This week, Tom samples the sushi at two of the capital’s finest Japanese restaurants
You’ll find no frills or flourishes at Defune, no muzak, swagger or over-exuberant interior design. Because this discreet-to the-point- of-secretive Marylebone Japanese restaurant is single-minded in its dedication to flawless sushi and sashimi. Oh, and the occasional hand roll, too.
They do have a menu with other things. I know that because it sits, untouched and unopened, every time I visit. It may well be very good, although I wouldn’t know. Because at Defune, you head straight for a seat at the sushi bar. Where you put your lunch in the hands of the great Sammy, provider of blessed relief from the tyranny of choice.
You start with sashimi, usually tuna, flawlessly cut, deliriously rich. Then yellowtail, firm and handsome. And scallops, of course, as sweet as you’ll ever taste, alabaster discs of quivering delight. Those who are that way inclined can order natto, fermented soybeans, mildly stinky and gloriously sticky, the very essence of umami, with a few chewy curls of squid.
Nigiri next, placed on the wooden counter and eaten by hand, the rice just warm and gently vinegared, each grain individually discernible, somewhere at that magic point between soft and firm. A luscious prawn, or more tuna, is draped atop, brushed with a whisper of tamari sauce. It takes years of experience to make simplicity taste this good. Finally, tempura maki roll, a delicate cone of nori seaweed filled with more of that rice, and the hot crunch of tempura-coated shrimp. Like everything else, it has a clean, Zen-like purity. In fact, the only jolt here is the price. Perfection does not come cheap.
Sumi, across town in Notting Hill, has another great sushi master at its helm, Endo Kazutoshi of Rotunda fame. Again, this is many miles removed from Yo! with a smartly clad team toiling away in an open kitchen. There’s lots of natural light, and blonde wood, and music too, something that would be frowned upon at Defune. Mushroom miso soup
has splendid forest-floor depth. A sprightly seaweed salad is slick with creamy sesame dressing, and has a sharp yuzu tang.
Sashimi – yellowtail, tuna and scallop – is beautifully cut and sourced, some of the best in London. Nigiri is also very good indeed, the fish and rice both immaculate. Though Sumi is not yet quite up there with Defune. But then nothing really is.
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The best discounts are when there’s a percentage off a whole range or an entire country – swoop in and stock up. Individual wines can be trickier to judge, but if you know and love it already, go for it. For some of the best prices year-round, join The Wine Society – on quality and price, their buyers deliver the goods. On the high street for regular value, Aldi gets my vote – my wine of the week is a steal.
WINE OF THE WEEK SPECIALLY SELECTED PICPOUL DE PINET 2020 (12.5%), £5.99, Aldi. Breezy as sailing the seas on a lime-peel windsurf. Fantastic refreshment, a delicious zinger.
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ESPORÃO MONTE VELHO BRANCO ALENTEJANO 2020 (13%), £7.95, The Wine Society. Rich bargain white that’s as pure as a pineapple carved from
LES NEUF PIERRES ROULÉES, TERRASSES DU LARZAC 2019, (14.5%), £10 on offer at Sainsbury’s. Plenty of mulberry richness with spicy ballast; fantastic for steaks.
THE BEST ETIENNE LECLAIR BRUT PREMIER CRU CHAMPAGNE (12%), £20, Morrisons. Bright and savoury as mushrooms under moonlight. Stunning value.