Sushi made with Italian fillings like olives, basil and calamari. Mushroom ravioli with korma sauce or spaghettini with lamb curry. Tandoori chicken pizzas. Indian curry burritos. Pesto gyoza dumplings. Prawns in chocolate sauce. Ah yes, it’s astonishing the number of culinary crimes that people are willing to commit in the name of “fusion food”. The theory seems to be “if one cuisine tastes this delicious on the plate, just think how much better it would be if we added a second cuisine to the mix!”. This is also the theory behind “if one tequila makes me feel this good, just imagine how good seven would make me feel!”. And we all know where that theory leads…
So at first glance, when you read about Sushinho’s Japanese-Brazilian fusion concept, your mind immediately slams the shutters and yells: “No! No! Stop the madness!”. But you’d do well to do a bit of research first, because the fact is that Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside Japan – meaning that this particular fusion makes more sense than most and does have some sort of basis in reality! Sushinho’s first hugely successful branch opened on King’s Road in Chelsea, but it was to the newer City branch near Liverpool Street station that Michelle and I made our way one Saturday this summer. Now I have worked in the City for over 12 years and I know the Square Mile pretty well, but I was baffled by the location. Devonshire Square? Never heard of it? Well put your faith in Google Maps, cross the road from the station, walk down pedestrianised Devonshire Row through an elegant arch, and I can guarantee you will emerge into one of the more unexpected spaces in the City of London. The warehouses surrounding you sere originally built by the Dutch East India Company between 1768 and 1820 to store cargo. The Port of London Authority later acquired the buildings and because the fortress-like walls and fire-proof construction afforded excellent protection they stored their most valuable merchandise there: ostrich feathers, Oriental carpets, cigars, Tortoise-shell, silks, mother-of-pearl, spices, musical instruments, perfumes and tea. In 2006, the buildings were redeveloped as a multi-use development and a glass roof was added atop the western courtyard – and it is into this vast space that you emerge from the street.
Sushinho occupies a ground and basement level space opening onto this courtyard and also has seating on sofas under the trees in the covered courtyard itself. After a brief inspection of the interior (blonde wood, exposed brickwork, de rigeur industrial chic filament lightbulbs, original interior columns and features) we decided to take advantage of the novelty of dining outdoors without worrying the annoying uncertainty of London weather! We were one of only a handful of tables when we visited but as with most City restaurants, staff (very charming!) assured us that their busy times were during the week rather than a Saturday night. The menu is divided into starters; sashimi and sushi rolls; grills; larger plates; and sides. On balance, I would say that the menu leans more towards Japanese than Brazilian, but dishes like picanha steak, pork belly feijoada and casava chips also fly the flag for Brazilian cuisine.
The wine list is impressively extensive and comprehensive, covering both New and Old World and I was pleased to find at least two good value South African whites (Buitenverwachting’s Buiten Blanc and Mulderbosch Steen op Hout wooded Chenin Blanc – both under £30). That said, there are only a handful of wines under £40 on the list but there is a handy sommelier’s choice on each page pointing out good value wines. There is also a good selection of sake, ranging from £21 to £97 for a 300ml glass. But seeing as we were celebrating a birthday, we stuck to cocktails (an interesting select8ion priced between about £10 and £15): Michelle had a long passion fruit drink, the name of which I can’t recall, while I started with a mango spiced margarita (£9.50) – possibly one of the best cocktails I’ve had and the perfect antidote to sickly sweet frozen mango daiquiris. I particularly loved the colour and kick of the shichimi powder in which the lime garnish had been dipped! Later I had a Penicillin (Talisker 10yr, Glenfarclas 105, fresh ginger extract, honey syrup – £9.50) which had the mellow smokiness of the whisky perfectly balanced by the sharpness of the ginger.
We started with Butterfish Tataki with truffle jelly and crispy capers (£9.50), Moqueca Ceviche with coconut milk, green tomatoes and coriander (£8.50), and a Sushinho roll (£9.50) filled with salmon, crab and cream cheese and coated with panko. The first thing that struck us was how beautifully each dish was presented – simple and fresh platings that focus the eye on the food rather than the garnishes. But the star of the show were the flavours and textures of each dish – surprising, balanced and superb. Butterfish is something that does not appear often enough on restaurant menus and the tataki was unctuous; succulent. The sweet, earthy jelly did not overwhelm the rish fish, but it was the spike of crispy capers that lifter this dish into the realm of the extraordinary. Mocequa is a traditional Brazilian dish of fish cooked in coconut milk and the ceviche was a clever take on these flavours in a cold dish – fresh, clean flavours and a meaty texture. But it was the Sushinho roll that was the most surprising – in essence, crunchy sushi! No, it’s not traditional but it doesn’t pretend to be – and for me, the textural contrast really worked.
We then moved on to a custom sushi platter which was beautifully presented on black slate, with side orders of salmon sashimi and razor clam sashimi (both £17 for 6 pieces). The salmon is very lightly hickory-smoked in-house and is oily, yielding and just kissed with a touch of smoke, rather than overwhelmed – quite heavenly together with the punchy wasabi. It’s not often that you see razor clam sashimi on a London menu so Michelle leapt at the chance – I love its slippery texture and slightly muddy flavour, although I can imagine it won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. On the sushi platter were smoked salmon rolls (£8.50) with mango, avocado, Parmesan and coriander ; spider rolls (£9.50) with tempura soft-shell crab, wasabi tobiko and chili and Rio sushi roll (£8.50), with prawn, wasabi tobiko and strawberry. If you can get past the inherent weirdness of mango and parmesan in sushi, the salmon rolls were delicious with the sweet mango pairing well with the gently smoked salmon and the cheese adding a flash of salty flavour. I loved the spider roll with its light, crispy tempura crab which appeared to be literally trying to escape the confines of the roll, punctuated again by subtle wasabi tobiko and chilli. The most puzzling dish was the Rio roll, ordered (to be honest) for the novelty value of trying strawberry in a savoury sushi roll. The rolls came wrapped in a smooth layer of strawberry gel, with more of the berries inside. By no means unpleasant, it was a lot sweeter than most people would choose for their sushi and I felt that this a reworking of these admitttedly very pretty rolls would have made a far better addition to the dessert menu.
For our main courses, Michelle chose the Jumbo Prawn (£7.50); I could not resist the Pork Belly Feijoada (£14.50); and we attempted to share the Blackened Butterfish with Wasabi Guacamole (£15.00). Michelle’s prawn was exactly as described on the menu – one single prawn. But what a prawn! Where I come from, something that size is called lobster! It was chargrilled to perfection, succulent and delicious. I absolutely adored the rich, smoky feijoada and with the added generous chunk of pork belly, it constituted a massive portion for the price – definitely the best value on the menu. And I’m not only saying this because of the two divine shards of crisp pork crackling that it was served with! We really did not have room for the butterfish, but seeing as it so rarely appears on London menus, I felt compelled to try it – and I was not disappointed. The barely cooked fish retained its indulgent, meaty texture and was beautifully offset by the cajun spice coating. And wrong as you may think wasabi guacamole sounds, it was addictively good and surprisingly cooling with the spicy fish. On the side, we had two spectacular side dishes: Japanese mushrooms (£6.00) – a glorious bowl of mixed mushrooms including enoki and generous amounts of umami-rich shiitake; and the triple cooked cassava chips (£4.50) – crispy outside, fluffy inside, and not a hint of stringiness. Definitely the best I’ve had in London!
If we didn’t have room for the butterfish, we certainyl didn’t have room for dessert, but I’ve never been able to say no to churros with doce de leite (£5.50). These were hot, cinnamony and correctly crisp on the outside while maintaining a pillowy interior. I would have preferred a chocolate dipping sauce as I find the caramel too sweet, but Michelle loved it. It was a great end to the meal though and went down a treat with my espresso.
Staff were friendly and charming throughout our meal and answered knowledgeably whenever we had questions about the menu or needed food or drink recommendations. Bonus points, too, for packing up my leftover feijoada in a takeaway box without any problems (it was just as divine heated up the next day!). I adored the airy feeling of the outside area and sitting outside without actually being at the mercy of the elements. I found the food to be beautifully plated throughout – interesting rather than unrepeatable at its most experimental end (the strawberry & shrimp sushi) and very accomplished at its more traditional end (the smoked salmon, feijoada and jumbo prawn) . The only sticking point is the price – delicious as they were, £9.50 for a starter ain’t cheap and for what we had above, the cost per head would have been in the region of £75. But then there are also ways around that – there is a daily set-price 3-course lunch menu for £19.50; and 50% off all sushi platters on Monday nights at the Liverpool Street branch.
Liked: the unusual setting, the unusual sushi, the divine (and well-priced) feijoada
Disliked: the steep prices for some dishes
In a nutshell: An unusual venue a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street Station with a menu that’s a little out of the ordinary and great service
Wow factor out of 10: 8.5
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed this meal as a guest of Sushinho but received no further remuneration in return for this post and all opinions are my own.
9a Devonshire Square
Tel: +44 (0) 20 72209490
E-mail [email protected]
Closed Saturday lunch and all day Sunday.