The British fascination with Japanese cuisine in recent years has done much to improve access to our favourite way to sample fresh fish. From a business lunch to an atmospheric dinner choice, sushi has well and truly earned its place on every London Gentleman’s repertoire of go-to gastronomies.
However, as so often happens imported cuisines, quality can become a victim of overwhelming quantity, as the true essence of a dish is lost in translation. Boxes of dry, supermarket maki; huge, rice-filled rolls engulfing tiny slithers of seafood; and lashings of cheap wasabi paste and soy sauce have far too often done their best to damage the experience, and left mouths watering in hope of the freshest sashimi sorely disappointed.
Thankfully, the existence of certain restaurants on the London scene ensures that, provided you know where to look, it’s never been easier to seek out first-class sushi.
Araki, 12 New Burlington St
Mitsuhiro Araki’s original restaurant in Tokyo held three Michelin stars, but in 2014 the Oyakata (Sushi Master) chose to uproot, and bring his vision and expertise to London. After just three years of adjusting two hundred year old Edomae cooking techniques, and using largely European fish, the exquisite results mean that last week these three stars were regained, as Araki became one of the five top-rated eating establishments in the UK.
Tempura, teriyaki, karaage and meat are out of the question, as is catering for special dietary requirements. It’s sushi only on the omakase menu (at a set price of £300), and every bite is prepared and served by Mr Araki himself for a maximum of nine diners per sitting.
Ikeda, 30 Brook Street, Mayfair
Combining family ownership with the pinnacle of refined dining, Ikeda’s focus is on tradition, both in terms of cuisine and overall experience.
Founded in 1978 (on the same day as the Jubilee line) the emphasis remains on an authentic, no frills experience, focused unapologetically on the supreme quality of the fish and perfect execution of their dishes. As so often the case, at least part of the pleasure comes from watching the chefs prepare your food in the open kitchen, and in Ikeda’s boasts an impressive list of celebrities who have enjoyed this privilege.
Zuma, 5 Raphael St, Knightsbridge
One of eleven Zumas around the world, and describing its menu as ‘authentic but not traditional’, Zuma London’s philosophy strives towards fresh and vibrant Japanese cuisine, without losing sight of the past. The dishes are designed to be either shared or not (depending on appetite or inclination), in fitting with the classically unceremonious Izakaya-style eating and the modern, informal ambience. Zuma’s menu and unimpeachable reputation prove that simplicity can coexist with the sublime.
In addition, this month Zuma celebrates its 15th birthday. The internationally acclaimed contemporary Japanese restaurant and bar marks the occasion by introducing an exclusive tasting menu designed by co-founder and creator, Rainer Becker. It will include a selection of the restaurant’s most iconic dishes since its inception – so it’s certainly not one to miss.
Dinings, 22 Harcourt St, Marylebone
Since opening Dinings a decade ago, Nobu alumni Masaki Sugisaki and Keiji Fuku have developed traditional Izakaya-style cuisine into a form of Japanese tapas.
Whilst the heritage of Japanese cooking is resolutely upheld, modern European cooking techniques incorporate flashes of Western cuisine and Latin flair into their textures and flavours. The intimate dining atmosphere is as distinctive as the food, and, along with the freshest fish that Cornish day boats can bring them, has turned the three Dinings locations some of the most popular small restaurants in London (and made booking essential).
Sushi Shop, 10 Old Brompton Rd, Kensington
The French-founded delivery service is another franchise that has succumbed to the lure of infusing the highest quality Japanese cuisine with elements of European culture; Sushi Shop has Parisian chic on their autumn menu. The limited edition Maison Sarah Lavoine box has been tried, tested, and heartily approved by the Gentleman’s Journal team.
The 42 piece box, born of their collaboration with Maison Sarah Lavoine, includes superb Beef Tartar sushi and Citrus and Basil Yellow Tail Maki amongst other firm favourites. Embodying the distinctive combination of Sushi Shop’s two decades of expertise and innovation, with the bold aesthetics of a major name on France’s interior design scene, this is just one of their boxes which make sushi as readily available as it is unimpeachable in quality.