Sushi bars and sushi specialists
Reputable suppliers of fresh fish and essential cooking ingredients to restaurants all over the capital, you can come directly to the source by sampling the goods at Atariya. Its selection is extensive, with lesser-known delicacies you won’t find in the mainstream — uni (sea urchin), Botan Ebi (spot prawn) and engawa (turbot fin) to name a few. Also, natto fans can get their fix here, of which there are a fair few, despite the fact natto are slightly unnerving, slimy fermented soy beans. Booking is advised and be aware that all branches close on the early side, between 8pm and 10pm.
See also: Yoshino, with which, as with Atrariya, you’re going straight to the heart of the London supply chain.
Atariya has restaurants at Ealing Common, Swiss Cottage, Hendon, James Street (near Bond Street). Check out the website for more information
Sticks 'n' Sushi
One of Denmark’s finest — with nine branches in Copenhagen, and two over here, with a third on the way in 2015. Hosting a harmonious marriage of yakitori (AKA ‘tiny bits of meat on sticks’) and sushi against the backdrop of sleek Scandinavian design, there are some incredible fusion dishes to be had (raw fish and BBQ sauce? Trust us, it works). One of the reasons its fare is so damn good is the fact the chain owns its own rice field in California. The Japanese are (understandably) reticent to export large quantities of its high grade rice.
Sticks ’n’ Sushi has branches in Wimbledon and Covent Garden
Sushi at Maze, Gordon Ramsay
Headed up by the passionate and highly-skilled Gohei Kishi — an Alumni of Michelin-starred Kappou Nakajima, Tokyo, with a background in the Japanese/French culinary arts — be prepared for some beautifully-crafted, modernly-twisted offerings. Expect unusual flavour pairings, expertly executed, such as hamachi (yellowtail) paired with yuzu pepper and a whole pecan nut, and tuna maki with jalapeño miso. We’d recommend you prop up the stylish counter for a proper sushi experience. Love cocktails? The bar has some bespoke recipes up its sleeve, which complement the dishes perfectly.
Sushi at Maze, Gordon Ramsay, 10 -13 Grosvenor Square, W1K 6JP, 020 7107 0000
Behind the humble facade lies a sushi bar with a rich, varied menu, straight up service and a stellar reputation, making it both a hit with the regular local clientele and a destination joint for those with a nose for a simple and authentic taste of Nihon. Understandably, given its loyal following and close proximity to Willesden Green station, booking is highly recommended for this long-running, husband and wife manned eatery.
Sushi Say, 33B Walm Lane, NW2 5SH, 020 8459 2971
Patience, an appreciation for presentation, an unbridled love of sushi and a budget to match are essential. Booking lines are open only twice a month, for slots up to six weeks in advance where you’ll regularly find the phone off the hook and dates being blocked out like crazy for a space at the seven-seater counter. The eagle-eyed can keep their Twitter feeds open (and phone number on speed dial) for any last-minute cancellations. Each dining service takes 1.5-2 hours, as each piece is individually handmade and delivered. So make sure you have plenty of time. Oh, and don’t just not show up — not only is it a dick move, you’ll also be blacklisted.
Sushi Tetsu, 12 Jerusalem Passage, EC1V 4JP, 020 3217 0090
A family-run restaurant complete with photos of fishing holidays and trinkets that adorn the space. It's a homey joint. As with the other entries on our list, the sushi is faultless and there are some reasonable set lunches (bento boxes) on offer. For an authentic Japanese-style dining experience, book the upstairs where you’ll find a landing kitted out with tatami mats, and cushions for seats, as is the custom in many a restaurant back in the motherland.
Sushi Waka, 75 Parkway, Camden, NW1 7PP, 020 7482 2036
Takara Sushi at Hilton London Bridge
While the prices are double those somewhere like Atariya or Umai, it makes for an occasional treat, backed up by experienced former Nobu chefs at the helm, against a London Bridge backdrop, with a selection of handrolls, platters and a small, but perfectly-formed sake selection. Predictably, we’d set up at the counter rather than park up in the lounge. Pretty much take this as read at every venue on the list.
Takara sushi at Hilton London Bridge, 5 More London Place, Tooley Street, SE1 2BY
Umai sushi at the Japan centre
The in-house sushi brand of the Japan centre, Umai (casual term for ‘delicious’), is reasonably priced and delicious, as one should expect. With a range of onigiri (the triangle one wrapped in seaweed), temaki (cone-shaped hand rolls), it’s also one of the few places with a significant prominence of healthy brown rice options. Sushi here is mainly designed as a takeaway option, but there’s always somewhere to perch in the dining area if you can’t wait to gorge. And who can blame you.
Umai Deli is at Westfields, Stratford and is also available at the Japan Centre flagship store at 19 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 7ED
Places that do great sushi
The following are not sushi bars as such, but are fantastic places to go get a helping nonetheless.
Pricey, yes. Worth it? Totally, as this is some of the best sushi to be had in the capital. The seasonally-changing tasting menu offers a selection of delectable bites, including a sushi platter of beautifully flavoursome cuts. Best turn up suitably booted; it's a smartly dressed crowd here. Part of the wave of hip restaurant-meets-nightclub vibe (see also: Shochu Lounge at Roka) with house beats in the background, it’s lively and buzzing, without being intrusive, making for a great date night or group gathering. There's a gorgeous roof terrace too — ideal for soaking up rays during the (good parts of) summer. It also hosts Infinity Sundays, an unlimited boozy brunch, with lashings of Champagne.
Aqua Kyoto, 5th Floor, 240 Regent Street, W1B 3BR, 020 7478 0540
This much-feted Zagat Restaurant Guide darling (it's been name-checked in the top five for five years running) is another establishment that errs towards the expensive side, but holds its own against all the other entries on this list if the occasion calls for it (or you can find a suitable excuse — "It’s the second Tuesday of March? Let’s celebrate!"). Passion is an evident driving force behind the restaurant, which is dedicated to the sushi-making scene, often curating classes that are open to all levels of experience.
Dinings, 22 Harcourt Street, W1H 4HH, 020 7723 0666
One of those places you don't even consider setting foot in unless the company is paying, or you’re on the salary of someone who owns a company. Or a close personal friend of Robert De Niro, business partner of the main man Nobu Masuhisa himself. However, the reputation of this Peruvian-Japanese powerhouse is well deserved, attested by the ever-growing number of openings across the globe, and that many chefs trained here have gone on to succeed elsewhere. When it comes to the sushi, it’s a pretty full-on list of traditional dishes, with everything you could hope to find in Japan — from ume shiso (pickled plum and leaf) to abalone. Those who like to take it outside would be happy to know it's also launched a takeaway service this summer.
Nobu has two London locations — Berkeley Street and Old Park Lane
Ocean House Yashin
Younger sibling of Yashin House — where the use of any additional soy sauce is heartily discouraged as the delicate flavour of fleshy fish meat is the star of the show — Ocean House Yashin has understandably gone for the ‘head to tail’ approach, offering an unparalleled range of cuts, showcasing the talents of chefs from the kitchens of Ubon by Nobu, Yumi and The Fat Duck.
Ocean House Yashin, 117-119 Old Brompton Road, SW7 3RN
Melty, fatty marbled tuna, truffle-yuzu yellowtail and other such delights can be found at this restaurant, popular with aficionados and celebrities alike. While the Roka group is more renowned for its ‘robatayaki’ (lit. ‘fireside cooking’) style of cuisine, the sushi is (obviously) spot on. If you’re dining in Goodge Street, you can nip downstairs to Shochu Lounge for a cheeky drink afterwards. It also does a cracking unlimited brunch at its Canary Wharf branch.
Roka is located in Goodge Street, Mayfair and Canary Wharf
Victoria, an area better known as a station hub than a place to get some chompworthy food, has a pleasant little surprise in Uni. The second Peruvian-Japanese fusion on our list, the sushi here is reassuringly classic and simple, where the heavenly ibodai (butterfish) and amaebi (sweet prawn) top our personal list. Couples should get stuck in at the bright and airy upstairs counter, while groups can take advantage of the snug alcoves and larger tables down below.
Uni, 18a Ebury Street, Belgravia, SW1W 0LS, 020 7730 9267
How to identify, and eat, good sushi
Slices of raw fish are sashimi, while the rolls are generally known as ‘maki’. If you want to get technical (which, we do) hosomaki are thin, with one filling, futomaki are large with typically two or three. Nigiri are traditionally small morsels of rice, with the topping draped over it, almost enveloping it.
A word about soy (shoyu): this should be poured to form a very shallow pool, barely covering the base of your dipping dish, as all sushi should be very lightly dipped. Nigiri should actually be turned upside down (seriously) so the shoyu coats the top, avoiding the grains altogether, and high-grade fish should leave some remnants of oil floating on the top of your sauce. Too much saturation makes for soggy, limp rice, that breaks up. Every time you over-zealously dunk, Hello Kitty dies a little inside.
Also — it is totally, utterly acceptable to eat it with your hands. It started life as fast food, after all.
The venues: One thing we love about these establishments is that the service is always polite — a hallmark of Japanese customer service culture. A patron is referred to as ‘okyaakusama’ — the ‘suma’ being a respectful term, reserved for people of high status, and even god (kamisuma). If someone shouts ‘Irasshaimase’ at you when you walk in, they’re warmly welcoming you. If they’re saying something else (and sharpening knives) we can’t help you with that.
Another tip: resist judging a Japanese place by the quality of the furnishings. Some of the best places we know look pretty worn, but the food just keeps packing them in.
Bonus nerd fact: ‘Sushi’ refers to the vinegar rice itself, not the raw fish
Of course, there exists an extensive list of decent places to pick up the most famous culinary export from the Land of the Rising Sun. Please add your own favourites in the comments.
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital’s top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.