Every time we hit The Barbican for a film or jazz concert we are faced with the same dining dilemma as the immediate surrounding area is a bit of a culinary wasteland. We usually end up at the dull but passable Searcy’s within the complex or Pham Sushi, tucked away on the quiet end of Whitecross Street. Thanks to its proximity to the city, the no-frills sushi joint enjoys a roaring lunch trade during the week, doing so well that they opened another shop further down the same street, catering specifically to takeaway.
Pham Sushi is best known for their signature Crunchy Tuna Rolls; salmon and asparagus rolled in tempura crumb-crusted rice and draped with thick slices of spring onion and flying fish roe-topped tuna. The contrasting textures are pleasing, although I do prefer the flavour profile of their Spicy Tuna Rolls which are also dusted with tempura flecks and stuffed with tuna tossed in a spiced mayonnaise.
A lot of the menu are Nobu knock-offs, like the Rock Shrimp Tempura in a Spicy Sauce. Not quite on par with the original, but the crunchy plump morsels are still very moreish indeed. At first glance it appears a rather generous portion but disappointingly once we got to the bottom third we were mostly rewarded with sauce-coated scraps of batter.
Other Nobu-esque dishes on offer include the Yellow Tail Sashimi with Jalapeno, unnecessarily garnished with a truckload of tomato slices. The yellow tail was sliced somewhat haphazardly, resulting in pieces that varied greatly in thickness. However the quality of the fish itself was good and the ponzu dressing was well-seasoned, with just the right touch of acidity.
A Peruvian-inspired Sea Bass Tiraditor was equally fresh but again displayed a lack of care in the cutting. In the mouth it all works – delicate mildly sweet fish perked up by refreshing lime and coriander and a hint of heat from the dabs of chilli paste.
The questionable knife skills of the sushi chef were on full display with the last new-style sashimi. It hurt me to see the lush creamy scallops so clumsily-handled; some of them (strategically hidden by the half-moons of tomato) had been so butchered they were falling apart. It tasted lovely though, the sweet flesh perfectly accentuated by the soy, ginger and sesame oil dressing.
The lightly-fried Agedashi Tofu in a savoury broth was tasty, but regrettably made with firm instead of silken tofu and didn’t have a proper cornflour layer. Most disappointing was the Tempura Zaru Soba. The soba were tasteless and so woefully over-cooked that the limp strands broke when I tried to lift them from the bamboo tray to the cold dipping sauce. The tempura was fine, but there was no forgiving the soggy noodles.
Clearly not even close to the same league as the likes of Sushi of Shiori, but if you can overlook the clumsy knife skills and lack of finesse in presentation, it’s a decent and reasonable pre-show bite. I’ve heard that the quality of the takeaway sushi is better than that of the eat-in, so could be worth noting if you happen to work nearby.
165 Whitecross Street
London EC1Y 8JL
t. 020 7251 6336