When the first Japanese restaurant appeared in London as a pop-up at the 1884 International Health Exhibition, the first reaction of Britain’s tail-coated Victorian population was: couldn’t you add a good curry?
Some of the diners were left so hungry they considered trying to find somewhere to eat a steak afterwards, reported The Morning Post.
In the intervening 136 years we have learned to love the delicate portions, the “bitter sweet” flavours and the heady accompanying glasses of sake that so shocked 19th century Brits.
London now lays claim to hundreds of sushi restaurants, follow our guide to five of the best.
If there’s one Japanese dish you need to try in London it is Roka’s yellowtail sashimi, soused in yuzu-truffle dressing.
It can be pricey (starting at £70 per person) but, if you can, go for the tasting menu for an unforgettable deep-dive into clam-shaped ice baths overspilling with fresh seafood, slabs of charred black cod that melt in the mouth and exquisite banana puffs which erupt with ice cream and miso toffee sauce as you sink your teeth in.
There’s also a great value lunch menu, costing just £33.
The service is impeccable – don’t pass up the opportunity to have their expert sake sommelier suggest a cool glass of something to pair with your meal.
Roka’s high-end yet surprisingly relaxed atmosphere has captured the hearts and stomachs of Londoners and the restaurant now has five different outposts across the city.
Sushi Bar Atari-Ya
You might not notice Sushi Bar Atari-Ya among the Polish delis and off-licences that surround Ealing Common. But it is worth noticing.
Behind its unassuming frontage, this little joint doubles up as a fishmonger, supplying some of London’s best (and Michelin-starred) sushi restaurants. This means diners have the opportunity to try a much wider selection of fresh fish than usual, from sea urchin to salmon roe – for a fraction of the price you’d pay elsewhere. A lunchtime sushi set costs from £13.20.
Anyone who has tried to cook sushi rice will appreciate the expertise of Atari-Ya’s chefs in achieving the holy trinity: fluffy, not too sticky and every grain glistening.
Finding good quality Asian food in Soho that hasn’t been slathered in MSG and doesn’t cost the earth can feel like a challenge. Luckily Inko Nito has the answer.
Tucked just around the corner from bustling Oxford Circus, the clean lines, friendly wooden sharing tables and lush bamboo inside the restaurant feel like an oasis of calm.
Sit as close as you can to the charcoal grill at the centre to make the most of the smell of charred tiger prawns and sizzling ribeye steaks.
The maki selection is probably not one for sushi purists but has fun options including a Korean-inspired roll with fried cauliflower, chilli sauce and sesame (£8 for six pieces).
Pair with one of Inko’s funky range of Japanese cocktails.
For those wanting to experience what sushi really means to Japan, look no further than Akira. The restaurant is located on the first floor of Japan House London in Kensington, a cultural project set up by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and one of just three around the world.
Everything is presented with minimalist perfection – from the exquisite sushi rolls in their compartmented wooden boxes to the straight rows of artisan tableware, handcrafted in Japan. You won’t see a fish roe or a dollop of kimchi mayo out of line.
All of the rice is cooked, as per tradition, in a clay pot and you can watch the chefs display their knife skills from across the counter.
Make sure to spare a moment afterwards to admire the artsy bookshop, gallery space and craft wares for sale downstairs before you leave.
Fusing the cultures of Japan, Brazil and Peru, a night at Sushisamba is quite literally an attack on the senses.
Carnivalesque Latin tunes mix with exotic combinations such as yellowtail taquitos and shrimp rolls with spicy mayo.
Sushisamba has two London locations but to get the all-out experience, pay a visit to the one housed inside the jenga block structure that is Heron Tower. Take the glass lift up to the 38th and 39th floors to enjoy the view from the terrace, one of the highest in Europe.
The cocktail shaking and satsuma-coloured decor are almost as theatrical as the food.