Monday 27 September 2010

Aqua Nueva, Regent Street

I remember, a few years ago now, going to a friend's birthday party at a place called The Collection in Knightsbridge. I was earning about £16k a year at the time and needed a great deal of persuading that what looked suspiciously like an over-designed, Movida-set poseurs hangout was really worth a healthy chunk of my weekly wage. It wasn't. A ludicrously overblown glass walkway led into a cavernous, deafening warehouse filled with the kind of people I would ordinarily cross the street to avoid, with a vast bar area downstairs and upstairs a significantly smaller, in size and attention lavished, "pan-Asian" restaurant. I think I had some sort of dull onion tart for starter, a leg of duck in a vaguely Chinese-y dressing for main, and a couple of cocktails, and left £85 worse off, never to return. In case you were wondering, no I didn't sit there moaning about the place all evening and risk ruining someone else's birthday. I just waited 6 years until I had a blog, and then slagged it off. I do have some self-control.

The point is, ever since The Collection (what an awful name too) I have held a deep mistrust of anywhere it seems people go to see and be seen, rather than enjoy good food and drink. Fortunately, there aren't too many - or maybe I just avoid them, or avoid the people who are likely to want to go to them - but I just think there's something awfully depressing about a restaurant aiming for "exclusivity" or "wow factor" at the expense of decent grub. And once I had negotiated the red velvet reception, the handsome black-clad staff with Bluetooth earpieces checking The List, the lift to the fifth floor, yet more staff, a long, dark corridor decorated with a huge bull's head, and finally the restaurant itself at Aqua Nueva, I was sure this was going to be one of those places - all mouth and no pantalones.

But then, the food arrived. And very nice it was too. Iberico ham was top quality and carved expertly into wafer-thin slices of just the right size. It didn't really need the tomato bread accompaniment but then perhaps they felt people would expect more than a plate of ham for £18. They shouldn't, of course; this stuff is expensive for a very good reason - it's bloody good - but that's people for you.

A broad bean, white asparagus and pepper tart could have just been a token vegetarian option but was genuinely nice, presented well and with an incredibly tasty (presumably) broad bean mash as well as some whole broad beans. The asparagus was a bit squishy perhaps but these were preserved, and you have to give them marks for not flying in (*chokes on CO2*) Peruvian veg at this time of year.

And last of the "tapas" (they may as well just call them starters, they're too big and fancy for tapas anyway) was some morcilla, over-elaborate presentation but nonetheless rich and piggy and served on roasted peppers and toasted bread. So far, so good.

I always think pork belly is a good measure of a kitchen's ability. It's so difficult to get this cut of meat right; when it's good, it's world-class, and when it's bad it's like chewing your way through leather dipped in pig fat. I'm afraid this was more akin to the latter than the former. The skin was slightly crispy, but not very; it could have done with a bit more rendering perhaps. And the flesh itself was dry, really not showcasing very well what should have been a lovely tender slice of suckling pig. Veg were fine but the sauce was overly sharp, and it all just didn't sit well together. A shame. A friend's lamb shoulder was better, if still suffering slightly from a tendency towards dryness, although a mashed potato side was excellent and went some way to make up for it.

Confused by the use of the word 'tapas' to describe the starters (how anyone was realistically supposed to "share" that asparagus tart, for example, is a mystery to me), we had over-ordered on savoury courses and so had to skip dessert, but I still didn't feel, despite the relatively disappointing mains, that we had suffered a bad meal. The worst I can say about Aqua Nueva is that its priorities aren't quite in alignment with my own, but there must be room in London for a bit of sparkle and razzmatazz, as long as the food isn't a complete disaster zone. It's a bit pricey, it's a bit superficial, and it's a bit showy, but the Movida-set hanging around on the rooftop terrace seemed to be enjoying themselves, and I'm sure many of them had a perfectly decent meal once they'd finished their Bollinger and moved inside. And good luck to them. As for this terminally untrendy food blogger, I think you're more likely to find me in Brindisa or Camino or Iberica, knocking back Tio Pepe in jeans and a T-shirt. Perhaps it's an insecurity thing.


I was invited to review Aqua Nueva.

Aqua Nueva on Urbanspoon

Friday 24 September 2010

Polpetto, Soho

Battling through the wind and rain last night, it seemed that autumn had finally arrived in London. I'm not usually one to moan about the changing weather - I find things to enjoy about all seasons, and look forward to the crunchy, frosty January mornings almost as much as a sun-baked August afternoon - but I'm afraid I don't look forward to the effect of the shorter days on the photos on this blog. Polpetto is a fantastic place after dark - gloriously atmospheric, cosy, candle-lit, clandestine. But it is absolutely the worst place to try and take pictures of your food, with no flash, on an iPhone. Fortunately, last night wasn't my first visit to Polpetto, and at the risk of being completely disorientating, the following is a compilation of various meals over the last few months in what has become one of my very favourite restaurants in the city.

Though I am personally yet to find a dish at Polpetto that is less than good, it's interesting how some seem to so dramatically divide opinion. For example, one of my favourite things to order is the pigeon saltimbocca, lovely pink pigeon, wrapped in ham and served on a bed of white polenta. I adore it, and can't understand why anyone would not like rich, gamey meat, wrapped in salty ham. But more than one person I've over-enthusiastically recommended the dish to has come back with complaints of unpleasantly "high" meat and overseasoning, and although some of these issues could be inconsistencies in the kitchen, it's more likely that I am just a fan of game wrapped in ham, and they are not. Which is fine - each to their own.

At the other end of the scale, there's a dish called Sarde in saor, cold marinated sardines. I thought it was interesting all right but slightly unnerving - the cold fish and sour dressing was not a combination I'd rush to try again, although I'm assured it's authentically Venetian. My friend, however, whether it was because she had lived for many years in Italy and was used to such combinations or was just less squeamish about cold marinated fish, absolutely loved it. Again, each to their own.

There are some dishes, though, which you'd have to be a fool not to love. The "pickled pepper pizzetti" (try saying that after a few Aperol spritzers) has evolved from earlier versions and now uses spicy, home-pickled jalapenos for an extra chilli kick. "Warm lentils, burrata & basil" is a stunning combination of creamy burrata, fragrant basil and hearty lentils that is not only delicious but unlike anything else I've eaten anywhere else. And the "chilli and garlic prawns" are everything you could hope for from simple Italian food - fresh, juicy prawns, thoughtfully part-shelled, in a cherry tomato sauce shot through with the occasional chunk of fiery red chilli.

And discoveries continue to be made. Last night we tried for the first time a dish of Stracchino, fennel salami & fig bruschetta, the gently toasted bread combining perfectly with the soft, fluffy cheese and salty meat, and the chunks of raw figs adding sweetness. Like so much of what comes out of the kitchens at Polpetto, it was a straightforward, even simple dish that would have fallen flat if each component part was not of the very highest standard. Fortunately, they were.

At the risk of going on and on about every dish on the menu and boring you all silly (if in fact it's not already too late), just two final tips. Firstly, the soft-shelled crab in parmesan batter is fresh and crunchy and a great way of having this delicacy. It may not quite be up there with the Mien Tay offering but that's not much of a criticism - very few things are. And secondly, the osso buco is a generous slab of tender braised veal shank on a bed of saffron risotto which is always superb, especially when you scoop the marrow out of the central bone and spread it on the meat.

So I'm not even going to mention the heavenly smoked swordfish cicheti, or the juicy marinated polpetti or the chicken liver crostino. These you can discover for yourselves. What is worth mentioning though is the Polpetto booking policy - namely, there isn't one. You turn up, and you're either lucky and get a table, or you have to queue. Get there early enough - ie. before 7, and you shouldn't have much of a problem. But towards 8pm the queue can run to a couple of hours, and I can understand why you may consider giving up and going elsewhere. In the past I've been critical of no booking policies, having suffered a couple of aborted attempts at the Anchor & Hope in Waterloo and Bodean's in Clapham Common, but Polpetto try and make the queuing as painless as possible, helpfully texting updates on your table while you wait in a nearby bar. And in a way, the unpredictable nature of table availability seems to suit the covert nature of the restaurant, tucked away in a tiny first floor room above a boistrous Soho bar.

I'm as impatient as anyone when it comes to my food, and of course nobody likes to hang around hungry. But how many times have you called up a popular restaurant that does take bookings only to be told they can only squeeze you in at 5:30 or 10:30 and they'll need the table back within the hour? Irritating restaurant table turning policies aren't just limited to places that don't do reservations. So go early and bag a table, or go late and wait. But if you think Polpetto isn't worth bothering with because you can't guarantee a spot, then you're missing out on one of the great, distinctive dining experiences of London.


Polpetto on Urbanspoon

Thursday 16 September 2010

Tlalocan, Battersea

It's not my fault - I was lured into a false sense of security. The last two restaurants to open in Battersea were Mien Tay (excellent local Vietnamese) and the Draft House on Northcote Road (best selection of beers in the area, and decent British grub). I thought we'd turned a corner; I thought we'd finally come to our senses; I thought - I hoped - I prayed - that this would be a triumphant hat-trick of exciting new openings and I could finally hold my head up high and give a confident small handful of recommendations when someone asked me where was good to eat in the area. Alas, I should have known better. The Curse of Clapham Junction - that curious malady that seems to infect anywhere within walking distance of the station with frozen chips and Ranch Chicken and unchanging, laminated menus, has claimed its latest victim.

I've never gone from wilful optimism to pale-faced dread as quickly as when I sat down and read through the Tlalocan menu. BBQ chicken wings, Tex-Mex potato skins, three very uninspiring types of tacos, "sizzling fajitas", some suspiciously inexpensive steaks, a variation on the theme of burger, and a chicken and bacon burrito. It felt like a lazy, populist pub menu, the kind of thing you'd find in any chain bar in any high street in Britain, and hardly the level a new independent Mexican restaurant opening in 2010 should be aiming for. Nowhere deserves another Cantina Laredo, but surely firstly Wahaca and more recently Lupita (an inexpensive and I'm told pretty decent new place near the Strand) have done enough to prepare Londoners for the reality of proper fresh Mexican food? We can cope with more than a sweet margarita and a plate of nachos, can't we?

I started with a sweet margarita and a plate of nachos. Actually, the margarita was pretty good - freshly squeezed limes in a proper glass with not too much salt. It could have been colder (using a frozen glass is a good place to start) and without the couple of small chunks of ice floating in it, but still, not bad. Nachos were out of a packet and covered in horrible soggy sweet pickles, but the carnitas were tasty enough and there were plenty of them for your £5. My companion's calamari were fine, slightly soggy old oil but the batter was thin enough for that not to matter too much; the garlic mayonnaise they came with though was hugely, overpoweringly synthetic.

Mains were more depressing. I'm pretty sure these chicken wings and rack of ribs were pre-prepared - it all had that soggy, formless texture of something cooked a long time ago then reheated to order. They were soaked in an unbearably sweet packet "BBQ" sauce which brought to mind those little sachets from McDonald's. And the chips were appalling, previously frozen and tasting of oil. My friend's beef fajita was equally uninspiring - the beef had no flavour, the bread fell apart into dry clumps as soon as it had to do any work, and although the chicken pieces were kind of OK in an Old El Paso kind of way, it all felt like a lazy way to make £12.

We skipped dessert - and, in fact, a large proportion of the other dishes come to think of it - and got the bill, which came to £25 a head. It's not a fortune, I suppose, and at Cantina Laredo it would get you little more than a cheese-stuffed pepper and a brownie, but as I am wont to do, I couldn't help thinking of how much delicious fresh food you could get at Mien Tay up the road for that amount of money. The whole enterprise just reeked of a cynical, condescending attitude to the kind of food that people are expected to eat in London, and of a terrible lack of ambition. "£5 packet nachos, £12 reheated fajitas, they won't know or want any better, they'll be queuing out the door," they seem to be saying. "Familiarity, speed, chips. That's what the people want". I hope they're wrong - somebody here needs to keep faith in the restaurant going public, but... well, who really knows.

There was something very odd about the toilet arrangements at Tlalocan that at first I couldn't quite put my finger on. I opened the door from the main restaurant to the gents, and there they were, all present and correct, but it was only as I was doing my business that I realised with a start what was wrong; as a fellow diner left the room, there I was, in my rather compromised position, staring out over a good section of the restaurant and bar area. With no corner to turn or double doors to negotiate, these must be the least discreet toilets in London. You have to admire the irony though - I was able to watch Tlalocan take the piss, while they watched me take mine.


Tlalocan on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Cheese of the Month - Cornish Yarg

If ever there was an appropriately evocative name for a cheese, it's Yarg. Sounding like some ancient Celtic dialect and delightfully mirroring the long round syllables of the west country accent, it feels like it could have been part of Cornish life for thousands of years. The truth however, is rather more prosaic - Yarg is simply Gray spelled backwards, and named after Allan and Jenny Gray who started manufacturing the cheese at their farm in the 1970s. It is, I am told, from an old recipe, but even so, it's sad how much of our culinary heritage has to be salvaged or re-imagined completely or, like Stichelton, renamed to avoid the wrath of the EU lawyers (it's not quite from close enough to Stilton town to be called Stilton, apparently, even though the recipe is as authentically Stilton as anything).

The defining feature of Yarg is its coating of mouldy nettle leaves, which impart a delicate musty, savoury flavour to the rind. This is all very well, but in fact I wouldn't recommend eating a slice of Yarg without the adjoining rind, as the flesh itself is in comparison rather one-dimensional. It's a perfectly decent cheese of course, fresh and creamy with a pleasant soft texture, but yet again it all comes down to the p word - Yarg is pasteurised, and without the grassy, farmy flavour of unpasteurised milk these hard cheeses really tend to suffer. I couldn't help thinking back to the wonderful Keen's cheddar served at the Draft House Tower Bridge a few nights earlier, which although superficially similar in style was worlds apart in taste. Sure, Yarg may travel well and be less demanding to keep, but is it worth that trade-off? This is where your local cheesemonger earns their extra pennies of course - maturing the unpasteurised cheeses, knowing when they're ready, keeping them properly. With Yarg, you could just take the clingfilm off and serve it all year round and it would taste consistently Yarg-y. Less hassle perhaps, but where's the love?

I was very kindly sent the Yarg to try from Forman and Field, more famous (in London at least) for their home-smoked artisan salmon and gravadlax, but also boasting a decent selection of interesting cheeses on their delivery menu. And you'll be pleased to know that many of them, such as the excellent Montgomery's Cheddar and peerless Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire, are unpasteurised, so you should be able to construct a pretty decent cheeseboard providing you have plenty of guests coming - minimum order on most is a whacking 500g. Then again, despite my misgivings about the Yarg I still happily devoured it in record time. And if you can't have enough merely decent cheese, you can definitely never have enough of the good stuff.


Friday 10 September 2010

Café Luc, Marylebone

I'm going to take a wild stab in the dark and guess that this probably isn't the first review you've read of Café Luc. In fact, given a recent slew of posts (see here, here, here and here for starters), I can see why you might be completely sick of reading about it and may want to ignore this review entirely. So, here's your opportunity to do so - anyone not interested in another food blog review of Café Luc despite clicking on the title "Café Luc" in a food blog and reading this far, well, you only have yourselves to blame.

It is a fact though, that whether through blanket invites from PR firms or just via the particularly rabid word of mouth that seems to infect bloggers from time to time, certain restaurants will attract a number of reviews at once. It can either be interesting to see different individual's takes on the same place, or tedious spam, depending on your point of view, but it's important to remember that there is no conspiracy - bloggers write when and what we want to write, and only the most misguided and self-important of us would deliberately avoid a good restaurant simply because they want to fashion themselves as some kind of contrarian rebel. It occasionally can seem unfair that when every single professional critic visits the same restaurant in the same week nobody bats an eyelid, but when a handful of reviews of Sushi of Shiori appear simply due to the fact it's a brilliant restaurant (I'm already planning my third visit), the sniping starts. But you take the rough with the smooth and hope that overall you entertain more people than you irritate.

And talking of irritation, Marylebone. Walking to dinner last night, I couldn't help thinking what an odd part of London this was, with its crumbling hotels, depressing high street chains and overpriced pubs spilling patrons onto the tiny pavements. It is ostensibly a wealthy area, but in contrast to genteel and sophisticated Chelsea or Mayfair it feels trashy and loud and hard work. I was grateful, then, to step inside the doors of Café Luc and console myself with a glass of Austrian white and a couple of brown shrimp croquettes. Sort of a hot potted shrimp mixture inside a crispy breadcrumb coating, they were actually pretty good and a generous portion too, although you'd hope so for £11.20. My friend's steak tartare looked the part and they had thoughtfully arranged the ingredients around the meat instead of mixing it all up beforehand, but - and it's a big but, unfortunately - I'm afraid the steak itself wasn't quite of good enough quality to hold its own in a tartare, and required quite a bit of salt and pepper from the table to make it palatable. Still, could have been worse.

Mains were much better. Moules Mariniere were everything you could hope for and, to be fair, everything you might expect from a restaurant run by Belgians. Big, plump mussels in a delicate white wine sauce, they went down very well, and frites were nice enough if a bit oily. My Dover Sole though was superb, the dense, meaty flesh lifting off the bone in gloriously satisfying chunks. The restaurant has a habit of serving some of their seafood courses with a clump of deep-fried parsley, which is best ignored, but they can do a lovely meunière sauce and know how to cook fish to perfection. I wish the same could be said of the accompanying spinach, which was dry and grey and under seasoned and tasted like boiled weeds. But just look at that fish.

So there's your Yet Another Review of Café Luc. I hope it didn't irritate too much, and you can now get on with your lives. It's not the greatest restaurant in London, or the cheapest (unless you can catch their very reasonable lunchtime £15.50 for three courses offer), but they are very good at seafood and although it's perhaps alone not a reason to visit Marylebone - in fact it may not even be a reason to stop avoiding it - it is at least somewhere worth dropping in if you're nearby and fancy something fishy. And on a street boasting not much more than another twelve branches of Pret A Manger and EAT, I'm sure this will be enough.

I was invited to review Café Luc. From 20th-27th September is "Belgian Week", with a special menu. Read more about it here.

Cafe Luc on Urbanspoon

Thursday 9 September 2010

The Draft House Tower Bridge, Bermondsey

If you love proper craft beer from interesting producers made with care and personality and style (and I don't see why you wouldn't), there are already many reasons to visit one of the two existing Draft House pubs in south London - the Westbridge on Battersea Bridge Road or the newer Draft House on Northcote Road. Both have an astonishing and rightly famous selection of dazzling beers from all over the world, kept in top condition and served by enthusiastic, expert staff. If food is your passion, however, then perhaps they wouldn't traditionally have been your first choice. I'm told that the fish and chips served on Northcote Road has improved immeasurably since my first visit back in March (thank God) and the kitchens in both sites settled down quite nicely, but I don't think I'm being completely unfair in saying that the main focus of the Draft House has been beer - and very good they are at it too.

For the third and latest Draft House, however, I got the distinct impression that they have scaled up their operation on all fronts. Firstly, the beer. From no fewer than twenty gleaming silver pumps are served a bewildering variety, from the crisp and fruity Estaminet (Belgium, 5.2%) to the chocolatey Meantime London Stout (6.5%) from Greenwich. Added to this I'm told they generally have four cask ales available (usually including local favourite Sambrook's Wandle) and a huge selection of local and international bottles. It would take you many happy drunken evenings to work your way through all of them, and by the time you got to the end half would have been swapped out and replaced anyway.

But what of the food? The first clue that ambitions in the kitchen had been set higher than previous ventures came with the arrival of a selection of canapé-sized versions of their starters. Each, in its own way, was absolutely delicious. From left to right: A gorgeous, silky steak tartare, seasoned perfectly; a moreish smoked salmon and crème fraiche concoction; smoked mackerel on toast; a simply brilliant duck liver paté, rich and satisfying and so light it was like savoury whipped cream; a mini cheese and onion tart; a fantastic prawn sesame toast, better than any I'd had from a Chinese restaurant; and finally a ham hock sesame toast which was luxuriant and crispy in all the right places.

The standard didn't drop for the main course - in fact if anything things got better with the arrival of this world-class pork belly. My appalling photo doesn't go anywhere near conveying just how good this piece of meat was - perfect crispy crackling, meltingly tender flesh and an addictive (and so often sadly lacking) strong piggy flavour, this was second only to the pork belly I had at the Fat Duck, and in fact even the Fat Duck didn't do crackling this well. Clearly the Draft House Tower Bridge has employed a serious chef cooking serious food, albeit in a pleasantly rustic and familiar style, and it really shows.

A cheese course consisted of (from memory), a nice salty Stichelton blue, creamy Brie de Meaux and (my favourite) an unpasteurised cheddar (possibly Keen's) which tasted of farmyards and hay - this is a good thing, by the way. They were served with a basket of still-warm home-baked oatcakes and a sweet onion chutney and made me very, very happy.

With the savoury courses we were supplied with a few selections of the Draft House's more esoteric beers. These included a comically huge bottle of Italian craft beer - Amacord's Gradisca (they apparently name all their beers after Fellini films), a Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary, Estrella Inedit (developed by Ferran Adria, including flavours such as coriander and liquorish and tasting predictably weird), and the completely bonkers Stone Bridge Double Bastard, which was like drinking about thirty (very nice) beers at once. How many of these specific bottles will be available to paying customers once the doors open for good remains to be seen, although it does at least demonstrate that the people behind the Draft House have a serious nose for quality alcoholic product.

Perhaps the dessert panna cotta was a little stodgy and underwhelming or perhaps I was just so stuffed full of food and beer that I couldn't make the most of it. Either way it went well enough with the matched cherry beer and rounded off a thoroughly enjoyable meal.

So yes, in case you were wondering, this was "yet another" blogger freebie evening, with the management and PR rep duly in attendance, but it would be a huge mistake to dismiss this experience as completely unrepresentative or some kind of elaborate PR-fuelled con-trick. You just can't fake cooking of this quality - the talent behind that steak tartare and amazing pork belly is producing food for paying customers right now (in fact before September 12th there's 50% off it all during soft opening) and I’m confident if you turned up for a meal tonight you would have every bit as an enjoyable time as those lucky enough to be treated last night. With the opening of the Draft House Tower Bridge, it seems this mini-chain has finally come of age, and for that the people of SE1, and London as a whole, should consider themselves very lucky indeed.

I was invited to the Draft House Tower Bridge by Sauce Communications.

The Draft House Pub on Urbanspoon

Monday 6 September 2010

Sushi of Shiori, Euston

Having spent many years in London without enjoying even so much as a half-decent sushi meal never mind one I would consider going back for, the last few months have been nothing short of revelatory. First, Ten Ten Tei in Soho back in March provided a teasing glimpse of a higher standard of sushi. Then, the biggie - Asakusa, a restaurant so vibrant, so exciting, and (perhaps most crucially) so reasonably priced that it has become my new benchmark - the sushi restaurant to judge all others in the capital. So, flushed with these successes, I found myself in Sushi of Shiori, a newish place on an otherwise unpromising side street near Euston station.

As ever, the credit for discovering this and most of the other interesting new restaurants I've been to over the past couple of years must go to Lizzie of Hollow Legs, who not only spotted some glowing reviews appearing on London Eating a few months back, but who has also written it up in her own typically even-handed and economical style. In fact, while we're on the subject, I urge anyone who has even the most passing interest in food in the capital to start reading Lizzie's blog - if indeed you aren't already. Apart from being a frighteningly confident and able home cook there's nobody else I know who can so successfully distil the essence of a restaurant experience into a handful of entertaining and efficiently-written paragraphs. In a blogosphere increasingly dominated by reams of self-indulgent twaddle (and I'm as guilty as anyone in this respect), she shows how this kind of thing can be done in a commendably unpretentious way.

First time we visited Sushi of Shiori, we were on the omakase voyage of discovery, where you give the restaurant a budget and they send you a selection of delicacies traditionally tuned to your individual requirements. As we hadn't specifically given them any specific requirements, we were just presented with a number of house specialities, which fortunately were all delicious. This second time we preferred a bit more control over the menu and so decided to order a la carte, and it's thanks to Shiori's intelligent front of house that despite our rather haphazard selection of dishes they arrived in a such a way as to make a pleasantly flowing meal. First to arrive were a crunchy, briny seaweed salad and some Yaki Nasu - grilled aubergine topped with writhing bonito flakes. The aubergine had been peeled and cut into handy chunks and soaked in a sharp sauce of some kind.

Miso soup was excellent, but I'm afraid a couple of chicken yakitori skewers were slightly too sweet and fatty for my liking. The absence of a proper charcoal grill really shows and it could be argued that they were a rather silly thing to order from a largely cold sushi bar, but here they are anyway. If you want yakitori, go to Roka.

This pretty plate of sashimi contained a few moist pieces of fresh scallop sandwiched in between some thin slices of lemon which firmed up and slightly "ceviched" the outside of the flesh. Served with it were a chunks of yellowtail, a nice fatty fish with a delicate flavour that I shall try to order more often in the future.

Udon were fun - you dump all the ingredients into the broth and then attempt to scoop them all out and into your mouth without making too much of a mess. They weren't quite as tasty and silky as the Koya ones if I'm going to be honest, but then Koya do little else - you'd expect them to have the edge.

Mackerel Saba were interesting - we were told the rice is more tightly packed than normal sushi and I liked the pickled fish on top, but they were really only pleasant to eat. I liked the salmon roe though - I usually do - and the interesting glazed tableware they were served on.

Finally, a huge tray of beautiful nigiri, hosomaki (thin rolls) and futomaki (thick rolls). Some, like the tuna hosomaki and the prawn and avocado futomaki, were familiar from a dozen other sushi meals, albeit still fresh and tasty. But the inclusion of some more unusual delicacies like prawns topped with some kind of herby dressing, scallops topped with truffle sauce and (I think) yellowtail and ponzu made sure you really got your money's worth.

All these quality ingredients, coupled with the care and attention it took to make them, ensured the final bill was a rather premium £45 a head with only one glass of wine, but in fairness you could really see where the money went. In this tiny room, with literally 8 seats in total for paying customers (3 at the bar, 5 at the window), you are served food painstakingly prepared to order by one chef, and served by his charming wife, and if you are lucky enough to have a seat at the bar you can watch the whole fascinating process up-close. And so, from having dismissed sushi in London not long ago, I now find myself torn between two places for my favourite. In the end, and factoring in value for money, I suppose Asakusa still comes out on top. But Sushi of Shiori is still well worth anyone's time, and I can thoroughly recommend it.


Sushi of Shiori on Urbanspoon