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.

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