Good sushi is still quite hard to find in the UK. Yes, it’s increasingly popular for lunch given that it’s low in fat and quite filling but good sushi is very different to what you find in supermarkets. The sushi you find in supermarkets has been chilled for so long that the rice is plastic in its texture and there’s no flavour to it at all, plus the fact that most of the fish toppings have been cooked (sometimes cured) to preserve shelf life so you’re not even getting fresh fish. Fortunately, there are restaurants out there which help to restore my faith in Sushi (and Japanese food); Ebi Sushi in Derby is one place the comes to mind and there are a handful of places in London, too. Some are more high-end and thus reflected in the prices, but the one place I keep going back to is Sushi of Shiori on Drummond St, which is conveniently right next to Euston Station for my train journeys back to Birmingham.
I can’t remember exactly how I discovered Sushi of Shiori, but the first time I went was after I had some time to kill whilst waiting for my train home. It’s a tiny place – There are only 9 seats but you never feel too cramped. There are 3 seats where you have prime position in facing the open plan kitchen where you can watch Chef at work and it really is an absolute wonder to watch; more akin to watching an artist at work than a chef cooking and creating for you so if you ever get a chance to sit in these seats, do so without any hesitation and I promise you that you won’t regret it.
Hitomi is utterly charming as your hostess and obviously needs to be knowledgeable when you get inquisitive people such as myself asking things like what we’re eating or indeed, what various components are of each dish. Even though I’ve always sat at the counter facing Chef whenever I’ve gone there, rather than hand the finished dish over the counter to me which would be the easy (some would say lazy) thing to do, she still makes the long way round from out of the kitchen area to your seat to serve you. It’s a small detail but I am always touched and impressed by this.
The food is absolutely first-rate – The best in London for my money’s worth. The thick white strands in the picture above may look like noodles but they are actually strands of squid shredded to resemble noodles. That, combined with the smoked aubergine and the dipping sauce they are sitting in was absolutely delectable. The first time I ate scallop sashimi with a truffle paste in the centre was such a foodie moment for me that it was near-enough a religious experience; the scallop meat so sweet and fresh to the point where minimal jaw movement was required, then the savoury punch from the truffle. It was absolutely stunning and rendered me momentarily speechless as I tried to take in what I just eaten, before quickly bursting into a fit of giggles from a the near-ecstasy of it all. Seriously, I still think of the scallop sashimi and wonder if I’ll ever have another culinary moment like that again.
It was also here that I first tried Chawanmushi in the UK. There’s something about steamed savoury egg dishes that appeal to the child in me but trust me when I say that Chawanmushi is no children’s dish. I love how the egg is steamed so that there is still a wobble to it when you shake it. There are the various goodies that lurk in the bottom on the dish – The first time was chunks of eel, chicken and salmon along with some cress and finely shredded wood-ear mushrooms. Remembering that first time I dipped my spoon into the Chawanmushi and scooped out the wobbly egg to reveal a pool of stock in bottom on the dish often has me salivating. They only have Chawanmushi in Winter months but a recent trip back there had a chilled Chawanmushi and it was no less spectacular than the hot version. If anything, it was given an extra touch of luxury by having abalone in it.
Given the quality of the fish and other ingredients, it’s easy to forget that the rice is very important in Sushi, some would argue that the rice is the most important part of sushi otherwise you should just have sashimi for the quality of the fish. The rice should be warm, light and fluffy without being claggy or indeed falling apart, and it should be lightly seasoned to give a slight piquancy from the vinegar but it should never overpower the fish. Here, the rice is exactly that and miles away from the rice which is more akin to plastic when you buy it from a supermarket. Once you’ve eaten decent, proper sushi, it’s very hard to go back to sushi bought from a supermarket (if at all). And if you ever want decent sushi, you will find few places better than Sushi of Shiori.