Let’s start with the elephant in the room, sushi without soy sauce?
Yashin Ocean House London and their sister restaurant Yashin Sushi are both committed to a rather unusual concept: no soy sauce, unless you want to. I admit, I didn’t get it the first time I went a few years back. Like pizza without tomato sauce, there are just some things that are supposed to go together.
Yashin explains that the concept began when co-founder Shinya Ikeda noticed how many of his customers were using too much soy, drowning their sushi in the sauce before consuming. But why should a few soy abusers ruin it for the rest us?
What they don’t tell you, is that the “concept” is instead probably the most polite (and Japanese) way to say to its customers, sorry but you’re doing it wrong. Two trips to Japan, a youtube video on sushi etiquette, and multiple Japanese food experiences (including the best dinner of my life) later, I now understand.
An international take on Japanese traditions
It’s true, many of us are doing it wrong. Even though I always used soy sparingly (correct), this was after mixing in the wasabi (wrong) and eating my sushi with ginger (also wrong). I was as surprised as you to discover that in Japan, the sushi is different from what many of us are used to. Traditional Japanese sushi has been around for centuries, but it is largely the Americanized version that was popularised around the world in the 1980s. The California roll, for example, is an American creation, not a Japanese staple.
Although the full set of differences are a topic for another time, you should know that traditional Japanese sushi is a lot about trusting the chef to create the perfect bite – soy sauce and all. Omakase means exactly this. If you sit at a sushi counter (the best place to enjoy sushi) you will notice that the itamae will have already seasoned your sushi for you. Sometimes, that means brushing the fish with soy, or squid with yuzu juice, and so on. Wasabi will already have been added to your nigiri or roll, and the ginger is there to be used as a palate cleanser between courses.
At Yashin, they encourage customers to try sushi this way, except, their toolkit of ingredients for seasoning is anything but traditional. Parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes, ponzu jelly, foie gras, tomato salsa, and coriander sauce are among the list of creative and unique flavours one can expect to find in a bite.
Boho-chic interiors, more Chelsea than Tokyo, suggest what’s to come
From the moment you step into Yashin Ocean House, the choice of interior design is already a major hint that this is no standard sushi shop. Unlike most traditional Japanese sushi restaurants, Yashin is more elaborate than minimalist, more Chelsea than Tokyo. Elegant furnishings, a stunning turquoise ceramic counter-top and exposed brickwork combine to say that this Japanese restaurant is definitely different.
Yashin Ocean House has a new menu
Last week, Yashin invited me to taste and review their new menu introduced at the start of the year. Having been on quite the sushi journey since my last visit, I was curious to see how it would compare. There are 8 main sections to choose from: sashimi, carpaccio, hot tapas, robata chargrill, salads, sushi roll, sushi à la carte or omakase, and desserts. They also offer a fantastic value tasting menu at £59 a head.
Some of their most unusual menu items include tuna sashimi with gorgonzola, seabass and burrata, black cod with candy floss, octopus and padron pepper, and a foie gras sushi roll! I would be dining ‘chef’s choice’ and couldn’t wait to discover what they had in store for me and my guest.
To kick things off, we were welcomed with a small appetizer of sea bream with grapes and jelly and a glass of Grace Koshu Japanese white wine. Grace is one of the most well-known and award-winning winemakers in Japan, located in Katsunuma. Despite having made wine for almost 100 years, exports to London only began fairly recently, since 2010.
Sashimi and carpaccio appetizers
Our first course was Seabass Carpaccio with Burrata and Saikyo Miso Dressing. This dish is vibrant and stunning. The tomato and garnish look just like the roses that adorn the plate. Antique dishes are commonly used at high-end Japanese sushi establishments. I love the nod to this tradition but using British bone china instead. Everything with a twist!
The combination of seabass and burrata worked beautifully for me. It tasted fresh and summery and I could see myself ordering this again on a warm summer’s day.
Next came the Sashimi Island without Soy Sauce. This is their most signature dish, served with liquid nitrogen that rolls over the sashimi morsels like the rolling clouds atop Mount Fuji. The salmon, mackerel, prawn, tuna and sea bream were each delicious. But the fatty tuna with truffled ponzu jelly and sweet chargrilled prawn were exceptional. With toppings like these, you really don’t need (or miss) any soy.
Hot tapas and Robata chargrill
The second concept at Yashin is head to tail dining, which means using every edible part of the fish, from the bones to the roe, leaving nothing to waste. A key example is the Paradise Prawn Tempura, eaten whole. We were advised to start with the head, which was my favourite part, before eating the body and tail. It also came with a light sweet sauce to drizzle over.
Originally, the restaurant used to focus almost exclusively on fish, but have since introduced a number of new meat dishes to their menu, such as this Iberico Pork Shoulder. The flavour was rich, the fat nicely crisped from the grill and soft in texture, reminding me of the black pork we eat in Portugal.
I absolutely love black cod and was excited to try their Miso Marinated Black Cod with Candy Floss. The presentation is all for show, yes, but let’s not forget where we are. It might be unnecessary for some customers (and critics), but is probably a big hit among the younger crowd. I may be a bit over the target market for this dish, but thought it was a lot of fun!
Yashin Sake Brewery Club
To pair with the upcoming sushi, our waiter brought us over a bottle of Yashin original exclusive sake called ‘Chu-gin’ made by Kawatsuru brewery. The rice polishing ratio is the same as Daiginjo at 50% but the style is more ginjo, which is fuller body.
Each month, Yashin invite a different sake brewery from Japan to come and host a sake tasting with nibbles from their local region. The third event will be on Wednesday 25 April, introducing the Tosatsuru brewery from the Kochi region in south-west Japan. Tickets are £40 to join. It’s a great opportunity to taste and learn more about Japanese sake. I will also be attending and hope to see you there!
Nigiri is like the main course of Japanese sushi, usually eaten after sashimi and before a maki roll. This is where the sushi master’s skill is most revealed. In fact, the rice is the main ingredient, the fish second.
At Yashin Ocean, the nigiri was among the best I’ve tasted. The seasonings each creative and delicious, such as yellowtail with sun-dried tomato and parmesan. Still, it was the traditional otoro with wasabi that was my favourite, literally melting in my mouth. I could eat several of those..!
The California roll was noticeably absent from Yashin, until now. Introduced to the menu this year, the crab meat sits on top of the roll rather than inside. This was the only dish where I was silently wishing I had some soy to moisten the bite. The second roll of Eel and Avocado with Sweet Soy was moister due to the jelly.
After that incredible feast, we enjoyed a sweet ending to a fabulous dinner. Matcha Tiramisu with mascarpone and matcha sponge cake and Yuzu Cheesecake with Yoghurt Ice Cream, berry sauce and cacao meringue crumble.
The most unconventional, conventional Japanese
Dining at Yashin Ocean House was nothing short of spectacular. The restaurant stands out as one-of-a-kind among London’s fiercely competitive and innovative food scene. The quality, variety and theatre make it a perfect choice whether dining with business clients, family or friends. The new restaurant menu offers something for everyone, while sushi aficionados may prefer the counter seating or Yashin Sushi Bar.
The concept may have taken me some time to understand, and while full of contradictions, I now get it and love it. On the one hand, Yashin wants to make Japanese food and its traditions more accessible to its customers. But on the other, clearly loves the creative freedoms only possible in a place like London.
Take, for example, the introduction of the California roll. Why now? Because why not. I can only imagine that five years since opening in 2013, co-founders Yasuhiro Mineno (ex-Nobu) and Shinya Ikeda (ex-Yumi) are now even more confident in their concept. They have made their statement and if you still want that roll, you might as well have it.
Lara Olivia is a Norwegian and Portuguese writer sharing all she knows about the good life on her blog, MissPortmanteau.com. Follow her @miss.portmanteau on Instagram.