Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Ten Ten Tei, Soho
I'm yet to have a genuinely excellent sushi experience in London. I admittedly haven't been trying very hard, but after experiences like that at Sushi Say I hope you can understand why I'm not exactly rushing to receive an emotional battering anywhere else. But Ten Ten Tei, a tiny place on Brewer St just down the road from ubertrendy Hix Soho, has an excellent reputation amongst those in the know, and was perfectly situated for a budget lunch on Saturday afternoon. I was persuaded to give London sushi another try.
Immediately on entering Ten Ten Tei someone screamed at me to "SHUT THE DOOR!!". Terrified and panicking, I whirled around and obediently slammed it shut - right in the face of a rather surprised member of the public attempting to enter the restaurant behind me. We stared at each other through the glass for a few moments, and then, having not been in this situation before and improvising madly, I made an executive decision to completely ignore what had just happened and re-open the door, standing aside with exaggerated good manners. The poor confused individual, a young Japanese girl, slowly sidled in, her eyes firmly fixed on me in case I attempted to put her face through the glass again. After she'd backed away to safety on the other end of the restaurant, I slowly, and carefully, shut the door once more.
There was a very good reason, however, for Ten Ten Tei's door obsession. Our seats at the front of the bar were right next to the entrance, and every time a new customer arrived (and this being Soho, they arrived frequently and in great numbers) the icy winter winds blew painfully around the restaurant. The mechanism on the door was either broken or incorrectly set, and rather than closing automatically it remained wide open unless manually attended to. Throughout our lunch, the sound of the waitress screaming "SHUT THE DOOR!!" to each new group of terrified new customers was a regular event.
Fortunately, the food made up for much of the physical and emotional torment. Unannounced extras of crispy fried agedashi tofu had a delightful texture and were served in a fiery hot broth. Miso soup was also particularly good, with a great rich flavour that you so often don't find in more mass-market offerings elsewhere in the capital (hang your head, Pret a Manger). And service, when they weren't busy yelling "SHUT THE DOOR!!", was smart and efficient too, if not exactly friendly. Even my sashimi was a cut above the average, with a couple of sweet raw prawns added to the standard mackerel/salmon/tuna selection. Perhaps I can be accused of playing it safe - I can hardly complain about ordering sashimi and then being given sashimi - but it wasn't a million miles away from examples I've eaten elsewhere. Even so, it was fresh and nicely presented and at £12 was very reasonably priced.
Ten Ten Tei, then, is my new favourite sushi place. This isn't a huge compliment, given the competition so far, and it's still far short of various places I've tried in New York and Boston. But it's handy, very reasonably priced, and comes with a bracing dose of authentic Japanese attitude. Comforted by hot miso and invigorated by fresh sashimi, I couldn't help but enjoy my lunch, and toddled back onto the Soho streets with a spring in my step. Remembering, it goes without saying, to shut the door behind me.