29 Mar 2010

Nipo Brasileiro Dining

WOULD you care to hear about my weekend? Holiday plans? Or a forced anecdote about middle England, spiced with a grisly caricature of the company I keep?
In actuality, the South Kensington emporium I visited before lunch could turn faces as white as halibut flesh. But unlike critics contributing a bolstering backstory (resulting in back-strain to paper delivery kids) I’ll just stick to the memorable meal…
Originally forcedly ‘employed’ on coffee plantations a century ago, Brazil has the largest population of Japanese, now focused in the city of Paraná and São Paulo’s ‘Liberdade’ district.
Established by German Indonesian restaurateur, Oliver Girardet, who became enthralled by the combination of cultures whilst travelling in Brazil, ‘Sushinho’ is London’s first ‘Nipo Brasileiro’ restaurant. Despite filthy reviews upon opening, some of which almost bordered on xenophobia, over a year on, it endures. A chopsticked salute to cholestosauri critics…
Arriving moments before lunchtime’s last orders, a gracious server offered my friend and I run of the house. Beside an albeit fake open fire, we sat on a soft, custard-coloured banquette propped with poncho-patterned cushions. The chic, but comfortable, occasionally bricky space encases a palm, bar and open sushi counter.
As Portuguese pop segued into a lilting Japanese Beatles’ cover, we bailed-out from decoding dishes, taking advantage of the menu’s mission statement – ‘your waiter will happily make recommendations’.
Sake was served in sherry style copitas, subtly encouraging us to see the brew in wine-like terms. Being deliberately lukewarm, it pepped cool starters. From the five piece dragon roll, butter fish (also known as ‘wart perch’) proved a tender, melting, near splashingly-fresh specimen, enlivened by exciting sounding flying fish roe and a successful smooth ‘emulsion’ of avocado and wasabi.
A trio of quivering seaweeds, aromatic as an oyster shell, came with a pot of inner Milky Way bar textured ponzu. Ceviche with star fruit was awakening and impeccable and sufficiently moreish to lead me to scoop its final citric juices.
Cocooned in batter which smelt of freshly baked donuts, a deep bowl of greaseless baby squid was prepared ‘Shichimi’ (ie with ‘seven flavours of chilli’). This carried the gentle kick of Cayenne, lubrication of lime and something approaching the homely scent of cinnamon. Flaky halibut was scattered with pretty clams and oyster mushrooms. Alongside, ‘to bring balance’, according to staff, lustrous, racing green spinach the texture of an emperor’s underwear was tossed in heady truffle oil, bright ginger and crunchy dark sesame seeds.
The dining room was gently lit – in fact lighting only becomes obtrusive when you catch your head on low-slung shades. By contrast, sounding like a filmstar, the house cocktail of Sushinho Sakerinha, seemed excessively bright; its ingredients echoed in the garish garnish – passion fruit and grapefruit. It tasted infantilising, like melted lolly. This was followed by a couth, blotter-dry, Crown Beefeater martini, prepared to my palate, more filthy than dirty.
Sipping briny squalls, I reflected. From the first impoverished Japanese suffering their ‘not extremely cordial’ compatriots (as observed by The New York Times of 1908), positive, even inspiring plates have emerged.
As curious as a juror told not to read media reports, I entered Sushinho with a back-story of bad press. However every restaurant is innocent until found guilty of sensuous displeasure. Rather than culinary schizophrenia, we tipped, then tripped onto King’s Road, secure that behind us we left its most exciting restaurant.
Sushinho: 312-314 Kings Rd, Chelsea. SW3 5UH / Also published: The London Word
Sushinho on Urbanspoon