Monday, 5 November 2012

Chisou: Exceptional sushi, for London

Despite the recent burger revolution in london, sushi is something that people immediately conjure in their heads when you say you are a food-lover. Japanese food has been, and continues to be, something that is fawned and obsessed over by food-porn addicts across the world. The superlatively clean flavours, the expert use of salt, sour and umami that transcends anything traditional Western cooking Larousse or Bocuse could ever concoct. The gap has been narrowed in the recent years with the Spanish and pioneering British chefs transforming the food landscape and challenging long-held beliefs. The Japanese however have been plating up food like this for hundreds of years and modern day sushi is the embodiment of their search for perfection through simplicity. 

With nigiri there is no where to hide. It is just the delicately seasoned rice and the fish put in front of a customer and it is this unapologetically transparent 'cooking' that has always spoken to me.

Chisou is a favourite of my mother's, who lived in Tokyo for several years before me and my siblings were born. Truly authentic sushi is almost impossible to come by in London and although Chisou does not fulfill that brief in the strictest sense; what is does deliver is exceptional quality and so far, incredibly reliable. It is owned by a husband and wife team, one half of which is Japanese. They used to found front of house but have been absent in recent years. Their replacement is an Indian gentlemen that has the staff on a such a tight lease that the atmosphere has suffered. Japanese places always have exceptional service but I always like when there are glimpses of personality that shine through. Chisou unfortunately lacks this individual touch and is too mechanic.

Fried baby octopuses
To start I had the fried baby octopuses and skewers of pork belly and blistered peppers. The batter was crunchy and light but not oily. The celaphods were slightly chewy and may have benefited from longer in a milk marinade but over were well seasoned and moreish. The pork and peppers with teriyaki sauce was great. The pork had a high meat to fat ratio which was good for a starter. The peppers were delicious and had been well charred and had bags of flavour.

Pork belly, peppers and teriyaki sauce

My guests had the shrimp tempura which were excellent. The shrimps were large and succulent, moist and buttery and the batter light and importantly not greasy. The only downside was that there was only a measely amount of tentsuyu dipping sauce. This could easily have been remedied by asking for a refill but you shouldn't have to.

Ebi tempura

There were five of us eating so bare that in mind when you see the amount of sushi ordered below.
To sum up: the rice to fish ratio is better than most places you visit in London and more in line with Japanese customs. The rice was room temperature and could have been a touch warmer with a tiny bit more mirin. The fish quality was exceptionally good and better than almost every other quality place you are likely to visit save for the big guns like Sushi Tetsu. Personally, when on their game, I think the fish here is better than places like Atari-ya (even though they are one of their suppliers). That being said, I do not think staff do a good enough job directing customers to the freshest fish on offer that day. 

Assortment of nigiri. From front to back: Yellowtail, salmon, salmon skin maki, salmon maki, eel.

The stand outs were the hamachi (yellowtail): exceptionally fresh and always my favourite when there is no o-toro around. Buttery and creamy with a nice natural saltiness at the end; I could eat it for days. The chutoro was even better, creamier still with a meatier, more mineral taste (for reference the yellowtail was 50p per piece more expensive).
The uni was great for London, the foie gras of the sea although could have done with a large piece. The unagi was solid, flavorful balanced marinade and good quality eel.

Full disclosure is that this was a family and friends treat from my mother. And, as you can see, she has her distinct favourites. Some items that I had wanted to try I left off, as ordering my own plates would have been complicated and rude. Regardless, great assortment all round.
Assortment of nigiri. From front to back: Eel, sweet omelette, chutoro, salmon, soft shelled crab, salmon skin roll, uni.

To finish I had dorayaki-style pancakes with green tea mascapone filling. This version was much lighter than the usual azuki bean paste filling and was almost like eating a savoury teacake. The fluffy pancake yielding into a soft, creamy filling that ultimately dissipated in the mouth leaving the green tea sensation. One of the best desserts I have had at a Japanese venue outside the teppanyaki'd pineapple at Matsuri.
Green tea mascapone filled pancakes

Overall Chisou is a great haunt that should be used again and again for special occasions. Especially considering that Sushi Tetsu is booked until February 2013.

How much: £330 for 5 plus drinks (beer).

Where: 4 Princes Street  London W1B 2LE. Tel: 020 7629 3931

Food: 9/10
Service: 7.5/10 (efficient but soulless)
Slosh: 8/10 (Just had Japanese beers)
Value: 7/10
Overall: 8/10
Square Meal Chisou on Urbanspoon

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