In the late '90s, a British entrepreneur pulled off the very clever trick of adapting the sushi conveyor belt restaurant that is popular throughout Asia, for the UK market. The combination of fast food convenience with a healthy and fashionable twist, and an interior colour scheme that would not have looked out of place at EasyJet, proved an instant hit.
With over seventy restaurants and five million customers, it’s clear that the team got the formula right. However, for all its commercial success, YO! Sushi seems a dated concept – like a Japanese version of Pret a Manger. As an aside, none of my friends could actually remember ever going to one. Or perhaps they wouldn’t admit to the fact, which speaks volumes for how YO! is perceived nowadays.
As part of their plan to inject life into the brand, YO! Sushi have launched a Ramen range – the noodle, vegetable and meat (or vegetarian) clear soups, that are a perfect antithesis to the heavier British versions. My friend and I tried a couple of sushi selections which were good, if not memorable, before indulging in three of their new dishes – beef, chicken and vegetarian Ramen. The flavours were almost a bit too subtle. The beef and chicken dishes were nicely done, and both dishes avoided the trap of over-cooking. However, the vegetarian took the prize for best in class with its tofu fritters, egg and green vegetable combination, fusing perfectly together to make a delightful little dish. We drank a couple of giant-sized Sapporo lagers served in the can to complete the student feel (but with a banker’s price tag of £6.30). The waiting staff pack oodles of South-East Asian charm, and the service is unnaturally quick. You’ve barely raised your order and your dish appears on your table.
The new offering at YO! Sushi is good enough, but not exactly unique. Plenty of other South East Asian and organic eateries are offering Ramen nowadays, so it faces some stiff, and very good, competition.
Time will tell whether this '90s icon can pull off a Take That-style resurgence.