Category Archives: United Kingdom

Sushi Tetsu, London (2nd visit – June)

P1140269Chef: Toru Takahashi   Website:  Cuisine: Sushi

Following a memorable meal on my first visit to Sushi Tetsu a couple of months ago, I was desperate to go there one last time before my imminent departure to Melbourne. My track record in getting a reservation here had been very poor but that was about to change. I jumped at the news of a last minute cancellation for a Friday lunch and here I was, yet again, immersing myself with more amazing sushi. On this occasion I decided I wanted a bit more freedom to choose from the menu so I opted for the “moon” sushi set (£28) and added four additional sushi’s. Some of the sushi that day was even better than that on my first visit, proving my point that the quality of fish can drastically affect the final product.

P1140435I was the last person to arrive for the lunch service and things were already in full swing. As always the greeting was very warm and I felt very much at ease despite dining on my own. I spent most of my time chatting with Harumi-san getting some tips on great Japanese restaurants in the Barcelona and the Asia Pacific region.

P1140429First course for lunch was Sea bass (鱸). The sweetness of the fish was brought out with the touch of home made soy sauce concoction and the green shiso leaf tucked underneath dispelled the fishiness, only leaving the delicious flavour of the fish.

P1140432Next up was Razor clam (まて貝). The quality of the razor clam was superior to the one I tried on my first visit, evidenced by the additional sweetness oozing out from each bite. I also thought Takahashi-san had really nailed the amount of lemon juice and sea salt to complement the dish.

P1140434I was excited to see Amberjack (カンパチ) which I had not previously tried at Sushi tetsu. Takahashi-san had imported this luxurious fish fresh from Japan where it was currently in season (summer). Compared to its cousin of the yellow tail, it was much softer and less oily. It was served again with the right amount of wasab and soy sauce.

P1140436The Prawn (海老) was similar to my previous visit with a slight hint of smokiness from the blow torch and zestiness from the lemon juice.

P1140437The Salmon (鮪) was similarly equally as good as the previous visit, served again with slight incisions to plump up the texture of this oily fish. I still reckon it is one of the most understated fish in Japan within the world of sushi. If only more places served them to this quality!

P1140441I was very glad to see that Akami (赤身) was on the menu again. For those of you who read my previous entry on Sushi Tetsu, I had a tragic moment wolfing down this delicious morsel before realising that I had forgotten to take a photo. Not this time. I could never live this down if it happened again. The cold cut of the akami only had a thin coating of soy sauce, releasing bursts of flavours on each bite. Delicious, refreshing and simple. The tuna Takahashi-san sourced was consistently of high quality.

P1140442Another improved dish of the Mackerel (鯖) which contained sansho (Sichuan pepper) giving the fish an earthy flavour. Along with the natural juiciness of the fish with a tanginess from a hint of lemon, it was delicious. To finish off, su-konbu (seaweed marinated in vinegar) was wrapped around it to give it additional texture and remove the fishy aftertaste of this delicate fish. I was in heaven. I should have ordered another one…

P1140444It was at this point when I had the chance to deviate from the set menu and try something different. Following Takahashi-san’s recommendation I opted first for the Scallop (帆立貝). I was amazed to see the size of the scallop he had carefully laid out. They were hand dived scallops from Scotland which were meaty on their own but Takahashi-san had added some incisions at an angle to further enhance that plump texture. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a scallop sushi this good. It was very sweet and fragrant, just the way a scallop should be.

P1140447Next up was my childhood favourite of Salmon roe (イクラ). Takahashi-san had taken the salt away from the salmon roe which had been used to preserve it. He then marinated it in a sauce made from a carefully balanced mixture of mirin and soy sauce. He carefully spooned a few out to place on top of the rice and grated some lime zest. I savoured this moment and tasted each bursting bubble in my mouth as they oozed out the intense and delicious sticky fishy juice inside, perfectly balanced with the lime zest. It was so good my cheeks just swelled up and I couldn’t stop smiling.

P1140439 After savouring my salmon roe sushi which seemed to take an eternity (and I started getting some weird looks from other diners), I saw Takahashi-san preparing my hosomaki… but surely this couldn’t be the end? I still had one more sushi! Seeing how nervous I looked, he reassured me that he had not forgotten my last sushi but that this special hosomaki needed to be consumed before the last sushi due to the richness of the last dish.

P1140449 During the course of the meal, Takahashi-san found out that this was my last meal in London and offered me a special leaving gift of the Toro no Oshinko (とろ沢庵巻). Essentially it was the fattiest part of the tuna (o-toro) that had been minced with spring onion and then wrapped with sesame seed and shinko (pickled radish). It was crunchy and delicious, and I was very touched. I did however wish I had ordered the nigiri of o-toro as well but luckily the next course more than made up for my mistake.

P1140451I saw the group of four diners next to me order Eel (鰻) earlier on and there was no way I would be leaving the restaurant having caught my olfactory attention with its sweet and seductive smell. The eel was blow torched before the sticky sweet soy based kabayaki (蒲焼) sauce was generously pasted over it with a pinch of sansho. The art of preparing an eel kabayaki requires years of experience as it is technically quite difficult. It involves gutting, de-boning, butterflying and filleting the delicate eel, followed by skewering and dipping it into the kabayaki sauce before broiling it on a grill at a temperature which needs to be precise and controlled. I asked Takahashi-san how he had prepared the eel but he only smiled and told me it was a secret… d’oh!

P1140454Alas, all good things must come to an end (again) and in this case with a Japanese sweet omlette (厚焼き玉子). At first sight it looked like an ordinary puffed up omlette but this one contained prawns, sea bass paste and yam. It had an interesting flavour and texture not too dissimilar to that of datemaki (伊達巻き) which contains similar ingredients and is prepared typically for Japanese New Years as part of the Osechi cuisine.

My second visit to Sushi Tetsu proved my point that the quality of fish can dramatically affect the end product of the sushi itself. A couple of sushi’s I had on the second visit were noticeably better despite the same level of care and preparation by Takahashi-san. The only difference was the fish. Don’t get me wrong, the quality on both occasion were very good but on one particular day it was even better. I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t have any sea urchin that day but I guess that demonstrated that Takahashi-san only handled ingredients that were in season and superior in quality that day. He teased me that he was getting some the following day but that was just cruel. I was thinking of just turning up next day but then again I didn’t want to inconvenience Harumi-san. Nevertheless, I couldn’t have asked for a better send off from London. I swear I will be back again…

Hedone, London

P1140365Chef: Mikael Jonsson   Website:   Cuisine: Modern French

Mikael Jonsson is a man on a mission. A man with an obsession for sourcing top quality ingredients. After quitting his job as a lawyer, the influential food blogger behind Gastroville took a long journey around the United Kingdom and neighbouring countries to discover the best ingredients in europe before realising his dream in the restaurant, Hedone. How appropriate then to name his restaurant after his quest for maximising pleasure to the palate. His motto is simple – perfect dishes can only be created by using the best ingredients handled with minimal interference. P1140368It is an impressive feat that despite only openning the restaurant in July 2011 Jonsson has already achieved a prestigious Michelin star to his name and jumped straight on to the San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurant List at a very respectable 70th position. Fortunately, unlike many of the eye-wateringly expensive restaurants on that list that end up being for “special occasion only”, Jonsson has concentrated on attracting a more stable clientele. Somewhere that diners could return frequently; offering a reasonably priced three course options that changes everyday. Jonsson was happy to tell me that there was even one guy who had dined more than 130 times to date! The chef had even awarded him a plaque on the highstool my friend was sitting on. Now that’s an impressive record for anyone!

P1140370This was my first meal here. Therefore, I opted for his ultimate carte blanche menu coming in at £85 for lunch (£95 for dinner). Sure, it’s not a cheap menu but when you consider the quality of ingredients incorporated in the dishes you soon realise that it’s a bloody good deal. The only down side in the whole affair was the location of the restaurant. Chiswick, on the complete oposite side of London from where I was staying, is situated on the district line which is notorious for being unreliable, particularly on weekends. My visit was no exception; planned engineering works all weekend. Thank you TFL. Taxi it was then.

P1140374My friend and I were the first ones to arrive at the restaurant so we decided to occupy the kitchen counter seats, a definite recommendation if you want to see all the action in the kitchen. It didn’t take long for our amuse bouches to arrive after taking our orders. Starting from the left was a Smoked haddock tartlet with lemon rind, followed by an intensley cheesy Parmesan sablé biscuit with a morello cherry jelly and finally a Foie gras marinated in quince & balsamic vinegar sandwiched between sourdough crisps with sweet spices. A lovely progression in strength of flavours across the three morsels. Simple but elegant, and most importantly tasty.

P1140377I had heard countless praises sung by many bloggers and food critics alike on the quality of the house made bread at Hedone. Jonsson had spent some time with Alex Croquet in France in the art of bread making. Sure enough, the sourdough bread with unpasteurised butter was faultless and possibly the best I’ve ever had. It had the perfect crust, alluring smell and airy texture. Good bread is the most satisfying of all foods, and when served with butter I would go as far as sayng it is a feast on its own. Only on my fourth slice did my friend have to intervene and point out the obvious, we haven’t even started the meal yet. Reluctantly I put the bread down… slowly.

P1140380First course on the menu were Poached Cornish rock oysters, granny smith, shallots. The one on the right which had been poached for 45 mins and smoked lightly in juniper berries was sublime. The meaty oyster had soaked up the beautiful smokiness and dissolved gradually in my mouth with little effort. This was one of my favourite oyster dish that was almost on par with Richard Ekkebus’ one at Amber. What a great start!

P1140383Up next was a new course that was being served for the first time – Dorset crab sandwich. A buckwheat crisp was garnished with Dorset white crab meat, confit marinda tomato, fresh dill and a transparent tomato essence jelly. It had a lovely crispy texture and the sweetness from the crab meat was complemented by the lovely fresh tomato flavour from the jelly. The last hit of flavour was the slightly bitter dill that provided a good contrast to the sweetness, finishing off with a refreshing note. Very good indeed.

P1140387Simplicity at its best was the Foie gras and cepes. The raw cepes of the season sandwiched the delicious foie gras and a dollop of apricot jam was served on the side. The mushroom was very meaty and the apricot jam added a sweet fragrance that cut through the rich foie gras. The seasoning, just of a pinch of salt, was spot on. This was without a shadow of a doubt one of the best dish that lunch.

P1140391Photos could not do any justice to the Umami flan which, although one dimensional in texture, was bursting with flavour. The flan, which I believe had been made with dashi or something similar, was topped with a nori (seaweed) coulis. For me it resembled closer to a “chawanmushi” rather than a flan but I was impressed with the depth of flavour and tongue coating savouriness that made me salivate the more I ate.

P1140393After wolfing down another morsel of that delicious bread (I blame the umami flan!), a succulent dish of the Loire Valley green asparagus, Dorset wild garlic, pistachio mayonnaise was presented. There was a sweet nuttiness in the eggwhite mayonnaise that went ever so well with the juicy asparagus and garlic stalk.

P1140396The Scottish langoustine tail, crustaceans jus, herbs and flowers was definitely fresh as I saw a little green insect crawling on my langoustine. I assume the little fella had come from the box containing the herbs and flowers. I didn’t mind him and flicked him aside. At least I knew the garnishes were fresh! The sweet langoustine was served at the right temperature, warm but not scorching hot, and perfectly accompanied by the shellfish bouillon which gave it that depth of the “flavour of the sea”.

P1140400First of the fish courses was the Dorset Wild turbot, red orach, spinach, fresh almonds.
The rainbow like sheen on the turbot fillet was due to the natural gelatin from the fish and reflected yet again on the quality of the fish. The white spinach sauce mixed well with the red orach jus reduction which has a more pleasant and less bitter taste than spinach. I did however find several small bits of bones in the fish which was slightly disappointing.

P1140401 I did find it rather odd to have another fish fillet course but I admit I was glad to have tried the Dorset line caught wild seabass, artichokes, piattoni beans, confit Marinda tomato as it was better than the turbot in my opinion. The smokiness from the tomato pulp purée was appetising to say the least. I know I sound like a broken record but the quality of this seabass was sensational and I never knew artichokes worked so well with it, both in a purée form and in its entirety.

P1140404I was surprised to find a pasta course (Liquid ravioli, roscott onion consommé, mild horseradish) given Jonsson’s cuisine otherwise was undeniably French. The salty smoked pancetta swam harmoniously in the sweet onion consommé and creamy parmesan cheese, with a slight kick from the horseradish emulsion.

P1140407It was at this point that I found Jonsson looking around to see what he was going to serve next. He approached us and explained that he had just received some top quality sweetbread which he occasionally got from his only trusted supplier in Paris. With a unanimous nod from both of us he quickly prepared the Veal sweetbread, baby carrot, basil, jerusalem artichoke. The earthy morrels were clean with no trace of sand unlike my last experience at Les Cols. Phew! It was a sweet dish with contrasting textures from the crunchy carrot, meaty morrels and the creamy sweetbreads. Unfortunately for me, the latter was too thick, with the wrong ratio of the caramelised surface to the creamy texture. I do like sweetbreads but I found it rather too much after a few mouthfuls.

P1140413I recently had a phenomenal pigeon dish at Azurmendi and the next course of the Roasted leg and breast squab pigeon, beetroot five ways came pretty close. The beetroot came smoked, pickeled, puréed, in a coulis and also incorporated in the offal sauce. The remarkable part about this dish was that the offal sauce was in complete harmony with the pigeon and by no means dominated the palate, no easy feat! Jonsson later explained that the pigeon had been strangled (I hoped humanely) to retain the blood to keep the meat juicy. It certainly was that and more. Delicious.

P1140417Alright, I admit it. You’re probably wondering how I managed to eat so much after helping myself to five slices of bread? The truth was that I was stuffed and therefore glad to see our palate cleanser of Granite, hibiscus, and campari jelly before the final two segments of our dessert. The palate cleanser was refreshing and the combination of mint, thyme, tarragon, parsley and cordiander made it very zingy yet retaining a right amount of sweetness. It was as if someone had smacked my jaws and brought me back to life. I was back in the game. Bring on the desserts!

P1140420The Braeburn apple Millefeuille, caramel ice cream was my favourite dish of the day, and this was quite a statement. Given the consistently high quality dishes that kept on coming out of the kitchen that lunch, I didn’t expect the dessert to be such a knock out course. The pastry was light and flakey, reflecting the masterful skills of the pastry chef. The amount of the crème patissiere was spot on, marrying really well with the acidity from the green apple. The trifecta to complete this dish was a milky caramel ice cream which was not too sweet. Take a bit of each element and imagine the flavours coming altogether in one go – bang! Delicious.

P1140410We were finally down to our last course and we could see them being prepared right in front of us.

P1140423And here it was. Warm chocolate, powdered raspberry, passion fruit jelly, madagascar vanilla ice cream. It consisted of a warm gooey chocolate mousse sealed with a crispy chocolate disc that had been sprinkled with powdered dried raspberry. The passion fruit jelly hidden inside was a clever and vital component to cut through the rich chocolate goodness. To finish off a quenelle of Madagascar vanilla ice cream was carefully laid on top.

P1140366From my one meal at Hedone it was obvious that Mikael Jonssons cooking style was to let the ingredients speak for themselves. What sets him apart from other chefs who make similar claims was his ability in maximising pleasure by drawing out and showcasing the key qualities of his superb ingredients. He is undoubtedly not just an ingredient nut but also a chef, and a very good one at that. His deceptively simple looking dishes were some of the best I’ve had in London and his bread perhaps in the world. Despite the slight hiccough with the turbot and the insect, there’s no doubt that this was one of my most memorable meals in London. If Hedone was located on my high street I would undoubtedly be there every week but for now I would just need to relive my experience through my memory and photographs.


Clove Club, London

P1140302Chef: Isaac McHale    Website:   Cuisine: Modern British

After a rather sub par Vietnamese-Thai meal at Monsieur M two years ago, I was glad to finally see the back of it. With the financial backing of a pool of investors, Chef Isaac McHale, who previously worked at the Ledbury and formed part of the Young Turks, was in turn replacing the mediocre restaurant with an exciting Modern British restaurant called the Clove Club. The restaurant had  only been open since March 2013 and already attracted a lot of attention including food enthusiasts from overseas. I was meant to catch up with Enfoodie for lunch here a few weeks ago but unfortunately work commitments got in the way. I finally got an opportunity early June and must admit I was positively surprised with my meal.

P1140306As I entered the restaurant I was immediately hit with a waft of delicious charcuterie. As it turns out, the cupboard to the left of the entrance was where McHale smoked, aged and preserved an assortment of meats including two types of katsuobushi – one in the traditional style and one experimental. I was already salivating just by the smell and sight of these delicious looking meats and hoped that we would be able to sample some of them during the course of the meal.

P1140304I was glad to see that the horribly bright red painted walls from the previous restaurant had been neutralised with a fresh coat of white paint, and the floor had been stripped to expose the beautiful old wooden floorboards. The decor was no longer tacky but much simpler now and the room flooded with natural light from the big windows. This looked much more inviting and promising to say the least.

P1140310There was an option of going à la carte or a fixed five course tasting menu with an array of amuse bouche for £49, excluding alcohol. We opted for the latter as the dishes all looked very appetising (Note: we ordered three extra courses for additional price coming in at £75). As I had a heavy week full of leaving dos, I opted for water to accompany my meal. Saying that, I did notice that they had a nice array of cocktails and wines that looked reasonably priced.

P1140312We started with a selection of McHale’s home made salami and cured pork. Two types of salami were presented – one flavoured with nutmeg and the other with white wine and garlic. My favourite was the third cut which was cured pork from a rare breed called the British Lop, currently being reintroduced after near extinction by the Duchy College close to Launceston in Cornwall. It had a superb taste to it. Shame I couldn’t buy some to bring home!

P1140313First course was an English asparagus, black sesame and Gochuchang mayonnaise. The asparagus was fresh and cooked spot on, giving it a firmness yet succulence. I did find the mayonnaise lovely in flavour although the spiciness from the Korean chili paste slightly overwhelming the delicate vegetable.

P1140315Goat Haggis croquettes and Tewkesbury mustard sauce which was crispy and packed with flavour inside. Slight hint of heat from the mustard to cut through the rich haggis. Lovely.

P1140317Buttermilk fried chicken presented on a bed of pine cones and needles. A pinch of pine salt was dusted on top to give it the right level of seasoning. It reminded me of the pine salt that was made and used in the Schwarzwaldstube in Germany. The batter which was made with gluten-free tapioca was light and crispy. The chicken inside was moist and surprisingly flavoursome. It was clear that the chicken was of high quality. I wondered whether they did buckets of these…

P1140321Next up was a plate of brined Sand eel with mint vinegar jelly. McHale explained that the sand eel season was very short, typically between two to three weeks each year, which explains why I’d never had them before. It had a similar texture and flavour to whitebait so it didn’t feel like much of a novelty. I’m not personally a big fan of mint sauce and found it rather too strong with the delicate fish. Perhaps some sea salt would have been sufficient.

P1140322Much better was the Wood pigeon sausage which contained its liver, giving it a very soft texture and depth in flavour. A drop of spicy ketchup on top added some heat to the dish, although I probably could have done with a tiny bit more heat this time. Nevertheless, this was a good dish.

P1140325One of the big surprises that lunch was their homemade Brown sourdough bread with oat berries. It had a good crust and airy texture, and was definitely better than many bread I’ve tried in some of the best restaurants in Europe, let alone London. It didn’t take long to finish them.

P1140328Hand dived Razor Clams with smoked butter emulsion and a sorrel and apple sauce. The razor clams from Cornwall which had been baked in hay had the right amount of smokiness. The sauce worked in harmony with the tender razor clams making this one of my favourite dishes in the menu. Unlike the emulsion from Vue de Monde, I thought this one was more refined and did not dominate the overall flavour of the dish with its butteriness.

P1140330Salad of spring vegetables, pheasant egg, fresh ricotta and lardo. I thought the texture of the vegetables were very good as they were cooked perfectly. However, the dish overall was let down by the quality of the produce as there was not much flavour coming through. The almond oil and balsamic dressing unfortunately could not bridge this gap and personally I felt the egg could have been cooked a tiny bit less as I prefer my egg yolks completely runny.

P1140333Flame grilled mackerel with smashed cucumber, served with last years elderflower vinegar and fresh dill. Mackerel is one of my favourite fish but I somehow felt that the quality again was rather disappointing here despite the flawless execution. The fragrant cucumber was very enjoyable and I thought the accompanying sauce worked really well. I just couldn’t get much flavour from the fish.

P1140337The restaurant had just received their first batch of summer truffles which we were fortunate enough to try in the Chicken, truffles, girolles, baked leek and cheddar sauce. Again, the quality of the French chicken was superb with a good level of crispiness to the skin and the amazing flavour from the breast meat and testicles. The aged Montgomery cheddar sauce worked in harmony with the leek but my favourite ingredient on the dish must have been the earthy girolles. This course proved the point that dishes don’t need to be complicated when you have top quality ingredients and produce, although admittedly my recent experience in Les Cols has reminded me that the chef does need to know what he or she is doing. He did in this case without a shadow of a doubt.

P1140343We had to do a double take on the next course of Lobster, courgette purée, almonds and spices as we were told that they had just been delivered from Christchurch… Dorset, not New Zealand. Phew! The lobster was juicy and the almond provided a contrasting crunchy texture but I was rather disappointed with the curry like flavour dominating the whole dish. I would have preferred less distraction to the sweet flavour of the lobster.

P1140348Last of the savoury courses was the Slow cooked loin of lamb from Yorkshire, old spinach and anchovy emulsion with spinach dust and kelp. Whilst the lamb had good flavours with a nice caramelised coating and cooked just the way I like it – pink. Admittedly it was not on par with the Sportsman but then again the lamb at the Sportsman was extraordinary and the best I’ve ever had. I really liked the anchovy emulsion but I thought it didn’t belong on this dish. The idea of using it as an element to season the lamb was good but the fishiness was difficult to ignore.

P1140350First dessert course was Strawberries, ewe milk mousse and almond crumble. The strawberries from Brittany were sweet and far superior to the ones I’ve had this year to date. The almond crumble added some textural contrast to the meaty strawberries and soft mousse. Delicious.

P1140354The finale was a Prune ice cream, kernel and rosemary sorbet with walnut cake crumbs.  The flavour of the prune was very strong but worked well with the sweet sorbet and bed of crumbly goodness. It was a very refreshing end to the meal that left my palate cleansed.

P1140358I didn’t quite know what to expect from the Clove Club but I was positively surprised with the overall standard of the dishes that were served that day. Other than a couple of inconsistencies with the quality of the vegetable dish and mackerel, I was impressed with the diverse choice of ingredients from the United Kingdom and cooking skills that went into each dish. The service was very good and friendly throughout the meal. I did find it occasionally a bit noisy in the dining room and at times had some difficulties hearing my companion. I would definitely come back here frequently if I lived in London as I think the price of £49 per person for a tasting menu is reasonable for such an accomplished level of dining. I honestly think this is the next big thing in London and eagerly look forward to my next meal when I’m back.

Sushi Tetsu, London

P1140269Chef: Toru Takahashi   Website:   Cuisine: Sushi

I’ve pretty much come to the realisation that if you want amazing sushi you’ll have to go to Japan, or otherwise settle with mediocrity. For this reason I’ve almost abstained in eating sushi outside Japan because all that awaited me after a disappointing meal was a hefty bill, typically fuelled by the copious amounts of beer and sake to soften the blow. It was therefore a stroke of luck when a friend of mine who just returned from a honeymoon in Japan insisted that I should come along to a sushi-ya which she claimed was outstanding. Had it not been for the fact that she had been to some of the best restaurants in Japan recently, I probably would have turned down her offer. Unbeknownst to me, she had become a regular of Sushi Tetsu over the last six months and she assured I wouldn’t be disappointed. Sure enough, she was right.

P1140272As it turns out, getting a reservation at Sushi Tetsu is ridiculously difficult. Chef Toru Takahashi who is supported by his wife Harumi in this cosy sushi-ya in the backstreets of Farringdon caters for only seven people during each sitting. Luckily there is the option of filling in last minute cancellations through Harumi-san’s tweets but you’d have to be quick because it goes like gold dust. Having picked up the nickname “Tetsu” during his training in Kobe, Takahashi-san trained for five years in Nobu London before going solo on this new venture to concentrate in the perfection of sushi making. I was amazed to find out that Takahashi-san spoke fluent Spanish having lived in Marbella for a year during his chef training years.


If you want an elaborate “omakase” menu (chef’s recommendation) ranging up to a reasonable £70, you need to let them know a few in days in advance as it requires a bit of preparation. As I was approaching this cautiously, I decided to opt for just the “Flower” omakase sushi set at £38 to test the water. When we entered, Takahashi-san was busy preparing the wasabi for the service. The root was sourced from Shizuoka, a place renown for the best quality wasabi and where the oldest wasabi farm can be found. Harumi-san first brought out some wet towels whilst her husband laid out the bamboo leaves in front of us where he would serve the sushi one by one. It took only one sushi to realise my mistake in not ordering the omakase menu. I immediately knew I had to come back… soon.


The fish here is sourced through a trustworthy Japanese distributor who picks out the best fresh fish from Billingsgate market every morning. The first course of the meal was Sea bream (鯛), sourced most likely from the northern European seas. The firmness of the flesh was unbelievable yet it retained a good level of moisture. It had the right amount of the Takahashi-san’s home made soy concoction brushed on to complement the natural sweetness of the fish for which it is prized for, ending with a refreshing note of mintiness from the discretely hidden shiso leaf. The rice was spot on at body temperature and the right amount of pressure applied to form the pellet, firm but not too compact; something which requires years of training and the first hurdle for all trainees to becoming an “itamae” (板前), i.e. the chef.


Takahashi-san smiled back as I couldn’t contain my joy. He then moved on to wipe the bamboo leaf and began preparing our next course, Spear squid (槍烏賊). It was soft and sweet, although it did have a slight bit of chewiness. The chef uses two types of nori, including Maruyama Nori which has been produced since 1854 during the Edo period and coincidentally also used by the ever so famous Sukibayashi Jiro. P1140278

After another wipe down of the bamboo sheet, Takahashi-san was on to the next nigiri of Salmon (鮪). It’s perhaps not construed to be the most exciting cut of fish but I can assure you that when you get it right, it can be very good. The superior quality was evident and combined with the chef’s masterful skill this piece of oily silky fish simply melted in your mouth.P1140280

The delicious morsels of sushi kept on coming and the next nigiri of Prawn (海老) was no exception. The prawn was boiled very slightly and subsequently blow-torched on the butterfly-cut side to enhance the flavour and texture. It was sweet with a small hint of smokiness, but most importantly juicy and flavoursome. P1140284

Next up was one of my favourite of all times, Yellow Tail (ハマチ). Judging by the oiliness, softness and time of the year, I believe this particular cut was from a farmed fish in Japan as the natural ones are more firm, lighter in oil content and typically caught in winter. As far as I’m aware I don’t think they are native to the European seas but I’m more than happy to be corrected. It’s really a personal taste as some people, like myself, prefer the oily farmed ones. I thought this particular one prepared by Takahashi-san was very good with a lovely sweetness coming through, thereby requiring less soy sauce than similar white fleshed fish.P1140285

Razor clam (まて貝). After blanching the clam and cleaning it thoroughly, very shallow incisions were made across to give it a plumper texture. It was then glazed lightly with some more homemade soy sauce, dressed with an ever so tiny pinch of sea salt, and I could also pick up a hint of citrus note, possibly from the use of sudachi or ponzu which are the traditional choice.


There is a Japanese saying in that if you want to really test the quality of the tuna of a sushi-ya, the best part to first have is the lean cut, Akami (赤身), i.e. the red meat. There is much less distraction in flavour from the oiliness found in the more expensive fatty parts of the tuna. Provided the red meat passes muster, you can proceed to order the more expensive cuts as chances are it would be of supreme quality. What happened to me here was tragic and slightly embarrassing. The akami looked so good I forgot to take a photo and just gulped it, ending with a mixed emotion of happiness and remorse. Setting my stupidity aside, the akami was very good. It was soft and released so much flavour on each bite. It was evident that the tuna was wild as opposed to farmed. I can’t remember the last time I had such a good akami. I could hardly contain myself thinking about how the o-toro would taste! (special thanks to Fine Dining Explorer for supplying the photo).


The next course of Black Amberjack (黒カンパチ) was rather a surprise as it’s not a very common fish, at least in Japan. Given the similarity in name, texture and appearance to amberjack (kampachi), this fish has recently had to have its name changed in Japan to Sugi (スギ) due to people being tricked after thinking they bought the more expensive kampachi. Whilst a cheaper substitute, the taste is not inferior and it is much more fatty than the kampachi. I quite enjoyed it, particularly given this was my first time trying it.P1140293

Finally on to the much anticipated Aburi o-toro (炙り大トロ), the fattiest part of the tuna. After tasting the akami, I knew this was going to be something extraordinary and sure enough it was. The piece of fish was again lightly slashed and then brushed with the soy sauce concoction before being seared with a blow torch. To finish off, more soy sauce was brushed and it was ready to be devoured. It was a beautifully smoky morsel with an intense flavour that followed as the fish melted like butter in your mouth. Phenomenal.


The last of the nigiri was a marinated Mackerel (鯖), which had a sheet of thinly sliced su-konbu (seaweed marinated in vinegar). Umami, which is the savoury flavour found in konbu, is regarded as one of the five basic tastes of Japanese cuisine. The konbu gave the oily fish a meaty depth and the vinegar removed the fishiness typically found in the aftertaste. It’s a very delicate fish that requires quite a bit of skill to fillet and is one of my all time favourite fish despite it being relatively unpopular. P1140300

Last on the menu was a hoso-maki (細巻き) of Yellow tail with spring onion and shichimi (seven spices), salmon and razor clam with shiso. I particularly liked the yellow tail with the heat coming from the shichimi.

So there you go. You can actually get top quality sushi outside Japan and Takahashi-san is the living proof. But in order to get a successful sushi-ya you need some fundamental elements which most sushi-ya’s outside Japan lack. First and foremost, you need to have or rely on someone who has the skill of “mekiki” (目利き), which is the ability and knowledge to pick out good quality fish. Without good “sushi neta” (寿司ネタ), i.e. the toppings such as fish, even the most skilled itamae will struggle to make something decent. After that comes the extremely important skill in the preparation of the sushi rice (temperature and perfect balance of vinegar, sugar and salt), and its application where too much or little will affect the balance of flavour, and most importantly the right level of pressure needs to be applied; too little and the pelet falls apart, too much and it becomes hard. Then comes the matter of sourcing good quality nori, wasabi, knives and getting your homemade sauces right. Finally, you need someone with years of experience to bring all the elements together. It’s an art that requires discipline and unwavering determination, two qualities I believe Takahashi-san has and rewarded him in my opinion with the best sushi-ya in Europe. The road to perfection in the art of sushi is endless and no doubt Takahashi-san will go far as he continues to polish his skills. I can’t wait to go back!

The Sportsman, Whitstable

P1130757Chef: Stephen Harris       Cuisine: British

When I’m presented with an opportunity to meet the chef of a restaurant I particularly enjoyed, there is always a question which I end up asking without fail – which is their favourite restaurant in the world? I always find that if I like a particular chef’s cooking style, the chances are that I would most likely like their favourite restaurants too. I appreciate it’s difficult for anyone, including myself, to single out one restaurant but you’d be surprised as to how many times I’d be given one name. It all started over a year ago when a two-Michelin starred chef in Stockholm did exactly that. His response was “the Sportsman, without a shadow of a doubt. They do the most amazing lamb”. Subsequently, I came across that name over a dozen times within a span of a few months so I knew I needed to do something about it. Three months later, I was finally on my way there.

P1130758The Sportsman is essentially a gastropub that is located an hour’s train ride away from London, in the salt marshes near Whitstable. The restaurant has had a michelin star to its name since 2009 although admittedly I think Michelin have got it wrong here as I sincerely believe this place operates at a two-michelin starred standard. Sure, the service was much more informal and the chairs at a few table were higgeldy piggeldy, but then again I liked the casual atmosphere. Furthermore, if you purely based the experience on food then I would probably say that the Sportsman puts many of the two and three starred restaurants in the United Kingdom to shame and the best way to highlight why….. is to keep reading…P1130763We were advised that the menu was seafood heavey at the start so we decided to go with a bottle of a Taittinger brut. The amuse bouche of cheese biscuit made from the award winning Ashmore cheese followed almost immediately after. It was mild, not overly salty and the spring onion was a lovely addition to it.

P1130766This was one of the main reason why I came here. I had heard of everyone talking about the pork scratching with mustard but I didn’t expect it to be so tender and juicy inside and crunchy on the outside. The wholegrain mustard dipping gave it a bit of kick and cut straight through the fat. It was the most extraordinary port scratchings I’ve ever had and I wish I could have had some more!

P1130769Next to the pork scratchings were the pickled herrings on soda bread with cream cheese and Bramley apple jelly. The acidity of the apple cut through the oily herring really well and it tasted very fresh. Overall a good balance of the elements.

P1130772A couple of shellfish courses starting with the scallop with Bramley apple foam and 24 months home cured ham. The ham was surprisingly amazing in quality with a nice creaminess and fattiness, and flavour not too dissimilar to the mighty Spanish Iberico ham. It went really well with the scallop and acidic green apple foam, eaten in one bite it released all the flavours in one go.

P1130779Next up was a baked oyster with rhubarb and seaweed granita. The quality of the oyster was very good. The combination of rhubarb and seaweed granita with the lightly baked oyster was a new one for me but I thought it worked well.

P1130788By now it was clear that simplicity was key to success here. This was particularly true with the first of the two fish courses, Slip Sole grilled in seaweed butter. The sweet flesh was quite dense and succulent compared to that of other sole varieties. The rich butter carried through the delicious flavour of seaweed and that was all this dish needed. Superb execution, brilliantly simple and absolutely delicious.

P1130794As it was in season, the next fish course was Braised Turbot with smoked roe, served with broccoli. The sauce made from smoked turbot roe could have been smokier in my opinion and the meat was slightly overcooked. It wasn’t a terrible dish but I did have to factor in that my opinion was overshadowed by the preceding course. I wanted more slip sole… and seaweed butter…

P1130795I absolutely loved the numerous plates of seafood but thought it was the right time to introduce something different. The waitress hinted us to order a bottle of red wine for the next few courses so we naturally obliged. First up was the Wood pigeon, bread sauce and crisp cabbage. The pigeon was surprisingly not too gamey with a sweet and nutty flavour. Most importantly, it was cooked just the way it should be, rare. The bread sauce was substantial, the cabbage crunchy and the pickled radish and rhubarb added some acidity to the rich dish. Not a bad dish, but this was not what I was waiting for…

P1130798This was more like it! This was what we heard everyone talk about over and over again, local Monkshill Farm lamb. They are reared next door to the pub and graze on the salt marshes, feeding on salt-tolerant plants like sorrel and samphire. We started with the Lamb belly deep fried with mint sauce. This reminded me a bit of tonkatsu – perfect crispiness and melting meat. It also had a bit of heat with mustard spread all over it. My companions appreciated the accompanying mint sauce, although I was happy to eat without it as I’m not generally a big fan of mint sauce.  P1130805Then came the best lamb dish I’ve ever had to date, Roast lamb from Monkshill farm. Precise and beautifully pink again. The cut of the lamb was the shoulder and rump. Two of my favourite cuts as it has so much flavour, particularly the latter, although they can be tough but these were so unbelievably soft they melted in your mouth. They came with some seasonal vegetables but I was less concerned with them. More mint sauce on the side but I was content with the jus which was deep in flavour. I would fly back from Melbourne just to eat this again. Seriously.P1130806After depleting all of the food noise vocabulary, mainly consisting of mmmmm’s and oh’s, we realised our plates were empty. That was it. The meal was over… or was it? The palate cleanser of the Rhubarb lolly ended up being our favourite sweet treat of the evening. It was essentially a rhubarb sorbet on a stick in a cake sauce made from Madeira cake. Does that sound decadent or what? It was delicious and refreshing. I never thought I’d find lumpy cake in a sauce to be delectable but it was.

P1130813The final course of the day was Meringue ice cream, seawater spray, buckthorn and sea lettuce. Sea buckthorn is one of those things you love or hate, and I love it, particularly given one of my favourite dessert all time from Frantzén Lindeberg (now known as Frantzén) has them in the dish. The dish reminded me of a cold pavlova and I thought the saltiness from the seawater and lettuce really brought out the sweetness of the meringue ice cream. It was a good dish to finish on but admittedly not in the same league as their savoury courses.P1130818Some petit fours to finish with our coffee. They included gypsy tart with apple, short bread, Indian tea juncket and warm chocolate mousse with salted caramel. My personal favourite was the gypsy tart.


So did the Sportsman live up to all the hype? Yes, and I could even say it was in my top five restaurants of the United Kingdom, coming respectably just behind L’Enclume. It was a pub and there was no pretense but that was part of the charm, especially given its remote location in the countryside. To me it epitomised British dining at its best. The result on the plate showed a care and obsession for ingredients, and a passion for flavours. The quality of the locally sourced produce was second to none and it was utlised sensibly without complicating the dishes. It was pure and honest. All this for a mere £65 per head for the tasting menu? I can’t remember the last time I paid less than £100 for a meal that was this impressive! Would I be back? Hell yes.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, London


Chef: Olivier Limousin     Website:    Cuisine: French

Part of the continuously expanding empire of Joel Robuchon, L’Atelier’s concept is based on Japanese counter dining, but serving classic French food instead. As I was celebrating my 30th Birthday, I decided to go with the full tasting menu and matching wine after a couple of lovely cocktails upstairs in the bar.


The decor is consistent with the other Robuchon branches consisting of an open kitchen in the middle of the room, dim lighting and red upholstery. The service was a bit slow to start with but picked up later on. The Head Sommelier was absent that evening and instead we had an apathetic sommelier pouring us our wine.


We started off with an amuse bouche of Parmesan cappucino with port, which was essentially foie gras royale, port wine reduction and parmesan foam. The foie was thick and rich whilst the parmesan added some seasoning and flavour to the dish. It certainly did whet my appetite.


First up on the tasting menu was the Caviar served on a bed of crab meat and lobster jelly. The presentation was immaculate as always.

P1110931The flavour combination of the rich and fine Osetra caviar and crab from Normandy was further enhanced and brought out by the lobster jelly. What a great start to the meal with a taste of the ocean. A glass of 2011 “O Rosal” Bodegas Terras Gauda, Rias Baixas, Spain was poured to go with this course. It had a good balance of acidity and citrus flavour with fresh aromas of honeysuckle and citrus peel.


The Scottish lobster salad with artichokes “barigoule” and citrus vinaigrette was the only hiccough of the meal. Granted, the flavours were light, delicate and the produce fresh, but whilst I could overlook the lack of seasoning, the slightly chewy texture from the lobster was disappointing. It was definitely not on par with some of the other dishes we had that night. Matching wine was 2011 Rivaner Domaine Mathis Bastian, Moselle Luxembourgeoise, Luxembourg.


Unlike the last course, the Soft boiled egg with Japanese aubergine velouté flavoured with cumin was much more enjoyable, so much so that I forgot to take a photo of what was under the thin layer of crispy buckwheat galette! The smokey aubergine reminded me of baba ganoush and the overall texture and flavours of the dish was similar to chawanmushi, a steamed Japanese egg custard dish. Matching wine was from one of the newer wine estate of 2011 Ovilos Biblia Chora, Pangeon Greece. The seductive aromas of vanilla and peach, with the mineral palate, made it ideal for a creamy course like this.


Seared Foie gras with quince and clementine marmalade. The foie was of a decent quality but I found the tartness from the marmalade was slightly overwhelming the balance of the dish, leaving a bitter aftertaste. Matching wine was 2011 Riesling Spatlese, Poulinshoff, Mosel, Germany, which, as expected, had a great balance of sweetness and fruitiness to go with the foie.

P1110957Another favourite dish of the evening was the Black cod with daikon and yuzu mousseline. I particularly enjoyed the dashi-soaked daikon and the sweet and delicate cod. The yuzu added the perfect acidic balance to complete the dish. The dry and soft 2011 Karmis Contini, Sardegna, Italy was a good match for this dish.

P1110964For the meat course I opted for the Free range quail stuffed with foie gras and truffled mashed potatoes, which consisted of the breast and leg of quail and a lovely black truffled mash potatoes. This course showed some great cooking as the foie gras had not overwhelmed the perfectly cooked quail. The matching wine of 2010 Saint Laurent Weingut Heinrich, Burgenland, Austria, was my favourite of the evening. The blackberry and chocolate aroma with the soft creamy tannins was delicious.

P1110967Cheese course including my favourite roquefort.

P1110973First part of Francois’s duo of desserts, which was a mandarin lollipop with white chocolate coating and popping candy. A nice palate cleanser with some vanilla seeds mixed into the mandarin sorbet centre.

P1110978For the second dessert dish we had a much richer chocolate mousse with oreo crumble and a fine chocolate disc. To conclude the evening, I was poured a glass of 2010 Maury Mas Amiel, Languedoc-Roussillon, France to which I remarked it had similarities to a Grenache. The sommelier’s looks of disgust did not go unnoticed and he was quick to put me down as according to him I could not have been more wrong. There’s no need to put down a customer if they’ve made a genuine mistake, but ironically the wine was predominantly of the grenache grape variety – shame I only found out when I got home!

P1110991Some chocolate mignardises to finish the meal.

P1110996The food on the whole was good and I enjoyed the flavour combinations. The matching wines were generally good and on the whole the service was alright, but perhaps too casual and inconsistent for what I would expect from a two michelin star establishment. For example, one of the staff escorted us on the lift to the bar area, but no one came to see us off at the end of the meal. Whilst I could overlook these flaws, the sommelier left me a bad flavour and a dent to otherwise an enjoyable evening. I would consider a return to try some of the other dishes, but I must admit I won’t be returning there in a hurry.