THOROUGHLY MODERN MISSY: Sushi masterclass at UNI Restaurant, Belgravia

‘Fusion’ has long been a bit of a buzzword in the food world. Things like ‘tex-mex’ and ‘cronuts’ (look them up) have been conjured from this world of hybrid cuisine. Whether these are successful or not I will let you decide. One fusion that I must encourage the reader to try is ‘Nikkei’ – the increasingly popular marriage of Peruvian and Japanese food. At first this combination sounds unlikely, however, as you start to compare cuisines, similarities start to show; both involve a lot of seafood. Raw seafood. Japan has its sashimi, Peru has its ceviche.

People are more and more bent on ‘experiences’ rather than ‘just’ good food and UNI delivers both with great aplomb. Not only does UNI have a winning cuisine combination, an enviable Belgravia address and friendly, attentive staff, it also offers one of those sought after ‘experiences’ with sushi making classes led by their talented, witty sushi chef, Christian. Arriving at the restaurant, a stone’s throw from Victoria station, I was greeted by one of the charming restaurant staff who was invariably cheerful and helpful as she led me down to the ‘classroom’. The layout of the restaurant works perfectly to allow for the multiple facets of the eatery- you enter at a street level bar/restaurant; one floor lower is the intimate yet elegant ‘classroom’ with tables skirting the sides of the room and a central teacher’s table; a flight of stairs lower still and you reach the restaurant’s most enchanting area. Is it going too far to say it was an ‘Aladdin’s cave’ of culinary delights? Yes? Well, it was: atmospheric vaulted booths lined with a metallic wash and one square glass table in the middle – perfect for the sharing style of UNI’s menu. The menu? It’s wonderful. Of the many dishes we had including delicate seared salmon tacos and succulent ceviche I could not fault one.

Though the food was undeniably brilliant, it was the sushi masterclass that really made my experience at UNI. As sushi has exploded across the capital with Wasabis and Itsus opening on every corner, our masterclass taught us the delicacy and skill it takes to make every single one of those thousands of maki rolls in those hundreds of sushi restaurants. Christian taught us with ease and paid attention to each of us to help us perfect our technique (in saying that, I confess my technique is far from perfect). From the beginning we were told about how to make the famously sticky sushi rice before getting stuck in (quite literally) to making our first nigiri. The hour and a half goes by in the blink of an eye or a click of a chopstick and by the end of your lesson you will have an array of homemade sushi made with your own two hands. I could not recommend this experience enough – masterclasses at UNI are £35 each and with that you get to make three different types of sushi, drink plenty of Japanese tea plus a personal sushi rolling mat to take home with you. The next Saturday Sushi Masterclasses are on the 18th April, 16th May, 20th June, 18th July and 15th August. A perfect gift for a friend or, if you’re feeling particularly ‘shellfish’, a great treat for yourself.

More information and book a sushi class at UNI here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy, Angelica Bomford.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MAN: Sakura at Sake no Hana

London was conspiring against me last Tuesday. From tube strikes to bus blockades to Boris bike bedlam, and then a small slip up on my part (there is a Japanese restaurant called Sakura at number 23…of a different street), the signs were telling me not to turn up to this lunch. But I’m awfully glad I did.

Sakura‘ (translated as ‘cherry blossom’) is the name of a springtime menu at the restaurant Sake no Hana, created to celebrate the start of spring, and specifically, the cherry blossom season in Japan. The theme is clear as soon as you enter the bar on St James’s Street; beautiful blossom arrangements designed by florist Veevers Carter adorned the space from floor to ceiling, and a quick look at the menu leaves you in no doubt of the central ingredient.

Cherry blossom tea, fragrant and subtle, cleansed our palettes at the start of the meal, followed by a perfectly adequate white miso soup with shiitake mushrooms. Both were enjoyable, but the anticipation really kicked in when our centrepiece bento boxes arrived. Sweet sticky seven-spiced chunks of chicken thigh were accompanied by a fresh salad of asparagus and tenderstem broccoli with sesame dressing. The chicken was well cooked and the salad provided enough crunch and freshness to compliment the soft heady sweetness of the meat. The second layer of the box was sushi and sashimi. Our rolls were expertly constructed and the balance of heat and flavour in the spicy tuna was exemplary. The star of this layer, however, was the sashimi. Wonderfully soft, each piece melted in the mouth and I was blown away by a cut I had not eaten before: Chu-toro, or tuna belly, is a rich, fattier section of the fish than the conventional steaks to which we are accustomed, and the flavour is bigger and better as a result.

Thoroughly content with our meal up to this point, desserts arrived to put the cherry on the top, so to speak. Macaroons are one of life’s great treasures when done well, and I will add Sake no Hana to my treasure map after sampling their offerings. Light and meltingly delicate, with a rich cherry ganache filling and a beautifully decorated crispy shell, these macaroons come in bowls of five, so when it comes to dividing up these treats, make sure you don’t have any underlying tensions with your fellow diners. The co-star of our final course was a plate of delights; variations in colour, texture, and taste. A rich chocolate dessert with sharp cherry centre, delicate ginger jelly cubes with pear, pistachios and a cherry blossom ice cream all came together to deliver a wholly satisfying finale. The (you guessed it, cherry-themed) cocktails which were served alongside our lunch were fine, if potentially overshadowed by the food.

I would seriously recommend a trip to Sake no Hana. You need to move quickly though as this seasonal menu is available only for the next two weeks. You could even find yourself celeb-spotting: as we tucked into our sashimi, along came Rosie off of Made in Chelsea. Higher quality of food than the clientele, in my opinion.

Special menu continues until 19 May, more information on Sakura at Sake no Hana here.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, James Bomford.

Sticks’n’Sushi, Covent Garden

Denmark has a food scene that is second to none. While in Copenhagen for the weekend I tried Danish, Thai, American and Italian cuisines and every bite exceeded my expectations. It may be expensive to eat out there but goodness do the Danes know how to cook. If you are searching for sushi in Denmark, the locals will all direct you to the same place, Sticks’n’Sushi. A few years ago this Scandi brand opened an outlet in Wimbledon, finally introducing the cool concept to Britain.

Last week my friend and I went to check out the new Covent Garden branch of Sticks’n’Sushi. Initially she questioned the decision… ‘But Mills, you don’t eat fish,’ I assured her that the ‘sticks’ would be adequate for me, and her love of fish would cover the remainder of the menu. In fact, Sticks’n’Sushi is the perfect restaurant for those still sceptical about sushi, there are so many other delicious dishes on offer there really is no need to be a sushi fanatic. Saying that, all those sushi obsessives out there will delight in this restaurant which delivers the most pristine, pretty sushi plated up in the most elegant fashion.

There is something about the stark red and black colour scheme and logo that immediately makes a passer-by think of Asia. Inside the sleek and stylish design is very welcoming, with gaggles of girls enjoying platters of sushi at every table. First I must mention the beautiful pictorial menu which displays delectable photos of every dish, so you can decide dependant on look. We immediately ordered two of the fresh juices to accompany our meal. Then, with an enormous amount of guidance from our waitress, we ordered a variety of the favourite dishes. Spicy Edamame Beans with warm miso dip were satisfying but quite sweet, followed by Ebi Bites (tempura shrimp with chilli, coriander, pepper, miso aioli and fresh lime) – these were divine with a light crispy coating and a tasty creamy dip.

For main course we were treated to a huge platter ‘Table for 2’:

Nigiri: 2 shrimp, 2 salmon New York, 2 tuna, 2 salmon

Uramaki / inside out rolls: 2 black Alaska, 2 sparkling tuna, 2 mamma mia, 2 dreamy California

Futomaki / big rolls: 4 gypsy big

Yakitori / sticks: 2 chicken breast with chilli dip, 2 chicken tsukune, 2 wrapped asparagus

Needless to say, it was more than enough to satisfy our hunger pangs! The sushi was all incredibly fresh and full of flavour. Of the meat sticks we favoured the grilled chicken with chilli sauce, though the asparagus wrapped in bacon was a lovely addition. For dessert, the menu images persuaded us to indulge with Lemon, Yuzu and Meringue and the Four Tasters (mini pots of crème brulee, green tea ice-cream, chocolate fondant, white chocolate with popped rice). Of the large selection tried (!) I would recommend the gooey chocolate fondant or the Lemon, Yuzu and Meringue combination which was light and refreshing. A pot of mint tea completed the meal.

Those working in the Covent Garden vicinity will be pleased to hear that Sticks’n’Sushi offers a take-out service, so you can enjoy the food at your desk. For others I would recommend visiting the restaurant before or after the theatre, with a group of friends or just for a hip and healthy (optional) date. I never thought I would love a sushi restaurant but Sticks’n’Sushi really has perfected the recipe for a contemporary cool restaurant offering fresh and fun food.

More information and book here: sticksnsushi.com