. Special mention goes to the rarely offered ark shell clam, beautifully sweet and soft, and the buttery melt-in-the-mouth otoro. The rice, although suitably sticky, could have done with a more generous splash of vinegar; a minor niggle for what was otherwise a fantastic chirashi. Incredible value at £16, and there’s even a cheaper basic chirashi for £12 (both come with a miso soup).
Sushi Hiro, 1 Station Parade, Uxbridge Road, Ealing, London W5 3LD (020 8896 3175)
Situated next to the new Japan Centre (worth a visit if you’ve not been), is the Mitsukoshi department store which has an expansive restaurant and sushi bar on the lower floor. It was a hive of activity when I stopped by, full of shoppers, families, tourists and businessmen all nattering away in Japanese. It brought me back to my childhood, when I’d stop for lunch with my mother after a bout of shopping at eateries similar to this, tucking into an omu rice or a kid’s bento. I ordered the Chirashi lunch and added a portion of mixed tempura, after the waitress informed me there would be a delay on the chirashi (it was nearly 2pm and I was starving). Good thing I did too as the chirashi (presented with a bowl of clear wakame soup) took a half hour to turn up; the offering was quite limited with only four slices of raw fish (salmon, chutoro, turbot and sea bass), surf clam, salmon roe, two cooked prawns and tamago. Both the chutoro and turbot were sinewy, and generally the quality of the fish could have been improved. I did like the well-charred unagi and moist tamago moist, although the marinated prawn was tough and so sweet that I left the second piece untouched. The bed of sushi rice was also overly vinegary for my taste. Not unreasonable at £14.80, but nowhere near the calibre of the rest.
Mitsukoshi Restaurant, 14-20 Lower Regent Street, London SW1Y 4PH (020 7930 0317)
Some great value finds in part 2 – a close race between top contenders Sakana-tei, Sushi Hiro and Atari-ya, and Mitsukoshi and Sake no Hana trailing behind.
Am looking forward to part 3 already.