To celebrate Japan's greatest culinary export, we offer the lowdown on the what, where and why of London's greatest sushi bars.
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 Atari-Ya. 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 (fermented soy beans) fans can get their fix here. Booking is advised and be aware that all branches close on the early side, between 8pm and 10pm.
See also: Yoshino where, as with Atari-Ya, you’re going straight to the heart of the London supply chain.
Atari-Ya has restaurants at Ealing Common, Swiss Cottage, Golders Green and a take-out joint on James Street (near Bond Street). There are also four shops where you can order fresh fish from the counter plus assorted Japanese confectionery.
Sticks 'n' Sushi
This Danish export has 11 branches in Copenhagen and five here in London. 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 that the company takes a lot of care in obtaining its ingredients. Sustainable ingredients and transparent sourcing (there's a whole section on the website dedicated to where they catch their fish) make it high-grade dining with a conscience.
Sticks ’n’ Sushi has branches in Wimbledon, Covent Garden, Greenwich, Canary Wharf and Victoria (as well as Oxford and Cambridge).
Sushi at Maze, Gordon Ramsay
Be prepared for some beautifully-crafted, modernly-twisted offerings at Maze's dedicated sushi bar. Expect classic flavour pairings, expertly executed, such as seared salmon roll paired with yuzu-miso, and an ever-changing chef's selection (or 'moriawase') of nigiri served on crushed ice. We’d recommend you prop up the stylish counter for the proper sushi experience of watching the chefs work right in front of you. If you just can't get enough of it, the bottomless sushi and prosecco offering on Sundays will have your belt suitably straining. 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. Open noon-3pm and 6-11pm
Behind the humble façade 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. Formerly called Sushi Say, Sushi Masa still continues to command a loyal following and due to its close proximity to Willesden Green station, booking is highly recommended for this long-running, husband and wife manned eatery.
Sushi Masa, 33B Walm Lane, NW2 5SH
The new flagship store for Japan Centre on Panton Street is an absolute goldmine of authentic Japanese food. A series of open plan kitchens contain chefs beavering away, slicing up impeccably fresh sushi and sashimi. Pull up a stall at one of the bars in this 'depachika' (Japanese word for a basement food hall) and go to town. It’s also one of the few places with a significant prominence of healthy brown rice options. The original Japan Centre site on Shaftesbury Avenue still exists, but now focuses on ceramics and groceries to take home.
See also: Umai Sushi Deli at Westfield Stratford is also operated by Japan Centre. 'Umai' is a casual term for 'delicious' and this deli lives up to its name, with reasonable prices to boot.
Japan Centre, 35b Panton Street, SW1Y 4EA
Patience, an unbridled love of sushi and a budget to match are all essential in order to nab one of the seven coveted seats at Sushi Tetsu. Booking lines are only open once a week, usually for a couple of hours on a Monday, for slots up to six weeks in advance. Get ready for a rather unseemly scramble as lines open and the spots disappear quick as a flash, but if you do manage to get past that darned engaged tone, you'll be richly rewarded. Each dining service take 1.5-2 hours as each piece of sublime sushi is lovingly handmade and delivered to your counter seat. The eagle-eyed can keep an eye on Sushi Tetsu's Twitter feed (and have their phone number on speed dial) for any last-minute cancellations. Oh, and if you do manage to get in, don’t just not show up — not only is it a dick move, but you’ll also be blacklisted.
Sushi Tetsu, 12 Jerusalem Passage, EC1V 4JP
A family-run restaurant complete with photos of fishing holidays and trinkets that adorn the space, Sushi Waka is 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
Places that do great sushi
The following are not sushi bars as such, but are fantastic places to go get a helping nonetheless.
Pricey? Heck yes. Worth it? Totally, as Aqua Kyoto has 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 a Saturday brunch where guests can choose between the 'indulgence' or 'purity' menus, both of which feel pretty indulgent to us.
Aqua Kyoto, 5th Floor, 240 Regent Street, W1B 3BR
This much-feted restaurant (it's frequently name-checked in 'must-try' London guides) 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 Dinings, which started life dedicated to the traditional sushi-making scene and has since honed its own style, bringing in European influences from across the pond. Private curating classes that are open to all levels of experience can also be arranged.
Dinings has two London venues: the original at 22 Harcourt Street, W1H 4HH and a second at Walton House, Lennox Gardens Mews, Walton Street, SW3 2JH (with a third in Tel Aviv).
Nobu is 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 you're 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 the fact 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.
Nobu has three London locations — Berkeley Street, Old Park Lane and Shoreditch
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 Zuma.
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 Roka, 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 also spot on and can be enjoyed from the dedicated sushi menu or as part of the hefty 12-course tasting menu. If you’re dining in Charlotte Street, nip downstairs to Shochu Lounge for a cheeky drink afterwards. It also does a cracking brunch at its Canary Wharf branch on weekends.
Roka is located in Charlotte Street, Mayfair, Aldwych and Canary Wharf
Sake no Hana
With its Mayfair location, interiors designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, and food courtesy of Michelin-starred chef Hideki Hiwatashi, you can be sure that Sake no Hana is no 'every day' dining experience. But for special occasions, Londonist's Ruth Hargreaves says it's hard to beat. Style and substance come together with impeccably fresh sushi served from the restaurant's dedicated sushi bar. Each piece is meticulously presented and almost looks too good to eat (hey, we said 'almost') but the airy, modern surroundings of the restaurant make the dining experience far from stuffy. The occasional set lunches that pop up make it slightly more affordable, so stick this one on your birthday wish-list and hope your friends get the hint.
Sake no Hana, 23 St James's Street, SW1A 1HA
Victoria, an area better known as a station hub than a place to get some chomp-worthy 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
Sakagura - Japanese tapas-style dishes in a stylish setting. Pair the marvellous range of sushi options with sake and creative Japanese cocktails. 8 Heddon Street, W1B 4BU
Sushi Samba - Blending Japanese and Peruvian cuisine, this popular spot deserves a mention for the views alone, occupying the 39th floor of the City's Heron Tower and boasting the highest outdoor dining terrace in Europe. Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AY
Rock Star Sushi Bar - Lucky Colliers Wood. This south London sushi bar is absolutely tiny: one chef, one waiter, 12 seats, but the food is superb and booking is an absolute must. Unit 5, The Long Shop, Merton Abbey Mills, Watermill Way, SW19 3RD
Eat Tokyo - There are regular queues for tables at each of Eat Tokyo's six London restaurants (especially the Soho branch), which is testament to the great value, fresh sushi you'll find here. Branches in Soho, Holborn, Notting Hill, Golders Green, Hammersmith, Covent Garden
Sushi Hiroba - Fresh sushi straight off a conveyor belt in central London, ideal for a pre or post-theatre sushi fix. 50-54 Kingsway, WC2B 6EP
Kikuchi - Hiding round the corner from Tottenham Court Road station, Kikuchi offers top-quality, authentic, melt-in-your-mouth rolls, although you'll have to meet the £40 minimum spend. 41 Hanway Street, W1T 1UD
Akari - Japanese food in a converted old pub, the vibe here is relaxed and welcoming. Fresh sushi is prepared daily and the place gets packed out so arrive early or book. 196 Essex Road, N1 8LZ
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 (and we do), hosomaki are thin with one filling, while futomaki are large with typically two or three fillings. Nigiri are traditionally small morsels of rice, with the topping draped over, 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 high-quality 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.