Using a lacquered block of petrified wood as a platform, chef Hirai raises his butane torch and begins to sear the sushi until it smolders, the aroma of charred seafood filling the space around him, the roar and crackle of the flames faintly audible. Overhead, in green neon letters, the words "Without Soy Sauce" are spelled out with pride, and then, almost as a tongue-in-cheek afterthought, written underneath is the line: "...but if you want to."
Barely eight months old, Yashin is already leading the way in the competitive culinary scene in London. Aside from unimaginable freshness in its food, this notable newbie is probably most recognized for its anti-soy-sauce sentiment, the perfect pairings of nigiri with imaginative toppings, and the fact that the sake is served in test tubes.
Not everything is seared. For example, if you order the 11-piece nigiri set, you'll see that only about half of the fish ever get licked by flame; some pieces, like the crab, bear the slightest char marks, while the grouper and tuna shine with rawness.
Each piece of nigiri does, however, come with a topping—from Tosazu jelly on the salmon and ponzu jelly on the grouper to yellow petals of kiku (chrysanthemums) and black pepper on the yellowtail. The superb prawn, brushed with foie gras, dissolves into a salty, buttery mass on the tongue. Sea bream is dusted with crushed bits of rice cracker, scallop peers from beneath a small mound of tomato salsa, and wagyu beef is transformed with yuzu kosho (yuzu and pepper).
The nigiri set also comes with a roll of the day, which in my case was the negi-toro maki (one bite and I'm reminded why I love seaweed, although the nigiri here is so good that I could have almost gone without any nori. Almost.).
Even though Yashin is fairly new, it's already difficult to grab a reservation in this burgeoning business. An amalgamation of the names of top chefs Yasuhiro Mineno and Shinya Ikeda, Yashin was highly anticipated, as it is the collaborative force betwen the two sushi masters.
The glass display case houses all the wonderful garnishes for the nigiri, some of which don't even get used except by special request, or when one of the chefs follows a sudden caprice. One of the ingredients I didn't see on my nigiri platter was the kizami wasabi, which could be described as chopped and flavored wasabi. (On a separate day, I ordered prawn nigiri a la carte and the chef had presented it with tosazu jelly and fried leek, which was just as amazing as painting it with essence of foie gras as he had done the previous time.)
Other remarkable details at Yashin: their pickled ginger is served in thick, tan-colored chunks, as opposed to the thin pink slices that are normally found at other sushi bars (the ginger flavor is certainly better retained this way). The attention to detail even covers the uniforms: the female sushi chefs here don black ensembles while their male counterparts wear navy blue. As you wait for the main meal, a server brings you a platter filled with complimentary bite-size appetizers. Choose from the miniscule nibble of marinated sea bream with red miso, or the squarish, spongy-looking green omelet with jewel-like salmon eggs in its middle; numerous nameless others abound, and these change often. In your miso soup, Nameko baby mushrooms float daintily.
During one of my forays into the restaurant (my M.O. is always to try as hard as possible to tire of a good restaurant that I can't have back home by visiting it multiple times; this works insofar as ensuring I don't head home crying), I asked the chef what type of nigiri goes with the red miso, or with the pineapple onion salsa (as yet, neither had been used on the nigiri I'd seen here). He suggested whitefish, and so I ordered accordingly. I ended up favoring the one he had draped with kombu and added with miso, which I thought was more flavorful, although the other one was refreshing and exotic.
Considering that London is an expensive city anyway, the prices at Yashin are not unreasonable. For what you get, it's more than worth every pence. The "Omakase Eleven" costs £45 (about $80). There is also an "Omakase Eight" for £30 and a "Hajimeteno Omakase" with five pieces of nigiri for £20. "The Yashin," or 15 pieces of chef's choice nigiri, is available for £60. All of them come with a roll of the day except "The Yashin." The yellowtail carpaccio with garlic sauce (and wheels of fried lotus root) is £9.60.
The creed behind the "Without Soy Sauce" slogan at Yashin is that the chefs here season their sushi and sashimi so well, you do not need to follow the trite norm of drowning sushi in soy sauce suffused with wasabi. But only if you want to....
1A Argyll Road
London W8 7DB, United Kingdom
020 7938 1536