The joys of a glo­ri­ous neigh­bour­hood joint

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

210 King St, London W6 0RA 020 8748 5058 yoshis­

Co­pi­ous meal with sake or beer: £25-£30 per head

For my last re­view on this page, I hope you will in­dulge me if I write about my favourite restau­rant. In no way is it smart or grand, and its walls could pal­pa­bly use a coat of paint. Far from be­ing per­fect, it has one ut­terly hor­ren­dous flaw. And ac­cord­ing to my ac­tu­ar­ial ta­bles, there is a 97,467 per cent greater chance of Eric Pick­les win­ning Olympic gold in the marathon at Rio in 2016 while giv­ing Lord Prescott and Ann Wid­de­combe a pig­gy­back than of it ever win­ning a Miche­lin star. But Yoshi Sushi is the restau­rant to which I have been far more of­ten than any other over the last decade, and the one to which I shall cease­lessly re­turn so long as its doors re­mains open for business.

Th­ese are doors you could pass 500 times with­out notic­ing them, much less be drawn through this anony­mous frontage in an un­pre­pos­sess­ing stretch of west London. What lies within, to be sure, is no Aladdin’s cave. At first glance, with the sushi prepa­ra­tion bar at the front, the tra­di­tional Ja­panese prints on the walls, the clump­ing wooden fur­ni­ture and the pri­vate room at the back (out­side which stands a neat lit­tle line of shoes), Yoshi Sushi looks pretty much like your stan­dard mid-mar­ket Ja­panese.

In fact, its owner/chef Yo Hun Lee, his staff and a small chunk of his menu are South Korean. This is nei­ther the time or place to dwell on Korea’s feel­ings about its one-time im­pe­rial master (nor to spec­u­late on how much a Korean might view our short­hand name for his restau­rant, viz. “the Jap”). Leav­ing the geopo­lit­i­cal anal­y­sis to oth­ers, let us move on to why it has such mas­sive ap­peal.

Mak­ing the cut as a glo­ri­ous neigh­bour­hood joint is not easy, which may go some way to ex­plain­ing why there are so very few of them. There is no facile for­mula, and it isn’t a mat­ter of alchemy, but a num­ber of qual­i­ties have to co­a­lesce.

It must be rea­son­ably priced, and Yoshi Sushi is cer­tainly that. You can have some­thing close to a blow out, with lash­ings of hot sake, for £30.

It must ra­di­ate that be­guil­ing sense that the reg­u­lar punter is not so much the other party in a com­mer­cial trans­ac­tion than a trea­sured guest, if not a friend. Here, the en­chant­ing staff give ev­ery im­pres­sion of be­ing de­lighted to see my fam­ily (an un­usual ex­pe­ri­ence for us, es­pe­cially on out­ings in­volv­ing my beloved but trou­ble­some mother). In­deed, one night in June, just be­fore the start of South Korea’s World Cup game against Al­ge­ria, a young man of my close ac­quain­tance and I joined the staff in a chant about their team’s supremacy. (In­evitably, South Korea were 3-0 down after half an hour.)

A su­perb lo­cal joint must also be con­stant. All change is for the worse even when it is clearly for the bet­ter, as some­one clever once said, and in 15 years Yoshi Sushi has changed not an iota in any re­gard – other than one. Which brings us to that mon­strous flaw. About a year ago, Lee re­moved the hang­ing lamps, which could be con­trolled by dim­mer switches be­side the ta­bles, and re­placed them with a col­lec­tion of lamp­shades ap­par­ently pur­chased in a Sev­en­ties of­fice equip­ment fire sale. They now house bulbs of a wattage suited only to the hy­dro­ponic grow­ing (please don’t try this at home) of cannabis.

Dis­cus­sions have been had with Lee about th­ese ex­cres­cences – once, I even played him Nelly Fur­tado’s Turn out the Light – be­cause the im­por­tance of light­ing to a restau­rant can­not be over­stated. He prom­ises to ad­dress the prob­lem shortly.

Thank­fully, he is more tal­ented a cook than he is an in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tor. To be mag­nif­i­cent – as if this needs stat­ing – a lo­cal restau­rant must serve good food, and at Yoshi Sushi it is bet­ter than that. Apart from the odd por­tion of kim­chi, we tend to stick to the same Ja­panese dishes, and they are never less than out­stand­ing.

Miso soup is rich and savoury, pick­led vegetables are im­mac­u­lately crunchy, and gy­oza dumplings sub­limely del­i­cate parcels of de­light. I still haven’t worked out what to say about sushi beyond a) it was fresh, and b) it wasn’t. So suf­fice it to re­port that Lee’s has never strayed from a).

His soft shell crab, served with a vine­gary sauce, is a tri­umph of the fryer’s art, hav­ing the ideal con­trast be­tween the golden brown crunch­i­ness of the ex­te­rior and the hint of gooey-ness within. A long row of beef teriyaki slices come gor­geously smoth­ered in a caramelised onion rel­ish. Best of all is the sal­mon teriyaki, a colos­sal fil­let in a miso glaze. The por­tions are so gen­er­ous that I have no idea what pud­dings, if any, there might be.

Over the years, I have eaten at Yoshi Sushi sev­eral hun­dred times with many of those I like and love, and never has any of us had a poor meal. Much more im­por­tant than that: never have I failed to leave feel­ing hap­pier than when I ar­rived – and for all its mildly nau­se­at­ing, Walton’s Moun­tain home­spun simplicity, that, I think, must be the last word in what makes a restau­rant truly great.

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