Sushi Tetsu - top class new sushi bar in Clerkenwell
Sushi Tetsu opened on Monday night in the very tiny premises formerly occupied by Passage Cafe on Jerusalem Passage in Clerkenwell (next door to the Dove Belgian bar). It's owned and run by Toru Takahashi and his wife. Toru was sushi chef at Nobu for five years before leaving to open his own place.
I don't want to burden them with massively inflated expectations, but this was the closest thing to the Yasuda experience I've found in London. Toru served up piece after piece of top class sushi whilst keeping up a patter on Belgian beer, bossa nova (Astrud v. Bebel Gilberto), blues (Does Johnny Winter hate Japanese people? Why Bobby Bland isn't really blues) and the relative merits/demerits of various sushi restaurants in London and further afield (in fact he namechecked Yasuda as an influence).
It's a more classical sushi bar than Sushi of Shiori (which I also very much like). No hot food, no miso. Just sashimi, nigiri and maki. It's a true sushi omakase experience, one piece of nigiri at a time, the meal developing its own flow, its own momentum. It is quite traditional, occasional use is made of a blowtorch but not to the extent it is used at Yashin. The torch giving an effect not unlike the grill used by Masa in Tokyo.
In the end, of course, this is London. Billingsgate is not Tsukiji. The fish is not quite at the level of Yasuda or Kuruma (who can import directly from Tokyo) not to mention the Tokyo heavyweights. But it's very, very good and it's prepared with immense skill and passion.
This was a hugely encouraging first meal (all the better for it being 400 yards from my front door). I suspect the London sushi scene has a new contender.
I liked the rice and fish balance in the nigiri, the ovoid shape small enough for a mouthful and appropriate amount of each that one could taste both. The rice is fluffy, light and on the softer side; perhaps similar to that of Sushi of Shiori. Admittedly, I like the rice at Shimo Gamo a little more, even though they're not as refined in the shaping of their nigiri.
The sushi chef brushes on the soy sauce for each piece, and there's no real need to use additional soy sauce. For my taste, I would probably like somewhat less soy sauce to have the fish speak louder. Also a fair amount of accessories for the nigiri -- little dabs of sauce or shiso or lime; I think they do enhance the fish a bit, but they would probably not be as important if the quality of the fish and their flavour was as intense or true as that at Hama-Ko.
Highlight was definitely a bacon-like cut of otoro from Portugal, blowtorched, rich oily, meaty, almost beefy.
On the whole it's a place that's very good for London, and I would like to see how they evolve. Apparently they get supplies from Japan in the later part of the week near the weekends -- will have to try them again at their optimal. Might be a good idea to call to see if they have any specials.
I tried Tetsu last Saturday night (their 6th night of their soft opening week). They don't have a website yet and they didn't even have a phone number until very recently (it wasn't printed or to be found anywhere and I had to ask them when I was there - it's 020 3217 0090; they're closed Saturday lunch and the whole of Sunday but otherwise open; last orders at 14:00 and 22:00 respectively).
7 seats at the counter in front of the sushi chef and 2 tables of (I think) 2. Just Takahashi-san who started in Kobe and last worked at Nobu London for 6+ years; and his charming wife (Harumi). Takahashi-san's English is very good (he graduated from a Japanese university with an English/British culture degree) and as mentioned above, he's more than willing to talk and banter.
Everything is still new so, for example, there were currently no desserts, there are only four sakes on the list at the moment and they had run out of egg by the time I arrived (near the end of the night). They do have a menu but rather than waste time with that, I just went for omakase in the true sense - being fed until I asked to stop without any idea how much until the end.
The flavours of the fish were left to speak for themselves with only things like a few drops of juice, some salt, a lick of sauce or a quick blowtorch to complement/enhance the flavours. It was sushi in a traditional but refined form (no fusion) and similar to what can be found in many good sushi places across Japan (even in airports like Haneda in Tokyo) and in countries like Hong Kong (e.g. Sushi U in Central now closed) but rarely in London.
As far as I'm concerned for best sushi in London, Tetsu's only other contender is Shiori which I love. Shiori is more refined than Tetsu (no surprise given that Takagi-san there trained in Kyoto) and Shiori's plates of food are works of art unlike Tetsu which is simply "raw" (in a nice way). None of the other places in London work for me. Dinings is fusion and doesn't have the fresh clean taste which I prefer (sometimes it works but other times not). It's the same for Yashin plus they have their frankly silly hangup about providing soya sauce. (Tetsu do provide soya sauce without having to ask.) Finally, there's Mitsukoshi which is traditional but lacks refinement.
What I found pretty unique in London about Tetsu was the omakase experience as mentioned above. Tetsu was the closest I've come so far to how I feel in Japan.