THOROUGHLY MODERN MISS: Sushi Shop

The discovery of Sushi Shop has made me very happy, although slightly annoyed at myself that I’ve wasted so many years on mediocre rolls and nigiri from certain high street chains. I’m a great fan of sushi, but I’ve inevitably picked it up as a meal on the go, or a vaguely healthy snack, and so become used to slightly stodgy rice and an overpowering taste of soy.

Sushi shop

Which is why Sushi Shop is so exciting. Started in Paris in 1998 by two Frenchmen who had fallen in love with the Japanese delicacy, Sushi Shop stood alone in the French capital. It positioned itself as a casual sushi restaurant and delivery service, somewhere to enjoy innovative, well considered flavours which married French and Japanese cultures, without the high prices of the top end Japanese restaurants. And the chain’s offering remains the same today.

Sushi shop

Sushi Shop is now in 14 countries across Europe, but the tradition which started in the year the brand was founded, of inviting a notable chef to develop a sushi menu inspired by the chef’s own style, lives on. The latest to be invited to the celebrated list which features, among others, Thierry Marx and Joël Robuchon, is Kei Kobayashi, who was awarded his first Michelin star in 2012.

sushi shop

In a lovely piece of symmetry, Kobayashi is a Japanese chef who fell for French cuisine, and his menu, from which my favourites were a spicy Gyū Special Roll, Salmon Gravalax Roll and a Red Miso Cucumber Salad, is filled with the complexities found in French cooking, but balanced with the freshness which comes from the vegetables that Kobayashi loves to use. As Kobayashi himself explains,

“The challenge of reinterpreting sushi for a Japanese chef who works in the French tradition is both stimulating and a big risk, for me and for Sushi Shop. I had to detach myself from what I have always known in order to reinvent new recipes.”

Sushi Shop

I’m happy to say the risk has paid off. The prices might sit slightly higher than the aforementioned sushi chains that have become so familiar to London streets, but it’s a cost well worth paying. Sushi Shop offers a new kind of taste sensation, and makes high quality, freshly produced fusion cooking readily accessible – I recommend you try for yourself as soon as you can.

Sushi Shop has three outlets in London, in South Kensington, Marylebone and Notting Hill. Deliveries can also be ordered via the Sushi Shop App.

More information can be found online here.

Written by Lucy Freedman.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MISS: CrackBird, Dublin

I had received warnings shortly after arriving in Dublin that a trip to CrackBird could be dangerous, for, as the name implies, it can easily become an addictive habit. As a result, I held off until I had a particular visitor to stay who I knew would appreciate the opportunity to eat ‘posh KFC’ guilt-free.

Although essentially fried chicken is what CrackBird does, comparisons between this restaurant and that well known American fast food chain are meaningless. The owners of CrackBird are a very successful restaurateur team who also own Jo’Burger and Skinflint. These restaurants too, have taken the foods that we hate to love (burgers and pizzas respectively) and elevated them to new heights with quirky touches and culinary flair.

Located on Dame Street, just south of Temple Bar, the simplistic wooden banner above the full-length windows make CrackBird easy to spot among the neon lights of its neighbouring restaurants. And inside, the individuality of this busy spot continues, with walls decked with cool art works, wooden tables, and trendy looking staff. One look at your placemat, which handily doubles as the menu, will tell you that you really need to like chicken to enjoy a meal here. CrackBird does not falter in its intention to serve up Ireland’s most commonly eaten meat, but it aims to do so in an imaginative and most importantly, downright delicious, way.

CrackBird’s focus on chicken is so intense that the Menu is devoid of a single dessert. Certainly surprising, but it made us feel slightly less guilty about ordering a meal of a size to make the Irish rugby team proud. Between the two of us we chose a half-bucket (4 pieces – a thigh, drumstick, wing and a breast) of Buttermilk Chicken, the same order of Soy and Garlic Chicken, and some Chicken brochettes with a curry yoghurt crust. To accompany the star ingredient, we opted for some hand rolled croquettes, some sweet potato noodles, a carrot and cranberry salad, and on recommendation from friends who frequently visit CrackBird to feed their addiction, the burnt lemon and whipped feta sauce.

Like the style of the restaurant itself, the food was presented in a relaxed yet well-considered manner, which highlighted its inventiveness. Just managing to restrain ourselves until the waiter was a reasonable distance from our table, we delved into the buckets and commenced our chicken fix. The chicken was everything it should be: tender, juicy, and with expertly crisped skin. Both the buttermilk and the soy and garlic coatings gave great depth of flavour; the former offered both creaminess and a crunch, while the latter provided warmth and a well-measured saltiness. The curry yoghurt crust on the brochettes was another inspired topping, which worked perfectly with the sweetness from the carrot salad. The croquettes could have been marginally crispier, and I wasn’t taken with the noodles which, served cold, were a strange, almost slimy texture, but these were minor complaints. With a lashing of the feta sauce, which would have worked wonders on far inferior dishes, I was more than satisfied.

With chicken now so readily available at often very cheep (sorry) prices, it is easy to forget that it is a bird which, if cooked skillfully, can hold its own against its meatier rivals. A visit to CrackBird is a successful reminder of this, and it was a relief that the cost of the (exceptionally large) lunch was reasonable (€50), as I have no doubt I will be joining the crowds who give into temptation and head back for more.

More information here: www.joburger.ie/crackbird.html

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Miss, Lucy Freedman.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MISS: Whitefriar Grill, Dublin

It is a big claim when a restaurant promotes themselves as “the best”, and one that in my experience invariably leads to disappointment, so it was with trepidation that I booked a table at Whitefriar Grill on Aungier Street for a lazy Sunday morning brunch. After a walk up the canal to build up appetites, we arrived at a modest restaurant front below a red awning. The lack of ostentation surprised me – for a restaurant so ready to boast about itself, I was almost anticipating a red carpet welcome. A step through the small porch brought us face to face with another unexpected addition – a DJ booth complete with DJ – not exactly the ideal hangover cure. Or so we thought.

Actually, the atmosphere in the compact restaurant was exactly what was needed for the occasion. The DJ played well, with a good mix of well-known tracks and a few more eclectic jazz sounds, but nothing which interrupted conversation. Like its exterior, the inside of the restaurant is devoid of flashiness: exposed brick walls, wooden furniture and a central wooden bar keep things simple, with flashes of red from the curtains, a few quirky art works on the walls, and little plants in metal plant pots adding just enough detail to keep things interesting.

The restaurant was buzzing with fellow brunch-goers, many of whom appeared to be regulars, satisfied that they had settled on the best brunch spot in town. Despite the constant stream, service was slick but also friendly. My companions had suitcases which were immediately taken by the Maître D’, and a jug of water and glasses appeared on our table without request. Small things maybe, but they were noticed and appreciated.

So far, the Whitefriar Grill was ticking all the boxes, but obviously, the proof is in the eating, and so we began a comprehensive examination of the menu. If I am out for dinner, or even for lunch, I normally look to try something new, and appreciate a chef who picks unusual ingredients. However, brunch is the ultimate comfort food, and alongside twists on the classics, I was hoping for the choice of some old favourites: there are some dishes that just shouldn’t be messed with. Fortunately, the chefs at Whitefriar Grill agreed with me, and the Menu was an excellent balance of familiar flavours and a few more ‘exotic’ options. While we deliberated, we enjoyed the Whitefriar’s virgin cocktail, L’Orange – muddled orange with grenadine, fresh limes, sugar and topped with 7Up – which was not too sweet and deliciously refreshing.

After much consideration, between us we opted for the ‘Whitefriar Grill’, the ‘Vegetarian Eggs Benedict’, and the ‘Gambas Benedict with spinach, avocado salsa and lemon hollandaise.’ All three dishes were cleanly presented on rectangular white plates. The lack of distracting garnishes demonstrated the restaurant’s confidence in its food, and rightly so, as it all looked incredibly tasty. The meat components of the Whitefriar Grill were all top quality – the black pudding was a particular high point. The lack of toast was a little surprising, and we were slightly taken aback by having to pay an extra €2 for a side, but it was properly grilled sourdough bread so our irritation was swiftly forgotten. The Gambas Benedict was a very intelligently constructed dish. There was just enough lemon both to cut through the richness of the hollandaise and to complement the gambas. The subtle heat from the avocado salsa added an extra dimension, and the muffin was lovely and light, and acted as the perfect sponge for the sauce. Both the Benedicts came with thick cut chips: an unnecessary but nevertheless, welcome addition, especially when they were dipped into the homemade baked beans accompanying the Whitefriar Grill.

Full, but willing to indulge our sweet teeth on a special treat, we ordered the chocolate fondue to round off the meal. The proportions of the dish were a little out – we ended up inelegantly spooning the chocolate from the fondue bowl once we had finished off the pineapple chunks, homemade marshmallow and some out of this world peanut butter fudge – but the chocolate was excellent quality so this wasn’t too much of a problem.

I am hesitant to accept the Whitefriar Grill’s label as the ‘best brunch spot in Dublin’, but this is mainly because there are so many alternatives I have yet to try that it would be unfair to agree without further investigation. However, I am happy to conclude that for atmosphere, service, price (our bill came to €45), and most importantly, for food, the Whitefriar grill deserves a great deal of praise. Without any pretension, it delivers exactly what is needed on a Sunday morning.

More information: www.whitefriargrill.ie

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Miss, Lucy Freedman.