312 - 314 Kings Road
Brazil and Japan: well, we’ve tried quite a range of fusion cuisines in our time, but as my guest and I walked into an almost empty Sushinho from the calm of a Chelsea Monday evening, we were apprehensive about what we’d find on the menu. How could the flavours of two such different cultures find a harmonious blend? But with the first sip of a tropical Sushinho Sakeirinha cocktail (adorned with fruit, like the costume of a passista at her first Rio carnival) I began to relax, enjoying the blend of saké and tropical juice.
The décor is all warm, dark woods, bamboo, stone, moody downlights and, as my guest commented, more Japanese than South American, but it complemented the style of dishes we chose. The menu is split roughly into two sections: there is a Japanese sushi selection of nigiri, sashimi, gunkan, hossomaki and temaki sushi and uramaki (inside-out rolls), sushi platters (from 10 to 22 pieces, depending on appetite and purse), and a sushi special range.
To begin, we opted for bowls of warm edamame, miso soup and sweet potato gyoza with truffle - the latter being piquant, yet smooth. As a main dish, I chose the Sushinho platter (6 pieces of sashimi, 8 nigiri, and 8 assorted maki) and my friend plumped for the chef’s choice: a selection of 10 pieces of the day’s sushi specials and a side order of miso soup. Everything was beautifully presented. Our very helpful and knowledgeable waitress talked us through the ingredients, and what she wasn’t sure of, she went to ask head chef Michael Taylor.
“The waiting staff are encouraged to try all the dishes on the menu,” said Michael, when I later asked him about this. “We want to get them to believe in what they’re doing rather than just rocking up to work. As they’ve tasted everything, they can help sell the dishes, give good advice, make you feel they have a passion for what they’re doing, just as we do in the kitchen.”
My toko tempura maki (tempura roll with spicy tuna) was amazing. The blend of yellowfin tuna, garlic, spices and mayonnaise had a tempura batter around it that was as delicate as filigree. The crispy, transparent outside melted to a creamy, slightly tangy raw tuna inside. Delicious. The nigiri, while keeping its Japanese-style rice, had avocado and mango fillings, which added sweetness to a usually more savoury mouthful. Intriguing – in a very good way.
We could have chosen from the other section, which offers more obviously Brazilian Sushinho specials, including crisp pork belly with feijoada bean purée and grilled tuna with cassava purée and chimichurri sauce. They seem very fond of purées and tuna, the Brazilians. “Yes, fruit purées are a popular ingredient in Brazilian cooking,” Michael confirmed.
A New Zealander who trained with Neil Perry in world cuisines, Michael Taylor arrived in the UK four years ago, where he was wooed away from the Great Eastern Hotel by a pal, to come and work at Sushinho. “He put it forward to me a couple of times last year, but I wasn’t sure… I didn’t know the whole Japanese Brazilian thing… But eventually I came on board as sous chef, then became head chef, and wanted to help take the place to a whole new level.”
Where did the idea for the fusion of Brazilian and Japanese food come from? “The owner, Oliver Girardet, doesn’t have a restaurant background, but has a huge passion for world foods,” explains Michael. “There are around 1.6 million Japanese in Brazil, the biggest population outside of Japan – they recently had the 100th anniversary of their migration – so there’s been a fusion of Brazilian and Japanese food styles, particularly in São Paolo and Rio. For example, our Sushinho roll is fried salmon served with melted cheese and sticky soy, so we have elements of produce from Brazil. We’re using the basic cooking techniques but having fun with the flavours.”
And, as expected, everything is very fresh. “Our ingredients depend on the markets, especially for some fish. Being seasonal is very important, and we want to use sustainable fish, like yellowfin tuna.” While we thought what had gone before was delicious, the desserts took everything to new heights. My citrus martini with Maracuja purée and lemon sorbet danced around my mouth like a sambanista in full flow, while my friend’s star anis bavarois, caramelised banana and plum wine jelly offered a warm, creamy accent. A pot of green tea (complete with a side dish in which to decant the leaves before they stew) was the perfect finish.
The place had been filling up slowly as we ate, and, judging by the diversity of diners and our own enjoyment, the attraction is obviously not just the trendy novelty value. But we did wonder how the management was going to maintain local interest. Michael was enthusiastic: “We want to have a bar menu in the lounge downstairs. And there will be Brazilian beats – we’ll have certain DJs and a cocktail lounge with its own identity quite soon.”
“When the summer kicks in, with the doors open onto the street, anything can happen. We’ve only been open two months, so we’re still learning what our customers like. We want the food and service to speak for itself. That way, you have a whole experience in an evening, not just a meal.”
We’re looking forward to seeing what summer serves up at Sushinho.
Average price: £36.50 (including dessert, excluding drinks & tip) per person. Chef’s choice: £20/ Sushinho platter: £32. Sushinho introductory lunch specials: 2 courses for £10, 3 courses for £13.
Sushinho: 312 - 314 Kings Road, Chelsea, London, SW3 5UH. Tel: 020 7349 7496.
Reviewer: Bryony Weaver