If you’ve read my review of Kurobuta, you’ll know that I’ve resigned myself to approaching Japanese food with an open wallet. It’s hardly groundbreaking news, but – with the exception of ‘how do they do it?’ oddballs like Apollo Banana Leaf – top grub rarely comes cheap in the big city.
Sushi in particular is something of an art form. There’s securing fish that’s fresh and high-quality enough to serve raw, the specialist training that (proper) sushi chefs require, and all the little nuances that need mastering along the way – things like getting the rice just right and nailing accompanying nibbles like tempura. So the good stuff is going to cost a pretty pence, but when done right it’s hard to beat.
Tragically named Tsunami in Clapham is a case in point. It’s definitely not the cheapest place in the world, especially considering it’s buried in a corner of south London. Yes, there’s a central London offshoot as well, but the real draw of Tsunami is to us outliers chasing a taste of the real deal without high-tailing it into town.
That said, a recent lunch at Tsuanmi didn’t start that auspiciously. The restaurant tries hard to recreate the sultry sexy vibes on an Alan Yau joint, but ends up reminding of one of the cocktail bars in Terminal 5. A palate whetter of seaweed salad was pretty horrendously overdressed, compounding my early reservations.
Cocktails, too, were hardly the best around. I went for what I thought sounded like some of the ‘manlier’ options available, but both were far too sweet and more suited to quaffing on a park bench, age 17. Not a patch even on Kensington’s Dirty Bones, let alone Hawksmoor or Burger & Lobster.
However, things quickly improved. Tempura vegetables were a particular star, perfectly crisp yet greaseless and one of the best examples that come to mind.
Yakitori was better still. These were the best version of the omnipresent Japanese appetiser/side I can remember, helping to banish numerous dreadful memories of undercooked sticks (cheers, Wagamama) and religiously overcooked skewers (Sticks’n’Sushi, every damn time). Moist and juicy, meaty with just the slightest hint of fatty goodness, they came glazed with one of the most delicious sauces I’ve tasted this year.
Yet the single biggest standout dish was actually the least likely – tofu. Or, to be more specific, agedashi tofu. I winced when we ordered it, but under the gorgeously gelatinous skin lay silky smooth hunks of beancurd, all floating in an umami-charged dashi. Please remind me the last time I raved about anything vegetarian, let alone resembling tofu, but this was pure crusty munch heaven.
Moving on to the business end of the meal, sashimi was impossible to fault. Thickly cut with a meaty texture and the calming, fresh flavour of excellent raw fish, it was melt in the mouth stuff that was worth every penny.
Nigiri and maki rolls were of a similarly high standard. Delicate, room temperature rice just the right side of crumbly, adorned and stuffed with more beautiful fish. Mackerel had all the oily goodness you’d expect, shrimp was appropriately sweet, and lobster maki was an obvious indulgence but one that paid off – Tsuanmi didn’t skint on the good stuff.
And very briefly, final props are reserved for Tsuanmi offering a proper tea menu – an especially good thing given the sub-standard nature of the cocktails – and its helpful service.
All in all, Tsuanimi deserves its quiet hidden gem status. No one shouts about it the way people rave about, say, The Diary nearby, but there’s only a handful of places I’ve been to in London that are obviously better – the Shiori, and one particular meal at the Swiss Cottage branch of Atari-Ya. But Tsuanmi is certainly the pick of the provinces.
Yes, an a la carte lunch for two with booze totted up to the wrong side of £100, though less oligarchic options are available, including good value ramen, bento boxes and a set lunch menu. I guess that means I’ll have to go back, but that’s certainly not a bad thing.