Lunch at Sushi Tetsu

The first stop during my birthday binge was Sushi Tetsu, arguably the best sushi restaurant in London or even the UK. It is modeled on the high-end sushi bars in Japan, guests sit at a counter behind which the chef prepares individual pieces of sushi, sashimi or small dishes in real time. In case of Tetsu, the counter seats seven guests, which explains how difficult it is to book a seat there. They open reservations for the first and second halves of following month on the 1st and 15th of the previous month respectively, phone only. While working at the same time, I regularly tapped redial for about 90 minutes and watching dates disappear from the calendar on their website. And then, it rang and there was still one seat available on one of the three days I would be in London. I had managed to beat the trickiest booking in London on my first attempt!

Tetsu is hidden away in a small passage in Clerkenwell, just behind the Modern Pantry (where I had an excellent pot of tea because I’d been a bit early for my reservation). When I arrived, a friendly lady took my coat and bag and let me into the tiny room. The counter is along the right hand side, seats for five along the long side and two along the end bit at an angle. Four guests were already enjoying their meal and chef Toru Takahashi was hard at work. I took my seat, ordered some green tea (which was regularly topped up throughout the meal) and nibbled on a few edamane beans while listening to how the meal would work, when to use chopsticks or your hands, which sauce went with which and so on.

Watching chef Toru’s precise movements as he sliced fish and other ingredients, picked up a precise handful of rice to shape the base for his nigiri, applied wasabi, added the slice of fish on top, giving it the final shape with his hands and finally presenting it on a plate or leaf on the counter in front of you was fascinating and captivating.

I am not going to describe every piece of sushi or dish as the selection is entirely dependent on the market availability of the day but here are a few highlights:

The main difference between freshly made sushi in this style and that in bigger restaurants is that the rice is warm, I would say at body temperature, rather than cold, which of course helps with the flavour. Apart from familiar offerings of salmon, sea bass and sea bream, there were scallops, squid, and tuna that had been marinated in soy.
One of the non-sushi offerings was a plate of sashimi which featured both fish including different cuts of tuna, other seafood and thinly slice and julienned vegetables. Everything was as fresh as you would expect and in different thicknesses depending on the type so it was pleasant to eat. It was the first time I had the really fatty tuna which actually melted in my mouth, like a good lardo. Amazing.
Another standout dish was the mackerel which had been cured and then blowtorched to perfect crispness, all brought together by a fresh and savoury sauce.
Another unusual dish was a cone shaped hand roll of freshly minced beef with soy and a hot seasoning, wrapped in rice and a large sheet of seaweed.
The final dish was described as a sweet omelette but the consistency was more that of a cake, albeit light and fluffy, about 2.5cm thick, cut from a large slab. Remarkable.

This high-end offering comes at a price, the large Omakase (which roughly translates as “entrusting the chef”, i.e. you leave the selection to the chef) costs £80 plus service but it is something for a special occasion, especially if you like watching chefs and a bit of theatre. It’s also ideal for dining on your own and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in Japanese cuisine and especially sushi done properly.

There are no photos as it wasn’t really practical sitting at the counter without disturbing the other guests and to be honest, I was far too fascinated by what was going on behind the counter to concentrate on photos.

Dinner at Restaurant Story

For my birthday this year I went to Story a relatively new restaurant that had been on my list ever since it opened last year as it offered modern, ingredient-led and unusual cooking. Despite receiving a Michelin star in the same year it opened, the reviews were mixed, some critics giving very high marks indeed while others weren’t happy at all. That just gave me another reason for wanting to try it. Besides, what I’d seen in photos and blog posts, the food looked like exactly my thing. It turned out to be exactly what I was looking for.

The restaurant is a rather unusual location, a former toilet block at the end of Tooley St. It was a bit tricky to find as the street splits into two and Google Maps tells you its on the other half. I got there eventually and on time, too. The L-shaped dining room has about 12 tables, with the rest of the room taken up by the semi-open kitchen. Tables are simple wood without cloth and the floor is bare but polished and treated concrete screed.

The evening menu has only two choices: two tasting menus of six or ten courses. This being my birthday, I obviously went for the larger menu.
Only a few minutes after I had ordered the first “snacks” arrived, little mouthfuls of different flavours and textures from a radish stuffed with “kelp butter”, crispy cod skin, a “rabbit sandwich” and other delights. These gave an early indication of what to expect later. A lit candle arrived as well but not your usual candle. This was made of beef dripping which melts, runs down and collects in the bottom of the stick to be scooped up with bread later. Of course it’s a gimmick but it’s also a nice bit of theatre.

Radish, kelp butter, Maldon salt

Crispy cod skin, smoked cod roe, gin botanicals

Rabbit sandwich, tarragon cream, carrot

Beef dripping candle

Then the dishes on the menu appeared: A fresh onion dish with a gin sauce, pickled scallops with cucumber and dill, and the best potato dish since Simon Rogan’s heritage potato/onion creationa dish of fresh crab with leeks and lovage:

Onion, apple, Old Tom

Scallop, cucumber, dill ash

Heritage potato, turnip, coal oil

Crab, smoked leek, rapeseed, pear and lovage

I was very much tempted by the optional extra main course of beef tartare served in an apple with bits of apple and grated truffle on top, served in a bowl of (dry) ice and did not regret the decision as it was both some excellent theatre and an explosion of flavour, filling my head with umami:

Raw beef, apple and Perigord truffle

And the flavour sensations just came coming. The next dish of raw squid with bitter sea vegetables/leaves and pine honey was equally satisfying and the lamb with grilled salad and sheep’s yoghurt was the perfect end to the main courses. This was the most conventional of the dishes with roast fillet and crispy belly.

Wild stems, squid and pine honey

Lamb, grilled salad and sheep yoghurt

Despite my rapidly filling stomach, the extra cheese course was also far too tempting to decline of which the calavados camembert was my favourite.

Cheese

Then it was time to slowly wind down and move on to the sweet part of the evening. A dish of sea buckthorn and rapeseed cleansed the palate nicely of the lingering cheese and rich lamb, ready for the foie gras brûlée with pear. A similar concept to the dish at Duck & Waffle but far smaller and better balanced with the tart pear. And without the lobster, of course. A bowl of cereal with prune and variations of milk was next and made me wish I could have it for breakfast every morning. Then it was time for the star of the show: Simply described as “almond and dill” on the menu it was one of those dishes that just sound odd on paper and you simply have to experience yourself. I still don’t know why it worked but it did. The fresh, green flavour of the dill was well balanced by the sweet almond creating a quite remarkable sensation. The only dish that did not quite live up to the others’ was the final dessert of a small milk bottle filled with rhubarb and custard. This would have been great anywhere else but just a little boring after what had come before.

Rapeseed and sea buckthorn

Foie gras, pear and sorrel

Hay, prune and cereal

Almond and dill

Rhubarb and custard

Rose teacake

After all the above and almost four hours after I had sat down I was quite full and declined the offer of coffee or tea. I had an outstanding meal, the first one I now consider equal to the one I had at Sat Bains two years ago. The accompanying wines (and one beer) were well chosen and service led by restaurant manager Jon Cannon was both efficient and enthusiastic about the food, happy to discuss the dishes and to answer questions.
I can see that Tom Sellers’ food is not for everyone but f you like the cooking of Simon Rogan, Sat Bains, Ben Spalding or Paul Foster, I’m quite sure you will love the food at Story, too.

A few more photos are on flickr.