Can a restaurant that’s so hard to get into really live up to its own hype? We say a resounding ‘yes’.
Tucked away down an unassuming little Clerkenwell alley is Sushi Tetsu. It’s a traditional Japanese sushi bar, run by chef Toru Takahashi and his wife Harumi. He previously worked as a sushi chef at Nobu for seven years and has built a massive reputation for the quality of his work. Happily, Tetsu is a far cry from Nobu. Minimalist, quiet, unpretentious and with seating for only seven people. This is authentic sushi and sashimi at its very best.
Getting a reservation is the hardest part of the whole experience. It really does take a lot of perseverance. Previous to our success, we’d both called at least a few dozen (or more) times each with no luck. It made us begin to wonder, if there are special touts who specialise in securing such reservations for their wealthy clients.
Knowing that we may never be able to get another reservation, we opted for the £80 Omakase (set menu). This has to be ordered in advance and leaves you entirely in the hands of the chef. It consists of:
Today’s special sashimi x 1 plate
3 kinds of fish sashimi x 2 pieces
Special selection of nigiri x 7 pieces
Special hand roll x 1
Japanese sweet omelette x 1
Can a restaurant that’s so hard to get into really live up to its own hype? We say a resounding ‘yes’. Where else in London can you eat sushi that’s been prepared in front of you, especially for you by somebody as skilled as Takahashi. Each piece is lovingly handcrafted, occasionally blow-torched and seasoned to perfection. No soy dipping sauce and wasabi needed here.
The quality of the ingredients stands out. There is never a hint of fishiness throughout the meal, just an array of clean, sweet and umami flavours. In comparison, the sushi we’re all used to eating seems entirely sub-standard.
The numerous highlights of our meal included the sweet shrimp and blow-torched scallop from the sashimi plate. The sweetness and fresh taste of these were unbelievable. Eating these in their raw state really made us appreciate how much sweetness is lost in the cooking process.
The seared sardine and mackerel dish was sublime. Blow-torching the skin gave a slight char and smokiness, releasing oils and enhancing the flavours of the fish. I’ve never tasted sardines this good.
When we started our nigiri, my dining partner The Hog got a bit of a telling off for trying to eat it in two bites. Each piece is made with precisely the right ratio of rice to the slice of fish and should therefore be eaten in one bite. We were also advised to eat them as quickly as they were prepared, as they would be at the optimum (body) temperature.
Our favourite nigiri was the seared toro. Toro is the fatty belly part of the tuna. It has the most flavour and is the most expensive cut. This literally melted on my tongue.
I was a little apprehensive of the salmon roe warship as whenever I’d had this before, it’s been a bit too fishy and sometimes unpleasant. This was a world away from those previous experiences. It tasted of the sea and was refreshing with a little added citrus burst.
The o-toro hand roll was also worth a mention, as it was delicious. Made from a fatty piece of tuna which has been scraped to almost mince consistency and spread over the rice and nori. Every bite had different flavours (pickles, pepper, wasabi…) and textures due to the different ingredients sprinkled throughout the roll.
The tamagoyaki signified the end of the meal. It reminded me of a Japanese style cheesecake. Think cake meets egg custard. However, I was very surprise to hear that it actually contained shrimp paste too!
We could have easily eaten more and we actually suffered from a touch of food envy while watching some of the other amazing looking morsels being presented to diners who were ordering a la carte.
Needless to say, we were extremely impressed by Sushi Tetsu. As a one-off, we were happy to pay the price tag, but it’s not an amount we would want to (or could) justify on a regular basis. This is really a special experience and we don’t know of anywhere else in London that offers this kind of bespoke service.
Another thing to note, seeing as this is quite an exclusive restaurant in terms of availability, some of your fellow diners might be a little annoying. Annoying in the ‘speak too loudly and know so much about food’ sense. I’m sure you know the types. We had the pleasure of hearing one lady groan every time she put something in her mouth. Think Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. Gross, this isn’t your front room, or your bedroom. I imagine even Takahashi was blushing.
It’s also worth mentioning that if you want to take photographs of Takahashi in action, it’s only polite to ask him first. Meg Ryan and her friends forgot about this bit too.
If you are a fanatical sushi lover, have deep pockets and a lot of patience, then you really need to get on that booking line. Because there isn’t a better place in London to eat sushi.
Meal for two (with several beers and service): £221