37 Conduit Street
London, W1S 2YF
Tel. 0208 382 5066
Food type: Japanese
Nearest tube: Bond Street/ Oxford Street
Website: Tsukiji Sushi
It would be yet another day I had to head into London for my wedding suit fitting. With Saville Row conveniently located very close to many of my favourite restaurants, it took a great amount of willpower to avoid popping into Hibiscus or Alyn Williams and having a tasting menu. I have been told in no uncertain terms that I had to shed a couple of pounds for our wedding. As such, I decided that Japanese would be a ‘healthier’ choice overall.
Mayfair has a fair few options when it comes to Japanese. This is unsurprising given that the Japanese Embassy is located nearby. One of the restaurants that has intrigued me, mainly because of its name is Tsukiji Sushi, located at the Westbury Hotel. Tsukiji is of course also the name of the fish market located in Tokyo and was famously featured in the documentary ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ where the Jiro Ono (think of him as the Paul Bocuse of sushi) talks about his meticulous quest for purveying the finest fish from the market. One can only hope that the fish quality here would match up to the name on the door.
I arrived at 12pm with no booking hoping to chance a table. The restaurant is relatively small and I was told that the only seating available were ones at the sushi counter. Not a problem for me since I enjoy watching the chefs at work. Like many Japanese restaurants in London, the restaurant offers a wider variety of dishes – sushi, tempura, grilled dishes, etc. This scattergun approach is of course very different compared to restaurants in Japan (but also Hong Kong and Singapore), where they often choose to focus on a singular item but do it very well. However, with the name ‘Tsukiji Sushi’ I decided to play it safe and stay with the sushi.
Opting for the ‘Sushi Moriawase’ set with a few additions, I was informed that they did not have any uni (sea urchin) available. I decided to switch that to saba (mackerel) which was not a problem. When the plate arrived, I was surprised to see two pieces of mackerel sushi. I thought I had made a silly mistake and doubled up on an order but it was not until I went home and checked the menu did I realise that the kitchen had swapped the unagi (eel) by mistake. Either that, or given my early sitting, they had not grilled any of the eel yet because when I had completed my meal, a plate of grilled eel appeared behind the sushi counter.
So how was the sushi? In two words – very poor. There were so many fundamental problems with the sushi.
- The rice itself was not seasoned very well – there was hardly any detectable vinegar in the rice. Given that sushi essentially means ‘vinegared rice’ this is very poor.
- The rice was served at the wrong temperature. It was by no means fridge cold, but it was not body temperature.
- None of the sushi was pre-seasoned with wasabi. Instead, there is a blob of ‘wasabi’ from a tube – the horrible, green coloured horseradish. Given that wasabi (the real thing, not the fake stuff) is commercially grown in England and can be bought online, using the fake stuff and calling yourself a sushi restaurant is just unacceptable.
- The quality of fish was mediocre. I find this very difficult to explain, but like most of the sushi restaurants in London, the fish tasted ‘stale’. It is not ‘off’ per se and still perfectly safe for consumption, but if you have eaten sushi at any top sushi-yas, heck even Sushi Tetsu (in London) you will understand what I mean by the statement.
With my sushi I ordered some Gyokuro tea. At £26 a pot, this is a significant amount of money for tea. Now, I am a lover of fine teas in the same way that I appreciate fine wine, and at any given time, I have around 20 different types of teas at home. When a restaurant is charging a significant amount of money to serve an expensive tea, I expect them to able to prepare the tea correctly. Preparing Gyokuro tea by infusing the leaves with boiling water is akin to serving a bottle of Margaux at 35°C. The tea was completely tannic and was no different to drinking green tea from a tea bag. In case you are wondering, Gyokuro should be brewed with water at 40-50°C, at most 60°C.
The meal was not a complete write-off. I guess the green tea ice cream was pretty good. There was a small and delicate tuile and a little cherry powder which I thought was an interesting addition. But it really says a lot about a Japanese restaurant, when the best item on the menu is the ice cream.
With a name like Tsukiji Sushi, one could only hope that the restaurant would be able to deliver decent sushi. What I encountered was sushi which was at best marginally better than ‘Yo Sushi’. To be fair, crap sushi of this caliber is endemic throughout most of London and perhaps it is unfair of me to single out Tsukiji Sushi. It seems that most Japanese restaurants in London have a pre-conception of what British people expect of the cuisine and stick to the sad tried and true formula (and in many cases the same mediocre suppliers). I am sure the restaurant won’t care one bit given that it was packed for lunch but its appeal seemed lost on me.