Some days, I can barely get out of the front door without someone saying: “Hey, RichardMcComb.com, where’s the latest top tip for aburi salmon ikura don?” (That’s seared salmon sashimi and ikura roe on rice, dimwit. How could you not know that?)
All right, I have never been asked for my best sushi haunt. Flay me with seaweed and ram gyoza up my nostrils, but I am not hugely knowledgeable about Japanese food. I am on safer ground with Spam and textures of beetroot.
That said, I know what I like and I really, really like sushi. I love the freshest of fresh fish; and I am not quite so idiotic as to fail to appreciate that the old tenet holds true, whether you are in Toyko (never been), London (have been) or a market stall in Birmingham (yes): you pay for what you get.
And so for the price of a portion of outstanding wagyu sukiyaki at the equally outstanding Yashin in South Kensington you can virtually get an entire lunch prepared by, say, a Polish chef toiling on a camping table inside Birmingham indoor market.
If money was no object, and geography did not require negotiating a 120-mile drive, where would I go 10 times out of 10 for sushi – my chum in Brum or Yashin? I would make a bee-line for Yasuhiro Mineno and Shinya Ikeda’s groovy outpost at 1A Argyll Road, just a short hop from High Street Kensington Tube station.
Does that mean I should deride the efforts of a hard-working, entrepreneurial chef in Birmingham? No. I leave that to others far more qualified than me.
You cannot write about Yashin without mentioning that it doesn’t provide soy sauce for fish and rice dunking. If you are in the know, this is a very well-known fact. I am mentioning the “no soy” policy because I am presuming many of my readers, like me, are not particularly in the know. Welcome: you are amongst friends.
So, no soy at Yashin. The writing is literally on the wall inside the restaurant. The fluorescent spindly font on the green tiles behind the sushi counter declares: “Without soy sauce…” Then it adds, so as not to alienate: “…but if you want to.”
The choice here is truly baffling. Some of the menu items may be unfamiliar and if you are like me you will want to eat them all. Don’t you hate it when, through lack of familiarity, you don’t order a dish and then cry as the most amazing course ever is presented to the bloke at the next table?
The wonderful thing about Yashin, and Japanese restaurants in general, is that you don’t have to make a decision. You simply order the omakase, the chef’s menu, and let him get on with it. I say omakase, you say omakase, let’s let the expert get on with it.
At Yashin, the Omakase Eight (eight pieces of sushi plus the “roll of the day”) is £30; the Omakase Eleven (which sounds like a film but is actually 11 pieces with a roll) is £45; and The Yashin, for £60, comprises 15 pieces of sushi.
The restaurant describes the sushi as “exquisite” and it is. This is some of the prettiest, most seductively colourful food I have eaten, the visual “phwoar!” backed up by incredible depths of flavour that just keep on giving.
Sitting at the bar, where there are about a dozen stools, comes the thrill of watching the itamae (chefs) at work. It is a fascinating spectacle.
First, the preparation of the rice. The hands-on, high-speed cupping, sculpting and pinching of the rice – slightly warm, not too glutinous, just perfect – is mesmerising. The action is so quick my picture suggests Francis Bacon framed the shot.
Then there is the way the chefs attack certain pieces of beautifully carved fish with a blow torch, placing the flesh on what appears to be a fire-proof tree stump before turning on the flame for a quick surface sizzle.
Miso soup arrives in a pretty china tea cup, followed by a leafy, dressed salad and a carpaccio of scallops, lightly dressed, topped with shavings of black truffle.
The lunch progresses faultlessly. A plate of nigiri includes salmon, tuna and yellow tail. I would tell you more about it but I demolish it too quickly. This is “blur eating” at its most enjoyable.
The sashimi is even more stunning and is given a dramatic, structured presentation on green leaves.
The absence of soy sauce means the chefs rely on the extraordinary quality of the fish (which here includes sea bass, grouper, luxuriously fatty tuna and mackerel) allied to deft tricks with the complementary garnishes, sauces and culinary flourishes.
The effect of truffle infused ponzu jelly, garlic dressing, jalapeño and the like is a heavy burn on the umami booster rockets.
Chunks of pickled ginger, rather than that flaccid pink stuff, freshen up the palate for the next hit and the wagyu sukiyaki proves to be some hit.
Six pieces of stewed wagyu beef come in fluffy, mildly vinegared rice jackets and scream to be dunked into the glossy egg yolk sauce. It is awesome.
There is just enough room for green tea ice cream and fresh fruit salad, which is as delicate and fresh and as deceptively simple as everything you will find at this inspirational restaurant.
Yashin, 1A Argyll Road LONDON W8 7DB
Tel : 0207 938 153
*This is not a review; it is a feature. I dined at Yashin courtesy of the restaurant.