London serves sushi – top Japanese cuisine in London

Sushi is undeniably a trend that has hit and continues to persist in the West. It is with good reason too; when done right sushi is an absolutely delicious, healthy dish.

However, with all trends there comes the posers, most often seen on supermarket shelves and in high-street chains. In a milieu of fakes that mask themselves as authentic Japanese cuisine, it is harder to find true sushi these days – but it can be done. In this regard, London is both guilty and redemptive; it houses some of the most prolific proprietors of “substitution” sushi and some of the most exemplary establishments that purvey truly delicious Japanese cuisine. I will look at some of the best sushi bars in London in attempt to unveil the mystery of the Land of the Rising Sun, as a nation that provides some of the most universally enjoyed but universally misunderstood cuisine.

 

Tajima-Tei, Farringdon

www.tajima-tei.co.uk

Tajima-Tei is a small sushi bar that is the epitome of a hidden gem; frankly, you probably don’t know it exists unless you’ve been there yourself. It is housed on Leather Lane in Farringdon and, for all its elusiveness, offers a menu that strikes right to heart of Japanese dining. Tajima-Tei is an establishment that is built on the custom of regulars, often native Japanese businessmen who are in the know in regards to where to find the best food of their homeland in London. The ambience is therefore quite professional and makes you feel that you’re similarly well-informed.

What Tajima-Tei prides itself on is its sashimi, slices of fresh raw fish, cut with the utmost exactitude by a Japanese kitchen knife called a yanagi-ba. Yanagi-ba are small instruments reminiscent of Japanese katana, characterised by their long, slim and crucially sharp blades.

Yanagiba Japanese Kitchen Knife

Yanagi-ba are used in authentic Japanese cuisine to create a dish that is exact in shape and manages to be both precise and robust in flavor. The sashimi on offer at Tajima-Tei include sea bass, squid, mackerel ,salmon and belly tuna, each served raw to yield a vivacity of flavour that would be lost if cooked. The precision in preparing such high-quality fish results in a fresh but potent taste that permeates the menu.

The owner of Tajima-Tei was in fact trained in a ryotei restaurant in Kyoto, Japan. A ryotei is a type of establishment based on the principles of luxury and adherence to Japanese tradition. Catering to a high-level clientele, ryotei restaurants are known to only accept new customers by referral and often feature geisha as entertainment. Although this esoteric world of the Far East isn’t directly translated into the centre of London with Tajima-Tei, you will see your waitresses wearing kimono and it is obvious that the restaurant maintains firm standards in the quality of produce and service.

Tajima-Tei may be on the expensive side of London lunches; the minimum order here is £10 per person and a basic sushi set starts at around £8, however to truly taste authentic Japanese cuisine is a rare experience and one I wholly recommend here at Tajima-Tei.

Sushi

 

Miyama, Mayfair

www.miyama-restaurant.co.uk

Miyama is a stones-throw away from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and, like the Elizabethan playhouse, offers a more minimalist than opulent décor. However, considering the subtle and elegant tones of Japanese cuisine, the décor is perhaps a fair reflection of its menu. Miyama is typical for a restaurant making its home in Mayfair in that it takes a finer approach to Japanese cuisine, threading together both the classics known to the West and the more arcane of Japanese traditional cuisine. The choices of sushi, nigiri and sashimi menus are as extensive as the main courses, the smells and tastes as intricate and dramatic as traditional Japanese Noh theatre. A highlight of the menu is the sukiyaki, arguably an elegant Japanese take on the hot-pot. Sukiyaki is cooked at your table and is a sensitively flavoured soup comprising of beef sashimi, vegetables, tofu, shirataki (“white waterfall”) noodles and warishita sauce.

Suki Yaki Boiling Pot

A cost-effective way of enjoying Miyama’s high-class cuisine is sampling its extensive 5-course menu available at £38. On here, you’ll find novelties such as sushi courses and dishes ranging from grilled fresh water eel marinated in kabayaki sauce to shrimp, chicken and vegetable soup served in a clay teapot.

Miyama employs a level of excellence in its service, with attentive wait-staff and home touches such as a guide recommending which particular Japanese sake or liqueur best suits your choice of food. As a high-class home of Japanese cuisine in Mayfair, Miyama may be the most expensive restaurant on my list yet tempers such cost with a high level of sophistication. Miyama may lack the spectacle of “Japonism” found in many of the East-Asian venues of the West-End, but its food and service do all the talking. For a fine-dining experience offering authentic Japanese cuisine, Miyama should be a destination to remember.

 

Nambu-Tei, Baker Street

The old cliché, “don’t judge a book by its cover”, is pertinent when thinking of Nambu-Tei, a restaurant housed in an arcade off of Baker Street. Unfortunately, to say the least, Nambu-Tei is dated in décor and has furnishings and upholstery which serve as a painful hangover of the trends of the 80s that we would all prefer to forget. However, to be put off by the appearance of Nambu-Tei is a mistake; what the restaurant lacks in visual appeal, it more than makes up in the quality of its food.

For this reason, it is perhaps best to treat Nambu-Tei as an unorthodox dining experience. Think of it as dinner at an old aesthetically-impaired Japanese chef’s house, which makes it is incredibly authentic. Nambu-Tei’s menu is exquisite and there is little I wouldn’t be happy in recommending. Nambu-Tei succeeds in both the more well-known dishes, serving a medley of sashimi, sushi and tempura, and the lesser-known, traditional Japanese plates such as sea urchins or sukiyaki stews. A personal favourite is the fatty tuna sushi roll washed down with a serving of Japanese rice wine.

Service in Nambu-Tei is speedy and it is possible to be in and out within half an hour. However, I suggest closing your eyes and savouring the tastes on offer, blind to the décor. Nambu-Tei is authentic, unpretentious and one of London’s cheapest ways to dive into a traditional sushi experience.

 

Lagu, Battersea

www.facebook.com/lagucafe

Situated in Lavender Hill, Lagu epitomises the way in which London appropriates global cuisine and turns it into a trendy commodity.

Lagu calls itself a “Japanese-style café” and you may be thinking why I have chosen to add it on a list commenting on the most authentic Japanese Restaurants. You may have a point. However, what Lagu lacks in traditional sushi-slicing expertise, it makes up for in abundance of charm, flavour and a family friendly atmosphere.

Lagu is aware of its own stylishness and offers clever meals and salads for both the adult and child. However, some of the children’s options are so cute, on occasion, I myself have considered eating for an imaginary infant. I dare you not to swell with glee at the sight of a rice-ball Totoro, the eponymous character of the famous Studio Ghibli film.

Lagu London

A speciality of Lagu is its gokoku mai, a mixed grain and rice dish that comprises a super-dish of “good” carbohydrates. Included is the cancer-fighting organic brown rice, the anti-oxidising black rice, millet, amaranth grains and of course, the ubiquitous topping of sesame seeds. However, the purpose of gokoku mai isn’t purely medicinal; it packs a vibrant, deep-hitting flavour that is an enlivening as it is comforting.

For those considering the slightly less healthy of options, try the karaage-don. Karaage-don describes a way of deep-frying meat that derives from China but has become a staple of the Japanese culinary repertoire. Lagu’s chicken karaage-don is crisp, lean and moist, and comes served either plain or with a choice of teriyaki mayonnaise or sweet chilli sauce.

Lagu, with its sleek fusion-food mantra, quite often uses Mediterranean ingredients in parallel with the Japanese. Whether this be the avocado chunks that complement the restaurant’s salmon sashimi salad, or the ice-cream that is flavoured by Japanese matcha (a green tea powder), Lagu prioritises style and taste and offers a cosmopolitan dining experience in London’s leafy South-West.

Lagu London Dish

 

Deciding whether to call sushi-making a science or an art form is difficult. It certainly adheres to levels of precision and training that suggest scientific discipline, however the resulting explosion of stimulating flavour seems to require artistic enlightenment.

Certainly, any attempts to prepare sushi at home are as disappointing as the stale attempts that plague the shelves of many a local supermarket. It is for this reason, I am happy to pay for the privilege to eat a cuisine that I am disastrous in preparing myself. Authentic Japanese cuisine is difficult to replicate and this is precisely why it is something you will have to try and be seduced by yourself.