Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Restaurant Review: Ichi Sushi & Sashimi Bar

A stunning hotel, but what about the sushi bar? This review of Ichi (where's Scratchy?) at the Westminster Bridge Park Plaza Hotel was originally written for my South London Press column.

It was just over one year ago that Park Plaza Westminster Bridge opened its doors to become one of London’s biggest hotels. As well as providing a plush resting spot for tourists, just minutes from the popular sites of the London Eye, BFI, Southbank and Big Ben across the river, it bestowed Waterloo with several new dining destinations. The most hyped of these was Brasserie Joël, the latest opening from renowned French chef Joël Robuchon. There’s been much said about this opening, and many reviews. Most praise the restaurant but question the setting. Whilst I couldn’t comment since I haven’t been to Brasserie Joël, much the same sentiment applies to Ichi Sushi & Sashimi Bar.

It’s worth noting that criticising the corporate, hotel setting of Ichi is in many ways a compliment. Getting lost in a maze of corridors, sitting as part of a lobby, and having to walk through an adjoining bar to use the toilets wouldn’t really matter if you were eating at YO! Sushi. But Ichi, despite a name that sounds like a rash, is much higher end, and actually deserves much better.

A tasting menu, launched to celebrate the restaurant’s first birthday, is helpful at guiding us through the otherwise vast selection of Japanese dishes. It includes five courses, plus a 135ml carafe of sake per person for £44.

A starter of edamame selected from the tasting menu doesn’t kick things off in the best way. They’re labelled as being served cold, which is fine (though I usually prefer them warm), but are presented at a temperature that is straight from the fridge and eliminates any flavour from them. Plus they’re completely unseasoned. On asking for some rock salt to sprinkle on them, we’re presented with a shaker of bland ionised table salt which has never seen the sea, and so have to resort to soy sauce.

Thankfully, the dodgy start is not a sign of things to come. Crsipy duck rolls are a delightfully fun (if not authentic) take on the sushi concept, dressed with plum sauce like the quintessential Chinese pancakes. A yellow tail tuna version is more Japanese tasting, with a spicy edge provided by Sachimi Togarashi (Japanese 7 Spice). Both are generous enough portions, including 5 – 6 pieces.

The next course offers one each of any nigiri sushi and sashimi of choice. Unagi Kabayaki (eel) nigiri is a recommendation, benefiting from a sticky, sweet soy and mirin (Japanese rice wine) based marinade sauce. Hotategai (scallop) sashimi are a good contrast, being effortlessly fresh, creamy and clean tasting. Tuna and salmon which we tried are equally as fresh tasting and delicately prepared showing the true skills of the kitchen, which were previously let down only by the lack of finishing touches.

Sushi rolls and the large hand rolls form the final savoury course, and follow in much the same vein. Fatty tuna roll is worth a try, especially for those who haven’t had it before. Quite unlike most tuna, which is fairly lean, this comes from the fatty tuna belly and is a much more gelatinous texture, almost melting on the tongue.

The menu includes “chef’s choice dessert”, which leads us to be directed to the a la carte menu’s selection before being told that actually pretty much everything has run out, anyway. A mochi (Japanese rice cake) filled with slightly sweet red bean paste makes for an interesting end to the meal – certainly more so than the other option of decidedly un-Japanese carrot cake.

It’s hard to sum Ichi up. The meal varied between highs of fresh fish and well flavoured rolls, and lows of slow, surly service and a lack of attention to detail. The surroundings certainly aren’t an attraction, either. That said, the sushi and sashimi we tried was spot on, and the set menu is good value for money given the generous portions and the expensive nature of the ingredients. It’s worth a visit when in the area, but probably not worth any journey that passes many other Japanese restaurants en route.

Ichi Sushi & Sashimi Bar, Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, 200 Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7UT.

>> originally published in South London Press

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