As much as I love to wax lyrical about the joys of home cooking, I also like dining out…a lot. At the first hint of an opportunity, or if the mood simply strikes, there I am: napkin on my knee, wine list in my hand and eating utensils at the ready. It doesn’t have to be fancy – it just has to be good. However, there is one thing I consistently struggle to pass up: Japanese food. If I could only eat one cuisine for the rest of my life, that would be it. And if I had to choose a single element from its wide-reaching range of delicacies, it would have to be sushi. Hands down.
So it was with great sadness that I discovered good quality sushi made in a traditional style is surprisingly difficult to come by in London. It definitely proved to be a heart wrenching everything is better in retrospect realisation, when I mentally recalled all the fantastic places on offer in Sydney – Sokyo, Toko, Busshari, Azuma, Sushi e, Yoshii…sigh. Oh, how I miss you all.
Having tried various establishments across town, Yashin probably came closest to being my go-to place, offering well-made nigiri across a decent selection of fresh fish. However, their toppings tend towards the untraditional and I sometimes find that they overpower the delicate flavours. Whilst I don’t mind a bit of fusion, if it is sushi that I crave, I like to keep it clean and straightforward.
Empathetic towards my predicament, Food Expectations offered up Ikeda as a solution to my sushi woes – and my world is all the better for it. With the staggering amount of bells and whistles that London serves up, Ikeda is the one place I have found that scales it all back, and that is what really won me over. Perfectly simple, simply perfect.
Kenichi Ikeda proved to be a wonderful host, providing warm hospitality from the moment I entered and making me feel completely at ease. He explained that the restaurant used to be his father’s and had been in operation for thirty-eight years, making it the oldest high end sushi restaurant in London. He also noted that they utilise the same fish supplier as The Araki, whose omakase menu is priced at £300 per person – including VAT, but excluding drinks. Eep!
I was first brought a complimentary amuse bouche of sorts. I was’t told what it was, but to hazard a guess, it was julienned carrot with seaweed (hijiki, perhaps?) in a cold dashi broth. Either way, it was packed full of umami and a great start to the meal.
Next was a warming bowl of white miso. This more or less speaks for itself as it is hard to go wrong with miso, but I did enjoy chasing every last cube of tofu and strand of wakame around the bowl with my chopsticks.
As I was dining alone on this occasion, I settled with Sushi Lunch A. Along with the miso soup and a salmon and avocado maki roll, this came with ten pieces of premium nigiri selected by the chef based on what was fresh that day. At £42 this is certainly not the cheapest lunch option in town. However, this is London, Mayfair no less – and the quality and selection deemed it worthy of the price tag in my books. NB: there is a cheaper seven piece sushi set for £29.
Unfortunately, the individual pieces were not described to me. However, I think I spied salmon, sea bass, scallop, raw shrimp, amber jack, lean tuna, fatty tuna belly, eel and salmon roe. Of these, my favourite pieces were the delicately sweet scallop, snappy shrimp, unctuous tuna belly and perfectly poppable salmon roe. The eel was my least favourite as I felt it was a little on the dry side and I would have liked the second piece of salmon to be replaced with something a little more interesting.
Each piece was a perfectly formed single bite of pleasure. The rice was well seasoned and held together from plate to mouth – not a loose grain in sight! As for the fish, it was cut nicely and measured in good proportion to the rice.
In fact, I loved the nigiri so much I ordered three additional pieces – a taste of the surf clam, as well as a second helping of both the fatty tuna and scallop.
The open counter provided my entertainment throughout the meal, although the chefs seemed to be in charge of making the noodle and tempura dishes. I missed the presence of the sushi chef(s), who appeared to be hiding out in the kitchen.
Friendly chatter with Ken and the viewing of dish creation aside, there is very little else to occupy. No music plays and decor is tastefully minimal. This is a welcome change from the shiny, over-the-top interiors across scores of other London establishments. It gives the impression that the focus is very much on the food – and it shows.
To Ken, for keeping things traditional and not bending to the pressure of fusion or tacky glitz, you are my hero. I have been told I need to try Sushi Tetsu – but the reservation process sounds like a tedious bore. So for now, I have my London sushi favourite in Ikeda.