I have a dear, small, Scandinavian friend who, like me, loves food. This friend has survived a life-altering, direction-changing year, culminating in a decision to leave London in favour of her Tokyo-based love, going via Denmark to enjoy some quality family time. Needless to say, she couldn’t possibly leave the country without first dining with me, not least because such a large part of our friendship exists thanks to passionate discussions about FOOD.
The Tokyo Boy had recommended for us a little tavern-style Japanese place on Goodge Street. I googled it and the first review I read scared me. A Japanese person had written it, slating the staff and taking no prisoners about their surly attitude to white patrons. No no no, we couldn’t risk it, could we? Not on our last dinner together for some time. Scandi-La was resolute, however. Tokyo Boy liked it and so would we. In the wake of her culinary courage, I followed her lead and we went to Yoisho.
On entering this modest little restaurant, it’s obvious that this place is run by Japanese, for Japanese, with Japanese businessmen dotted around the place sipping on sake with loosened ties. We sat at the counter overlooking the grill chef’s work and immediately ordered bottles of Asahi dry and some warm sake. We had two waitresses, both of whom were perfectly professional towards us (no gaijin phobia there) and one of whom bore a fantastic short haircut of some style and geometric precision. Behind the counter the grill chef worked tirelessly, smiling at us and nodding shyly from time to time. Scandi-La and I felt not one hint of hostility towards us, although our enthusiasm for Japanese food and a few words of Japanese definitely did not go astray.
On the counter stood a lucky cat with waving paw and a figurine of a beer-hugging fisherman replete with fish and rod. The decor was hardly inspired, but felt refreshingly authentic in its tattiness, as if we’d walked off an Osaka street instead of a street in a wet and crowded pre-Christmas London. As usual, we struggled to decide on our food but eventually settled on gyoza (dumplings), a mixed sashimi platter, another of tempura followed by eggplant with miso – one of my all-time favourite Japanese recipes. Added to this was a selection of chicken skewers – some kebab-style; others mulched into grillable balls.
The gyoza were exactly as they should be: light, soft and tasty with that hint of Japanese chive, but it was the sashimi that stole the first part of the Yoi-show. In a more favourable review of this eatery, someone had written that the sashimi was so fresh that there must be an ocean in the basement. This praise was not an exaggeration of the quality of the fish we were served. Scandi-La and I hummed with a united appreciation of the yellow-fin tuna, salmon and some sort of delicate white fish – all absolutely fresh and almost creamy as each morsel dissolved altogether too quickly against my palate, with barely the need to chew, but the star of the sashimi platter had to be the prawns. Previously to dining at Yoisho, I’d never eaten sashimi prawns. These were served vaguely blue, ready to pop out of the pink prawn shell, and my word, how they tasted as they slipped around my mouth! Suddenly I wished myself a pelican so I could eat such things all day.
The mixed tempura, a heap of gilded king prawns and vegetable pieces, was almost fluffy, so perfect was the golden batter. And when we moved onto the eggplant with miso, I was ascending to eggplant heaven. The eggplant flesh was steaming and soft and slushy beneath the generous layer of miso – which both sweetens and salts the hot fruit beneath. We dug our chopsticks into the flesh, careful to load them with both eggplant and sauce, humming with yet more gastronomic delight.
At some point in proceedings I ventured down the modest staircase to the ladies’ room, tucked away down a corridor in the basement. En route I discovered another dining room, filled with more Japanese people enjoying some post-work down-time. The ladies’ facilities were scruffy, as I’d expected, and there, in the corridor, was the sashimi ocean we’d been discussing earlier. Well, not really an ocean, just more of a large puddle. There was no sign of pipework or a leak in the immediate vicinity, so I wondered how it got there. Could it be a magic, sashimi-producing ocean? Could it be that a sake-swilling patron had leaked on the way to the loo? Perhaps someone had left their brolly there and it the water was its legacy. Whatever it was, it made me smile. Perhaps there really are secret basement oceans capable of producing dream sashimi.
The verdict? Scandi-La and I were more than satisfied that our last London dinner together had been such a success. As we paid up, the grill chef looked sad to see us go. I think he must have enjoyed all our happy hmmm-ing and humming, yet I have to be honest and say that neither diner particularly enjoyed the chicken, leaving most of the skewers intact. In short, if you’re hungry for sashimi in London, give Yoisho a go. Here’s how Yoisho scored against the Epicurometer:
Gyoza – 8/10 (extremely good but not remarkable)
Sashimi – 10/10 (absolutely magical from that ocean in the basement)
Tempura – 8/10 (extremely good but nothing unusual)
Eggplant with miso – 7/10 (very tasty and I hate to admit it but I once had better in Sydney)
Mixed chicken skewers – 4/10 (had the texture of cheap chicken meat. It’s not like Scandi-La or me to leave food on our plates in a Japanese establishment so this was poor going.)
Asahi dry – 10/10 (great to have the choice of dry and comes in large bottles so it keeps you going for a while)
Sake – tut tut, wicked girls! We chose a sake for serving cold and asked the waitress if it was possible to serve it warm. Yes it was and there was no fuss about it or trying to upgrade us to a superior sake for serving warm. I don’t know enough about sake to score it but safe to say that it was perfectly drinkable with that lovely warm rush that’s so precious when you’ve just been drenched by a London downpour, as I had.
Decor – don’t go here if you’re passionate about interiors, unless you want to see a well-seasoned Japanese tavern-style eatery. Upstairs is definitely better than down, and that’s saying something.
Eating at the counter – 10/10 for entertainment value, relative comfort and the fisherman figurine. I think he’d be happy to come home with me and live with Blue Monkey.
Staff – The waitresses get a score of 7/10 and the grill chef earns himself a 9/10 for being so friendly.
Likeliness to return to Yoisho? 10/10 as in extremely likely. If I weren’t watching my pennies before Christmas, I’d teleport myself there right now. Those sashimi prawns are what dreams are made of.
Yoisho – 33 Goodge Street London, W1T 2PS - 020 7323 0477
You may recently have read my post about the Blue Monkey that Planetross sent me from Japan. Well, here’s a link that all monkey lovers out there should truly appreciate. This is a Japanese restaurant with a different sort of staff, and it’s already on the Epicurienne list of Must Eat There One Day.
Planetross has a Blue Monkey Oracle who gives him Life Advice. Blue Monkey got tired of doing that in Japanese and decided to travel to London to stay with me and learn Engris. He got here yesterday. PR had warned me that the packing was plentiful and it was; Blue Monkey arrived intact, although a bit jet-lagged, as he moaned to me last night. Here he is taking a nap in his travel box after he arrived at my workplace.
Blue Monkey’s former life was spent helping Ross, and he will continue to do so from the sights of London. (I promised to take him out at the weekend). If you haven’t seen the oracle posts on PR’s site, click here.
Meanwhile, it would seem that although I love Blue Monkey, he hasn’t made the same impact on a couple of people here. One colleague, Miss Jamaica, says he freaks her out. She implored me to take him home with me, so I did, even thought I really wanted him to stay by my phone at work.
Then, at home, Monsieur asked why I liked Blue Monkey so much. “Because he’s lucky!” I told him. “But you already have lucky things in the flat. Why do you need another one?” he asked me. The answer to that was simple: “Have you read the news today?” Point made. Blue Monkey stays. Watch out for posts from the new London residence of Blue Monkey Oracle. And thank you, Planet Ross, for decorating his travel box with the following slogans:
Real Tape (with an arrow helpfully pointing to a piece of tape)
Air holes so he can breathe (holes in side of box for admission of Oxygen for the Oracle)
Blue Monkey inside! (Kinda guessed that. Not many people send me packages from Japan these days!)
Hey, careful with this! (Kind warning but somewhat unnecessary, given the amount of bubble wrap and plastic foam bits inside)
He is in here (yup, he sure was!)
Caution! Live Oracle! (imagine the surprise of my colleagues when he jumped out of the box and shouted “Konnichiwa!!!”)
But best of all, given that PR had wrapped the box in a certain way so it could only be opened in that certain way, once I had the wrapping open I was greeted with:
Don’t be stupid! No one opens a box this way! Doh. Too late.
Yes, sir. All the marks of Planetross Personality all over the packaging. It was his blog come to life! And the influence is far-reaching…
Note: Thank you, PR, for sending Blue Monkey to London. I promise to take great care of him.
Double note: You might like to know that he has a special shelf, where he lives with a Buddha, a Tiger charm, and some holy water from Lourdes.
Triple note: In return for Blue Monkey, I promised PR to send him something equally eclectic from London, so if you have any inspiration, please send it my way. It has to be worthy of a Blue Monkey, if you know what I mean.
I love having Bento for lunch. It’s a great way to eat Japanese – a partitioned lunchbox contains a balanced offering of salad, tempura and/or some sort of meat or fish, rice and some palate-cleansing fruit to finish. I used to work near a place where you could have a Bento lunch box for £5.00. Apparently those prices are long gone, because when I decided to find the nearest Japanese offering Bento recently, I had to fork out a tenner. That’s justifiable in that I don’t do things like that every day, and it was also really, really good, with perfect fish and vegetable tempura, which I enjoy. Had it not been a work day, I may have grabbed a bottle of Asahi from the drinks fridge, but it was, so I didn’t. Such a nerd.
Here’s what Yoshi Sushi gave me in the Bento:
This is one of the most unusual travel books I’ve ever come across, written by a Canadian teacher of English as a second language, who decides to follow the appearance of the cherry blossom by hitchhiking from one end of Japan to the other. I haven’t yet finished, but can’t resist sharing a couple of hilarious excerpts from the book.
‘Another combination that gives me trouble is “human” (ningen) and “carrot” (ninjin) which once caused a lot of puzzled looks during a speech I gave in Tokyo on the merits of internationalization, when I passionately declared that “I am a carrot. You are a carrot. We are all carrots. As long as we always remember our common carrotness, we will be fine.”
On another occasion I scared a little girl by telling her that my favorite nighttime snack was raw humans and dip.’
You can probably imagine the fit of runny-nosed giggles I experienced when reading that on a plane recently. Another snorter is this:
‘Here I was, folding and refolding my maps, trying to figure out my next move, and this nattering gnat of a man was trying to engage me in a dialogue about my income. He spoke what I call Random English, dictated more by the abrupt firing of synapses than by anything approximating a plan.
“Foreigners can’t eat pickled plums,” he said. “And you are very racist. In America, you treat the blacks bad just because they aren’t as intelligent as other people.” (How do you respond to something like that?) “And you killed all of the Indians.”
I sighed. “There are still Indians in North America.”
“No there isn’t. I saw a show on NHK. You killed them all.”
At this point I decided to simply ignore him in the hope he would just shut up and go away. Or burst into flames and run screaming from the building. Either would have been fine.’
The rest of that particular page has me in stitches. Will update this post once I’ve finished this side-splitting appraisal of the life of an outsider in Japan, on the most un-Japanese of journeys to follow the very Japanese cherry blossom as it bursts into flower all over the country.