Sunday, 9 October 2011

omakase at sushi of shiori

it is jay rayner who is responsible for my introduction to omakase. in his review of sushi of shiori in august twenty ten he speaks of omakase as 'a japanese-style tasting menu prepared according to what's best and available'. elsewhere i had read that omakase means to entrust yourself to the chef's choice. at the conclusion of our omakase lunch today, the petite and intent japanese woman who is also the chef's wife said to me in a concerted manner that one must only have omakase if one trusts the chef. it is imperative of the experience. this was in response to our unanimous appreciation of our lunch as both i and i savoured every bit of it.

i cannot remember when it was that i tried my first sushi. i think it may have been at fujiyama in lahore, pakistan and it must have been with my parents. both my parents cultivated a sense of culinary experimentation and introduced both my brother and i to different cuisines. what i do know is that from the moment i tried it, i loved sushi and sashimi. clearly raw fish did not invoke the qualms that raw meat did in me so that it took me longer to embrace carpaccio and steak tartare. but those days are far behind me now.

i wanted to share my first omakase experience with i, simply because we both have a deep appreciation for japanese food. also, like me, i is one to savour raw fish, to pause and reflect and share notes on food. our long lunch was a testimony to this. the opening sequence of our lunch was one of dark meat, nut and umami flavours with lotus root for texture. it was described as shitake mushroom and prawn with a salad of enoki mushroom and watercress and lotus root. the prawn appeared as layer between the shitake mushroom and was fried. the salad was refreshing after the meatiness of the shitake and prawn. 

shitake and prawn, lotus root, enoki mushroom salad
a close up of the shitake mushroom and prawn
this was followed by a bowl of miso.

next came the sashimi. the carefully composed plate was an expression of the chef's talent both in terms of the presentation and profile of flavours and textures. we were told that the    salad components helped cleanse the palette and should be eaten between the different kinds of sashimi. as is customary of japanese cuisine the salad was delicate, paper thin slices of radish and cucumber along with the finest strands of carrot and daikon. working clock wise from the centre was salmon seared around the edges with roe tucked into its crease, fatty otoro tuna with a smear of gelatinous okra for texture, sea bass, scallop, squid with a crown of orange dried sea urchin and mackerel in nori. each sashimi was excellent with a distinct taste and texture. the scallop had this intense smoothness that floods the mouth and for something so lean it feels so luxurious. the sear around the salmon merely a shade darker than the raw fish itself had the effect of taming the oily taste that is so typical of it. the surprise for both of us was that we both saved the mackerel for last. i have never known myself to like mackerel. the fish has a distinct heavy oiliness that i don't like but at sushi of shiori the combination of chili and chopped mackerel rolled in nori gave it a sophistication i have never experienced before. 

sashimi, clockwise from salmon, otoro fatty tuna, sea bass
scallop, squid with dried sea urchin, mackerel 
close up of seared salmon sashimi
after the sashimi was the nigri sushi. once again the appearance was flawless. starting clockwise from the top was medium fatty tuna, salmon with avocado, sea bass with a dot of plum sauce, yellow tail, prawn with a dot of shiso pesto and eel. it was explained to us that japanese etiquette demands that only the ingredient (i.e. the fish) is to be dipped in soy sauce. where it is difficult to turn the sushi over a gari brush assists in this process. i and i lightly basted our sushi with soy and tucked in. i do not usually eat sushi much preferring  sashimi but here the combination of the fish and rice that was held together merely by its stickiness was just right. both the fish and the rice were at a temperature that let their tastes shine. i love how the tiny dot of plum sauce and shiso pesto altered the taste of the fish. the avocado tasted nutty against the salmon. the eel sushi is not brushed with soy as it comes readily prepared, its skins sheen announcing that it had been lightly cooked. as its arrangement as the last sushi on the plate, it really was the grand finale to that course. it was fatty with a hint of sesame like nuttiness and umami.

sushi clockwise from top left, medium fatty tuna, salmon with avocado
sea bass with plum sauce, yellow tail, prawn with shiso pesto
and eel
close up of eel sushi
in omakase one has no sense of the number of courses so that neither of us knew what was coming next. i was by this point a little concerned about my capacity to eat much more. despite not having had breakfast in the morning i was at that point of pleasing fullness and did not have the capacity for too much more. but of course it is that object of 'entrusting' that means that the chef is able to ensure that this diners are sated. the last savoury course was a singular japanese beef sushi. 

served on a long and narrow plate with a serving of gari (picked ginger), the beef sushi had on it a thick dot of ponzu (citrus) jelly and a garnish of thin scallions. it's that contrast that emphasised the slight sear for part of the meat was a light brown-pink. the beef was tender and mingled with ease with the rice with the ponzu adding a sweet citrus note. it was excellent. 

japanese beef sushi with ponzu jelly
the dessert was a choice of the chef's handmade ice-cream. i picked the smoky tea and i the sweet potato. they came with a delicate wafer whose edges were buttery and centres nutty with the addition of black sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. the ice-cream itself was full cream with a dense texture with a subdued sweetness. the sweet potato one had a slightly grainy texture. neither of us were inclined to leave immediately after and asked for some more japanese tea. but unfortunately we had spent too long eating and had run into the afternoon closing time. so rather reluctantly and with a sushi of shiori bookmark in hand we departed. 

smoky tea ice-cream

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