You always learn interesting things doing this job. For example, I never knew that there was a large Japanese population in Brazil.
Over 1.5 million in fact, making it the largest Japanese population in the world outside of Japan. Given that the Japanese community has been there since the early 20th century, it has obviously had plenty of time to have an impact on Brazilian cuisine. Yet it is only recently that Brazilian-Japanese food has made its mark on London. Sushinho were the early trendsetters, starting off in the permanently fashionable Kings Road in Chelsea before opening their second venue in Devonshire Square.
When we visited, the smell of fresh paint gave a clue as to how new their Devonshire Square digs were. Spread over two floors in the building that used to be the Old Bengal Warehouse, Sushinho features a restaurant complete with a ten-foot long sushi bar at ground floor level, and the Cutler Bar cocktail lounge and private dining room in the basement. The cocktail bar is elegance personified, with exposed pendant lighting, a marble-faced bar, lime green leather banquettes, sitting among snugly reclaimed wood panels and smooth chocolate walls. We tried the (recommended) Kiwirico of Haymans London Dry, kiwi (in season), with freshly squeezed lemon juice and elderflower cordial, which was as good and refreshing as it sounds.
The restaurant area has the same lime and chocolate colours running through it, sat upon the original floor (wonderful to look at, not so steady to rest 50 tables on) and making great use of the exposed brickwork, original warehouse windows, and Japanese style tiling in the sushi kitchen, giving the place a modern yet homely feel.
The food is intriguing, as the cuisines co-exist side by side, rather than merge fusion-style. So the extensive menu includes Japanese staples such as sashimi, nigiri, and house rolls, and the Brazilian influenced ceviche, blackened butterfish, pork belly, fried chicken, and broiler style steak and lobster.
Taking our lead from the waitress, we started with a selection of sashimi; two house rolls – spider with soft shell crab, and smoked salmon; moqueca ceviche (white fish with coconut milk, tomatoes and coriander) and butterfish tataki, before ending with the US-grain-fed picanha – a cut of beef popular in Brazil. The Northerner and I found the mix of fresh Japanese favourites such as the sashimi and house rolls complemented the sharper flavours of the ceviche and the very masculine picanha. Favourites? Well, we had never tried butterfish, and the tataki version was superb, but not by much in that the ceviche and soft shell crab house roll were heavenly. If fact its hard to pick one because they were all cooked with the accuracy and tenderness that you would expect from a Japanese restaurant, but delivered with the flair of Brazil. We ran through a selection of wines, at the manager’s recommendation, each perfectly complementing the respective course, with the surprise being an Austrian 2011 Fred Loimer Kamptal Grüner Veltliner, and the star being the 2004 La Rioja Alta Viňa Arana Reserva.
Sushinho succeeded in that old marketing dictum of both surprising and delighting us. I must admit to some skepticism as whether the two cuisines could really work together, and was very happy to be proved wrong. Which goes to show that it’s never too late to learn.