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.


Ten Ten Tei on Urbanspoon


Hollow Legs said...


I love Ten Ten Tei. It's cheap and no frills and I've always enjoyed my meals there.

ScottCanCook said...

Fantastic I've never really sought out sushi in the capital! One to try now!

The staff should wear shirts that say close the door no?

An American in London said...

I agree with Lizzie - Ten Ten Tei is great value and miles better than similarly-priced competition. And it's in Soho, which is much easier to reach than Ealing (Sushi Hiro) or Willesden Green (Sushi Say).

Kavey said...

I really love Ten Ten Tei... I've always had great good and been amazed at how small the bill is each time! I love trying some of the small unfamiliar dishes, there's an aubergine with a red bean paste on it that I love, agedashi tofu, of course, various sticky glazed chicken dishes, a lemon sole thing and all kinds of others. Oh my...

Charlie McVeigh said...

Best sake - and amazing food - at Umu. But ruinous. Just plain ruinous.

Food Urchin said...

If Larry Grayson were still alive, he would have loved this place.

Sounds like a bargain to me.

Chris Pople said...

Lizzie: OK, fine Some photos by Lizzie. That do?

Scott: Good idea. That or, you know, just fix the door.

AAiL: Sushi Hiro I'm yet to make it to. But people seem to like it.

Kavey: Yes I definitely should go back and try more of the menu. They seem to know what they're doing.

Charlie: Yeah I can't pretend I'm desperate to sink £200 on a meal that doesn't involve the words "fat" and "duck".

FU: Good one!! Haha

Greedy Diva said...

I go to this place a bit - it's good for the price. The best sushi I've found in London is at Kikuchi which is just the other side of Oxford St. Quality is terrific, and it feels just like Tokyo (I'm usually the only non Japanese business man in the room) but its more expensive with a £20 min food spend.

Anonymous said...

I went on Monday night and they must have fixed the door, for we were not screamed at. It was all good except for a terrible prawn and vegetable tempura and rice. Soggy soggy tempura, all you could taste was oil, even in the rice. Shame, the rest was ace (tofu particularly so on your recommendation).

Krista said...

Kikuchi Kikuchi Kikuchi! Dinner only though. (Although I too have not yet been to the famed Sushi Hiro. Am somewhat afraid to go. Too much hype!)

I also had a great meal at Chisou off of Regent Street, but it was a bit too ritzy for me. I like Kikuchi's rawness.

Manne said...

Great place indeed.

Why not add the photos to Foodspotting?

Killian said...

Sakana Tei, off Regent Street, is pretty superb.

Killian said...

Sakana Tei, off Regent Street, is superb. Anyone else been?

Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed the sushi at Ten Ten Tei on several previous visits a couple of years ago, but when I visited with my partner a few months ago, we were shocked, first by how utterly disgusted the staff seemed to be by the thought of having to serve us. (And yes, we were sober, polite and quiet, and it was 6 pm in a half-empty restaurant)

If the service was eerily reminiscent of eating in one of the less cheerful corners of Soviet Europe in the early 1980's, unfortunately the quality of the food was not much better.

Various bits of tempura: dirty oil, dreadful batter. Disgusting.

The sushi rice was of sub-Tesco sushi box quality. At least the mind-blowing amounts of wasabi the sushi-"chef" had troweled onto each piece served to somewhat hide the lack of freshness and texture of several of the varieties of fish and seafood we tried.

Sadly for him we had already experienced the lack of quality of the fish as sashimi. The surf clam stood out as being memorably awful. Whilst this is generally best avoided in London, Ten-Ten-Tei's was particularly execrable. Not so much blanched as boiled for hours, and then left to dry out in the sushi fridge for goodness knows how long, it was shrivelled and leathery beyond belief. That this merited being in the "chef's" special selection really tells you all you need to know.

For cheap sushi, any of the Kulu-Kulu branches are way better.

For quality sushi in London, I'd second the recommendations for Sushi Hiro, Sushi-say and Sakana-Tei. Other good places are Dinings, Atari-ya near Selfridge's and Kiraku in Ealing.

Of course, for truly mind-blowing sushi, you'd be advised to continue a few miles past Ealing, and catch the next flight to New York.