Good Japanese food is hard to find in this country. It’s a simple and pretty devastating fact for any Japanese living here, or any lovers of oriental cuisine.
Good Japanese food is hard to find in this country. It’s a simple and pretty devastating fact for any Japanese living here, or any lovers of oriental cuisine. Sushi is on the rise, with the development of chains like Itsu and Yo! Sushi doing their best to provide quick and (mostly) fresh food.
But it’s still hard to find somewhere that can slice a piece of tuna and provide home cooked Japanese dishes in a traditional environment e.g. shoes off, let’s all sit on the floor and get hammered on plum wine.
I’d heard about Hi Sushi Izakaya from a few friends who live and work in London. It seems to be a firm favourite with people who want to eat good sushi on a regular basis, but not spend an absolute fortune at Nobu or any of these Peruvian/Japanese fusion restaurants that seem to be taking over the world.
A Japanese izakaya is a typical watering hole for friendly locals that also serves great food, essentially a much classier version of a pub.
Hi Sushi, located just off Covent Garden, is clearly going for a similar vibe, as there were plenty of regulars in there chatting to the sushi chefs and staff.
Like most decent Japanese restaurants, it’s completely unassuming from the outside, and is simple enough in its decor inside, save for the goldfish pond located next to the low sushi bar.
If you’re part of a group, there’s the option to take a low table and dine in the traditional way. Loud laughter from above us suggests that there’s party dining upstairs, and also seats downstairs where local artists sometimes take up residence to display their work.
Know your stuff
The menu is a little astounding, especially as they offer out so many special offers – bento boxes, set menus and a famous all-you-can eat buffet for £19.80 a person. I didn’t ask about the all-you-can eat because it seemed like a relatively quiet night for the restaurant and the thought of limitless sushi made me want to cry a little.
Instead, we chose to order off the main menu, opting to taste several things we really craved. This is not the restaurant to visit if you’re a Japanese food novice, because the staff won’t offer out advice on what’s good. If you love sushi and know what you want you’re in good hands with some capable chefs and very fresh fish, but if you’re not then it’ll be a case of close your eyes and point.
My mum opted for a bento with 12 pieces of sushi and a choice of a hot dish, a steal at only £12.80. The sushi rice was just right, always a good indication of proper ingredients, and the prawn tempura was perfect.
My soft shell crab roll was incredibly generous for £8.50 – five packed pieces rolled in caviar – and the quality of the crab was clear. The unagi (eel) nigiri was sent back straight away as it was ice cold to the touch and inedible.
It was returned a few minutes later with the explanation that the chef had forgotten to blow torch it at a much better temperature. Taste was great, but the same piece of sushi was given back to me, my bite marks still in it. Definitely minus a few marks for that one.
Still a little peckish, we had a flick through the extensive menu – if you want ramen, they’ve got it, if you want pork ribs, likewise – and decided to try a Hi Bun with teriyaki chicken. Chinese style buns seem to be all the rage right now, and this certainly lived up to the mark.
One bun, priced at £4.00, is huge and fluffy, wrapped around a tender piece of marinated chicken with crispy skin, rocket, cucumber, pickled cabbage and a spicy mayonnaise.
One of these beautiful beasts would fill me right up, but one split between two of us was a perfect end to the meal. It was easily the best thing I’ve eaten in months.
Don’t take it personally
Hi Sushi impressed with it’s comfortable atmosphere, good food and great prices. The only down side for many people will be the staff, and looking at some pre-existing reviews, the most common complaint is surly, uninterested staff.
This is true to a point – when I sent back my eel dish, the manager said very little to me, but just took it away and brought it back again. They are very quiet, not talkative and can come across as rude, but it’s also part and parcel of having all oriental staff.
They’re not quite as outgoing or friendly as Western servers, but it doesn’t mean they hate you. In fact, if you make conversation, particularly with the chefs behind the bar, they’ll start to warm up relatively quickly.
Overall, a * * * star rating for Hi Sushi Izakaya. My mum always told me never to trust a Japanese restaurant not run by Japanese people (these are Vietnamese) but even she enjoyed the food, and prices just can’t be beat.
What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below.