One of the biggest regrets of my life (thus far) is the fact that, up until the age of 22, I had never tried sushi. The weirdness of eating raw fish, coupled with a story my Mum told me about an unfortunate chap who ended up with fish eggs growing inside his tongue, led me to spend two decades steering well clear.
However, three years spent travelling on an impoverished backpacker’s budget resulted in me very reluctantly losing my sushi virginity in a dimly-lit Indonesian side street. My tentative nibbling of tuna and cucumber rolls gradually gave way to the likes of hamachi nigiri and ika sashimi, and little by little I became hooked. Upon leaving Melbourne (an actual under-appreciated MECCA for sushi lovers) and having sushied my way around most of Asia and the Americas, I returned home, revelling in my status as a fully-fledged sushi-fanatic, a prodigal daughter ready to be presented with her fatted unagi.
Imagine my horror, therefore, upon being told that “London isn’t actually that great for sushi, tbh”. In disbelief and hoping for otherwise, many frantic google searches later (and six months spent working at a certain food app) I was equipped with a list of names, and began my quest to discover the best sushi in London.
To get me started, I did what any sensible person would do and looked up the best sushi on Eaten. The app unequivocally told me to check out ‘Hot Stone’, a snazzy looking bar in Islington with a strong 9.2 rating and boasting Padam Raj Rai (formerly of Tsukiji restaurant, Nobu, Zuma, and Sake no Hana) as its head sushi chef.
I put my trust in Eaten and ordered all the dishes that have been rated ‘Amazing!’ on the app. As my starters (multiple) were placed before me, I was thrilled to discover that they serve proper wasabi! (the only place in London, my server excitedly tells me).
I begin with the chef’s choice of special sushi & sashimi and am served butterfish, hamachi and that holiest of sushi ingredients - fatty tuna. My favourite was the fatty tuna with green and red jalapeno sauce and a touch of caviar, which really did melt in the mouth. We followed up with a selection of maki rolls (9 Chapel, Crunchy Hot Stone and Suzuki - a modern take involving seared sea bass slices with pomegranate and yuzu miso - were the standouts here). The sushi is indeed excellent - fresh fish, vibrant colours, perfectly cooked rice and brilliantly tasty accompanying sauces. Loved it!
The next place on my sushi tour is Tetsu, a little Japanese restaurant in Farringdon. Little seems to be the key word here, and upon discovering they only have a total of seven seats, I joined a frantic phone queue of people desperate to make a booking. By sheer fluke I manage to get through on my fifth try and, equally fluke-ly, am told that there’s been a cancellation and because I am “all on your own, it’s just you?” (little too accurate) I manage to secure a booking for that very night. Praise the sushi gods!
I arrive & am escorted through the curtain and seated at one end of the long bar. My waiter tell me it is an ‘Omakase’ menu which is Japanese for ‘I'll leave it up to you’ and means the chef will choose for me. I watch as they begin to prepare the sushi for me (and my six new pals). The preparation of the dishes themselves is an absolute artform - so much care and consideration goes into the creation of each item, and the chef is happy to chat with us and walk us through what he’s making. We’re served around 15 pieces of sashimi and sushi including mackerel, fatty tuna (the awesomeness that is o-toro) and an exquisite fatty tuna hand roll, and every single piece is outstanding and memorable.
The charm of this restaurant comes from the intimacy of the setting and the fantastically immersive dining experience; you really do feel as though you’ve been welcomed into their home. The only slight downside is the booking system - everyone I’ve spoken to has said how ridiculously lucky I was to get a table at such short notice, so I would definitely recommend doing your research and booking a few months in advance.
In the interest of fairness, I decided to have a little sneak and see what other review platforms (namely TripAdvisor and Google) said was the best sushi in London. Both pointed me in the direction of SUSHISAMBA, a Japanese/Peruvian/Brazillian restaurant located on top of the Heron Tower skyscraper. I was a little sceptical, but decided to give it a go and braved the hair rising, 30 second ride in the glass elevator up to the 38th floor. Sushisamba is a cool, modern looking restaurant with a terrace (apparently the highest in Europe) that boasts fantastic views across London. The sushi, however, is far less fantastic. The flavours were extremely underwhelming, the salmon in my ceviche excessively slimy, and all in all a little lack-luster. Upon further investigation it seemed as though most TripAdvisor reviews agreed with me, and the 4.5 star rating seemed mostly down to how fast the elevator was.
Meaning ‘Born of Nature’ in Japanese, Umu is the only Michelin starred restaurant on my list - and it has two at that. Everything from the decor to the wait staff is extremely tasteful, and I order the kaiseki set lunch menu, which arrives looking almost too pretty to eat. I start with a grilled unagi and follow with chirashi-sushi with kinshi and shiitake, and then finish with sakura mochi. As you would expect from a double Michelin starred chef, the attention to detail is impeccable, and everything I try is truly spectacular. It’s obviously a little pricey but would highly recommend.
Chotto Matte is a nikkei restaurant that describes itself as having a ‘grungy Tokyo’ style, and is a mix of graffitied walls and exposed brickwork. The menu itself is very large, and offers a good selection of Japanese & Peruvian fusion. I begin with the Nikkei sushi, which is either 4 or 8 individual pieces (I go 8) of nigiri and black cod which are individually dressed and come with a variety of richly flavoured butters. The cod is my favourite, due in equal parts to the taste and the huuuuuge portion size. Next up is a yellowtail starter, followed by a sea bass ceviche. Chotto Matte easily matches any Nikkei restaurant I’ve been to in Peru, and everything I try is fantastically flavoured (and the Pisco Sours are incredible!). Overall, the restaurant has a great vibe and is definitely worth checking out.
In general, I am very relieved to discover that London does, in fact, have some excellent sushi options. While it is true that good, casual sushi is relatively hard to come by, if you’re willing to fork out a little extra London has many truly incredible sushi restaurants that marry exceptional quality with sophisticated dining experience. If you’re interested, here is my ever-growing list of sushi places to try in London (feel free to add your favourites in the comments!)