Sunday, April 12, 2009

Yuppie Fodder: Yo! Sushi @ St. Paul's

Classics are called so for a reason. Some combinations require no improvement. There is nothing you can add to insalata caprese: mozzarella, plum tomatoes and fresh basil are a ménage à trois made in heaven. Or take French onion soup: why would you want to rehash a perfect recipe? Similarly, there are very few things one can do to make sushi taste better.

Yo!Sushi does exactly that. If they were in the car-making business, they would be trying to incorporate the 5th wheel, the gas bladder and the parachute in the basic car design. 'Coz it makes it look trendier. And the hip crowd will lurrrrv it.

And they do: on top of numerous London branches, Yo!Sushi has opened restaurants in Ireland, Russia, Malaysia, Dubai, Bahrain and Kuwait. In other words, wherever you have the burgeoning yuppie class with little exposure to proper Japanese food but tons of expendable income and even more unbridled ambition to be cooler-than-thou.

On Maundy Thursday's night we went to contemplate the stripped altar at St. Paul's. Inside the great cathedral reigned a not-this-wordly vibe. Dimmed lights lost in the clouds of frankincense only accentuated the sheer size of the interior, nearly deserted at this late hour. I dared not take pictures but went on to sit in the Lord Mayor's seat, after pushing the "Reserved" note aside. On the night meant to remind us of the virtue of humility, I felt strangely elated and full of good premonitions.

Right across the road the shining neons lights of Yo!Sushi lured us in. We were after a quick late night snack and so we walked into the steel-and-glass temple of conveyor-belt sushi. This system must be familiar to most urbanites: kitchen island in the middle, encircled by a counter with a built-in conveyor belt, whereupon differently coloured plates of Japanese dainties slowly creep along for you to take. The bill is calculated afterwards based on how many and of what colours empty plates you've accumulated.

We started with kani no aemono. To cater to the mid-brow yuppie clientèle, the Japanese names of the dishes are entirely dropped in Yo!Sushi, so I had to figure out what to order (not everything is on the conveyor belt) from the pictorial menu. Instead of the expected sweetish sourness of this Japanese classic, our taste buds encountered the gamma of Italian lettuce mix with no dressing. The whole meaning of aemono was taken out of the dish but, perhaps, it was not meant to be in the first place. 

The seared salmon and katsuo (skipjack tuna in the yuppie parlance) slices proved an interesting sesame-sprinkled innovation, botched, however, by a generous dose of red pepper powder (tougarashi).

To give the due credit, the miso udon with silken tofu cubes and shiitake slices was a champion. Cooked individually, it had the right flavour and taste balance to satisfy any Japanese food purist.

Tonkatsu Kare-raisu is not the kind of dish you will see in a sushi place. The reason is that the curry spice will numb the taste buds and will desensitise them from appreciating the subtler taste of raw fish. However, after all the tougarashi profusion we no longer minded. Truth be told, it was great. Maybe, it was down to the original Japanese roux, but it tasted exactly like in Japan. The tsukemono slices, the traditional accompaniment, were just the right, too. (As they are bought wholesale from suppliers, the credit here should go to the Japanese producer.)

We finished off with a 2 pairs of weirdest futomaki I had seen: topped with salmon and unagi neta and with the ubiquitous tougarashi. The European equivalent would be topping steak with a sandwich and dousing it all with vinegar. (I have a hunch though that yuppies would lurrrv that too, once served with a fancy name in a minimalist interior.)

I was disappointed not to find the sign of a good sushi kitchen: chawan-mushi, the delicately flavoured steamed seafood omelette. I bet if it is ever featured on Yo!Sushi's menu, it will be spliced with red pepper powder and topped with a slice of raw salmon or something equally incongruous.

Pro's: Consistently good non-fish entries. Post-modern interior to please your yuppie friends.

Con's: Bizarre innovations of Japanese classics. 36-quid bill for a light snack for two, ouch!

In a nutshell: Leave it to the yuppies to enjoy. London has enough authentic Japanese sushi places.

1 comment:

  1. I think your review is spot on, any Yo Sushi London is a great place to take someone who is easily distracted by bright lights and 'trendiness' which these places have in spades. I take friends visiting the city who have never been to a conveyor sushi venue and they love it.