Sushi Tetsu somewhat scared me. Other peoples' posts revealed it was a hushed place, much like high-end sushi restaurants in Japan (I've never been). These are not places you go with a gaggle of friends to drink and laugh and have raucous fun. And, like these places in Japan, they can be nosebleedingly expensive. But my curiosity was piqued. I took a deep breath and dived in.
With a mere 7 or so seats around the bar, the three of us were first ones in the restaurant. We left the fate of our meal up to the chef with the request of an omakase; the chef's selection. When asked if we should let them know a budget we were willing to spend, the chef's wife smiled sweetly and told us to just let the chef know when we were full. I started sweating. I'm never full.
First up was a selection of sashimi. Trays of fish were produced, and gleaming flesh expertly sliced. Marinated sardines (back right) were startling with their intense, clean flavours. Sweet prawns were a favourite, as well as wafer-thin sea bream brushed with a yuzu sauce. The quality of the fish, some of which is flown over from Japan, was evident.
A bamboo leaf was wiped clean and set before each of us. A tray containing a moist cloth for our hands was laid in front of us, and the chef instructed us to eat with our fingers (or chopsticks if we had to). The sushi would already be seasoned enough but we could add soy sauce if we wanted to. I dread to think how offended he would be if we actually had done some dunking, but throughout the meal, it wasn't necessary. Meticulously, fish was removed from the trays and portioned into nigiri, one for each of us. I won't talk about every single one we had as I would run out of adjectives, but here were a few highlights.
For some of the pieces, a blowtorch was produced and the fish was given a scorching, to stunning effect. Above was a scallop; brushed with seasoning (soy sauce, I presume), they were lightly scored, scorched and then brushed again before being molded around the most perfect nugget of sushi rice that I've eaten. A smoky flavour was imparted to the scallop and it retained its juicy, tender sweetness. The rice, warm and sweet but with just the right tang and stickiness, held its structure well to fall apart in the mouth.
We had the fattiest tuna I've ever set eyes upon. The slab of it was pale pink, the marbling of the fat so prized in this type of tuna abundant. The tuna was lightly touched with the scarily sharp knife so that it was criss-crossed with scoring, and again the blowtorch came out to warm the fat to make it melt on the tongue. This was probably the best thing I've eaten all year. The richness of the tuna stayed on the tongue and I chewed and chewed and chewed, willing it not to end. The flavour was so deep it tasted beefy. Stunning stuff, and worth the trip alone.
We saw the fatty tuna again, when it was minced into a tartare with normal tuna and rolled into a cone shape as temaki. Again, here mixed with pickled radish it was another happy moment.
I've included this picture of salmon mainly because it's pretty and shows off the chef's knife skills, of which looked extraordinary. Of all the nigiri we had (and I'd say there was a good 8 or so) only one didn't impress much - the horse mackerel, while nice enough was a little over fishy and uninteresting for me.
We called it a day when gently prompted, although I could have gone on for a good few more rounds. A couple cubes of tamago - a set egg custard-type thing - marked the sweet end. We waited for the bill with baited breath, fear and dread mounting and my fears were realised; 80 big ones for my meal, with 3 beers and service. But then such mesmerising skill, attention and care doesn't come cheap. When we were there only one other couple was eating, and they sat down at least an hour after we did. I can't imagine this is down to the restaurant not being popular - Jay Rayner raved about it - but I can only imagine it is imposed on to the bookings, as looking after many in such a way would become hectic and frenetic for the chef. I imagine if you go a la carte it might be more accessible, and there are sets up to £38.50.
There were inventive and imaginative quirks; not quite as varied as Sushi of Shiori in their flavourings, but in the different treatments of the fish used. Top quality fish doesn't come cheap, and while I don't begrudge the £80 I spent, it's certainly not an amount I can spend often, alas. So for now I'll just feast on the memory of that fatty tuna.
12 Jerusalem Passage
London EC1V 4JP
Tel: 020 3217 0090