SUSHI–NOEN TOUCH MY FOOD. Somewhere between Aldgate East Station and Whitechapel is Takama-ga-hara (Japanese heaven), going by the name of Sushinoen, and this restaurant takes fusion to a new level. This isn’t Asian fusion, this isn’t even American Asian fusion. This is JAPANESE LONDON fusion. Hold onto your kimono because sushi is about to get real.
In a beautifully bricked corner plot, in one of the most vibrant areas in London, this cloistered eatery takes serenity, politeness and hospitality very seriously, Japanese style. My own mother doesn’t look after me this well. (Seriously. I can’t remember when she last cooked for me but I’m digressing ). It’s light, modern, airy, and filled with Japanese people, which is always an excellent sign. Some of the tables, set just above the top of a tiled plinth, allow eaters to feel as if they are sat on the floor, though they actually have a trough carved out of the floor for their legs to dangle. Projected on one huge wall, was the Japanese food adventure series by Rick Stein, one of my favourite chefs. There is something about watching fresh sushi being prepared on a big screen, that sets you up perfectly for the feast to come. Authenticity and comfort taken seriously.
Now, small plate menus are always a challenge for us: How many is too many? How many can you order without looking obscene? Can you take some home? How on earth do you choose? All valid and traumatic concerns. The answer here is 11. With desserts. 11 is too many for any normal place, any normal person, and we were absolutely stuffed, but here, not trying at least 11 things seems criminal. I repeat, JAPANESE LONDON fusion. This moment might never come along for you again.
So, our 11 dishes. Some of the most unusual, unexpected and delicious morsels of fusion I have encountered. We started with some beautifully put together appetisers, Koika Shichimiage – Baby Squid with Sweet & Chilli sauce. (£6.90), Horenso Gomaae – Boiled Spinach with Sesame Sauce (£4.70) and Chicken Gyoza (£4.50). The calamari and gyoza were superb, but the spinach with sesame sauce, was absolutely incredible. The sweetness of the sesame, which tasted like satay sauce, took away any bitter taste that the spinach might have had, and made for a truly unusual and moreish side dish. We actually asked for extensive detail about how this was prepared, with a view to make this at home, though I suspect it wouldn’t come off as well as their dish did. Next up was the sushi. Sake (Salmon) Sashimi (£5.90)- always my favourite at any Japanese table – California – Crab Stick, Avocado & Cucumber (£4.90) and the Maguro (Tuna Nigiri) (£4.90). Fresh, professionally prepared and served with thick soy sauce that makes you wonder why you ever tried the sushi from Pret.
However, the fusion here is definitely the best bit. The menu is scattered with dishes named “Aldgate Platter”, “Dragon” and “Volcano”, which involve baking, mayonnaise, garlic oil, orange and all sorts of western influenced sushi and sashimi. The one that captured our interest was the London London (£5.40) -It’s hard to describe this delicious dish but is it essentially soft and sticky sushi rice, topped with prawn tempura, and a zingy mayonnaise. I could have eaten 5008734587 pieces of this, and I feel a bit sad that I didn’t. The Butakakuni (£5.45), which is Braised Pork Belly in Dashi Soy Sauce, Served with Yellow Mustard, looked like it was going to be quite fatty, but the infused flavours were so yummy, that the mouthful and it’s textures were just perfect. We topped our feast off with Yakiudon – Stir Fried Udon with Chicken (£9.90). It has a deep flavour and none of the greasiness that this plate can often suffer from. We were so full we could hardly move.
But we couldn’t leave without trying some of their marvelous desserts. I had ICE CREAM TEMPURA. Let me repeat. ICE CREAM TEMPURA. Their menu says ‘ya, really’ after this entry, which pretty much sums up my feeling about this. This Deep Fried Vanilla Ice-Cream (£5.50) is utterly mind-blowing, and I don’t even really like deserts. I inhaled it without so much as a look up. We also had a house special Green Tea Crème Brulee, which was served with vanilla ice cream (£4.00). We are usually quite good at sharing but this wasn’t even up for discussion. Scoff and smile.
I can quite honestly say that this is some of the best Japanese food I have ever eaten, including a lot of food actually in Japan, and the busyness of the restaurant indicates that this won’t be a secret for much longer. Sushinoen also deserves an extra mention for its attention to detail and exemplar service and hospitality. We are literally trying to agree a date to go back – and we NEVER go back.
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