(Originally written April 2017)
Sushi Shop: it does exactly ‘what it says on the tin’ or I suppose in this case what the shop name says. The French chain has some 130 stores across the globe (though mostly in France), including three in London, serving up Californian style sushi on an a la carte basis or via selection boxes. It is in essence an up market sushi takeaway that aims to offer restaurant standard sushi and a creative fusion of Japanese and western food; indeed, it even has a France based Michelin starred Japanese chef consulting on the menu.
I have to admit that while I do enjoy it on occasions, I’m sceptical about takeaway sushi and tend to avoid it, The problem is that while it always looks good, the pre made and fast food nature of it does mean that quality can be variable and something like sushi does require consistency and quality for all the flavours to be discernable. This said, I agreed to head to Sushi Shop to try their new limited edition selection as I’d heard good things about the place, the quality, and I’ll try anything once.
The limited edition selection in question is a collaboration between Sushi Shop and Scott Campbell, the tattoo artist, who’s worked with the likes of Penelope Cruz, Heath Ledger, Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton. They have previously collaborated with Kate Moss, Kenzo and Lenny Kravitz. The box itself contains 42 pieces of 9 different varieties of sushi, maki and nigiri, together with a limited edition transfer tattoo designed by Campbell. All this will set you back £39.90.
I turned up with my dining companion to try the box at the appointed time and the appointed store, only to find they had no clue that I was coming. After some showing of emails, phone calls and a discussion as to whether it was meant to be a box each or one box shared, we finally took a seat to wait for our sharing box (like most such shops they have an area for you to dine in). The fact it was one box between two was not a problem as frankly 42 pieces is too much for one. The fact they didn’t know I was coming isn’t the end of the world; there had been a last minute switch of venues and clearly the message hadn’t got through to them. The problem was how long it took to sort out and the manner in which this was done. It all took longer than needed as they kept walking away to put takeaways in bags to be handed to deliverymen who had not yet turned up; it was just irritating and a little rude.
After about ten minutes, the box was brought to our table from the kitchen where it had been freshly prepared – this is the case with much of their food and the kitchen is open behind the counter so you can see the cooks at work. You order from a menu book, the food is prepared and then packaged up for you to eat in or takeaway, it is very much a restaurant that just serves in a takeaway manner.
Having seen the images of the box and its content in the press release, online and in the leaflet they give you with the box, my heart sank on opening it. Invariably things never look like the advertising images, but in this case the sushi looked as close to its images as the Big Mac does to its images. This is a niggling ug bear of mine, but it’s no great matter, it’s the quality and taste of the food that matters most and at least it had been freshly put together. Nonetheless it didn’t inspire confidence following everything up to this point.
It’s difficult to review the box as a whole, given it’s a collection of different items. That said, it’s a well-balanced box in terms of a cross section of what Sushi Shop offers and balanced flavour profiles, with some more interesting items designed for the box, instead of including more ornate items from the standard menu. Really the best thing I can do for you is review each individual sushi in the box and score it out of five, so you know what to go for or avoid if you head to, or order from, Sushi Shop.
The Philadelphia Maki (x6) – rice covered cream cheese wrapped in salmon. Unfortunately this was just claggy, thanks to the combination of cheese and sticky rice. The salmon had no flavour, and often only managed to cover three sides of the roll. The only time there was anything vaguely Japanese about it was when it was dipped in soy sauce. 2/5
Spicy Tuna Maki (x6) – this was perhaps the biggest disappointment as it had the most potential. From sight and texture alone, one could tell that the tuna was of decent quality and fresh. Unfortunately, the spicy sauce was so spicy that all you could taste was chilli interspersed with seaweed. 3/5 (would have been 4/5 if less spicy)
Cooked Tuna Avocado Spring Rolls (x6) – I’m afraid to say, this was a crime against Japanese cuisine and Californian style sushi, and should never have been contemplated, let alone created. The only thing it tasted of was poor quality tuna mayonnaise; reminding one of the packed lunch sandwiches they would give you at school, along with a juice carton and Penguin Bar. The avocado and lettuce were non-existent flavour and texture wise, and the rice was only discernable via its texture. 0/5
Salmon Sushi (salmon nigiri) (x2) – The salmon was decent and a good thick piece. Unfortunately, its rice was a little undercooked. It was also in need of soy sauce to help season it, and wasabi, not that the store appeared to have any wasabi. 3/5
California Chicken Caesar (x6) – It provoked absolutely no reaction from me – a sign which usually indicates something has just bored me. My guest, on the other hand, couldn’t decide whether he liked it or hated it. On a positive note, it did at least taste of a Caesar Salad and of more than one ingredient which, up to this point in the meal, was a first. Unfortunately, the breaded chicken was dry and of poor quality, similar to what they use in the old school lunchtime sandwich bars, and the Parmesan was plasticy.
There was also the issue that a few of these sushi weren’t fully wrapped, with only three sides of rice (see picture). My problem with this is that, while they have margins to make and protect, they are charging £6.50 for six of them on the main menu, which is not cheap and other sushi stores manage to serve better quality chicken in their dishes and at a much cheaper price. 1½-2/5
Prawn Sushi (prawn nigiri) (x2)– There’s little to say about this one except that the prawn was just rubbery, though the kumquat added a nice bitter piquancy. 1½/5
Citrus Salmon Rolls (x6) – Another of the new creations, this was one I was particularly looking forward to and embodies Californian style sushi with its combination of salmon, avocado, masago (the roe), chives, croutons, lime mayonnaise and sesame. It was the best in the box because you could taste (just) the individual flavours and textures. But, and this wont surprise you, given the precedent of the previous seven items, there were issues. The lime mayonnaise and masago were missing from a number of the rolls and two of them were two thirds to three quarters empty (see picture), something that, while showing the rolls are hand rolled and then cut, is inexcusable when they are not big and not cheap – a third empty is, perhaps, justifiable but not any more than that; it leaves a paying customer feeling cheateda and ripped off. 2½/5 (would have been 4/5 is they had been consistent and with all the ingredients)
Tuna Zuke & Tomato Sushi (tuna nigiri) (x2)– This was one of the new pieces created for the box. It’s a tuna nigiri where the edges of the tuna have been seared. Seared tuna is one of life’s great things to eat. In this case though the searing had made the edge dry and leathery. Instead, the main flavour was somehow citrus despite there not being any citric involvement on the list of ingredients. 1/5
Spinach & Tempura Maki (x6) – The final of the new creations and on paper another perfect example of Californian style sushi: tempura prawn, avocado, red onion, lime juice, olive oil, goma ponzu sauce, seven spices and sesame. The main taste was guacamole and, for some reason, mayonnaise, which made me wonder if they contained the missing mayonnaise from the citrus salmon rolls. But the lasting taste was that of the tempura batter, which was really the same taste as the breaded chicken despite being two very different things, but could have been caused if they had been fried in the same oil. Again there was also the issue that two of the rolls were more than half empty. 2½-3/5
As a whole, the sushi tended to lack build quality and consistency. Each piece should be identical to the rest of its kind, but wasn’t. While this is further evidence that the sushi is made to order (though how long the rice and ingredients have been ready waiting and standing before use is still something to consider) it is not good from a customer satisfaction point of view. The food isn’t cheap and to have it fall apart and lacking all the proper ingredients is just sloppy. The soy sauce was certainly needed both from a seasoning point of view to help give flavour, and for adding the merest mirage of Japanese cuisine to some of the sushi. Wasabi would also have been a boon to a few of the sushi but was not apparent anywhere in the store.
Regrettably, after finishing our box, my dining companion and I were both left dissatisfied and even slightly numbed by the whole experience. A few of the offerings had had such potential but there were mistakes in preparation and, what was at times, butchery of both Japanese cuisine and Californian style sushi. As a result, the moment we left Sushi Shop we hightailed it to Piccadilly and Yoshino, our favourite Japanese restaurant, so in need were we of real Japanese sushi to cleanse the palate and remind us of why Japanese is actually a formidable and immaculate cuisine, built on simplicity and delicacy.