Cat’s been a big fan of sushi ever since she tried Tomo’s bento boxes.
Tomo, an expert Isle of Wight sushi-maker who delivered little boxes of delights from her Rookley home, is sadly no longer in business, but The Cat’s appetite for this dainty Japanese food has not diminished. She regularly indulges in Boots’ version, picking at the little fishy maki with pleasure.
It’s also now possible to get sushi when eating out, due almost entirely to the chain Yo! Sushi which has started to pop up all over the place. Gunwharf, in Portsmouth, has one example; and Matt and Cat spotted another in Cambridge. Matt, who can declare a meal to be spectacular just on quantity alone, would not at first glance seem to be the target market of an eatery like Yo! Sushi. But sushi aficionado Cat, on the promise of sausages later, persuaded him to enter the neon palace for a light lunch.
From the outside Yo! Sushi could be mistaken for some kind of futuristic neon laboratory; the lair of a camp James Bond villain with a keen eye for colour and a love of techno-kitsch. On entering it’s still not instantly apparent that this is a restaurant. A conveyor belt snakes its way around the citrus-hued venue, with kitchen staff in the centre and customers at its outer edge. There’s a clamour of yelling chefs, Japanese pop music, flickering screens and flashing lights. Anyone who has ever played any Nintendo video games might feel like they’re living the dream.
On the belt, tiny colour-coded melamine dishes chug by. Each contains an exquisite dish of often unrecognisable food. Helpfully there is a key, complete with pictures; these food flash-cards go some way to helping identify what is under the dishes’ see-through domes. However, by the time a dish has been clocked, ID’d and considered a worthy contender, it may have cruised past. This is half the fun of Yo! Sushi; deciding what you want then trying to lift it from the belt in a timely way. The other half of the fun is to just take pot luck, grabbing the dishes in a more arbitrary manner. Either way will garner you a decent and tasty lunch.
Matt and Cat used both methods when they visited Yo! Sushi in Cambridge. A bustling waitress seated them, and gave some very necessary instruction. Once you get the idea, it’s not too tricky. But in all honesty, to a sushi novice the entire process is quite opaque, so the explanations are far from redundant. Perched on little stools at their eating station, M&C examined the food catalogue and readied their chopsticks – Cat, a clumsy stick-handler, chose the hinged tongs usually offered to children, the dyspraxic and the knife-and-fork-dependant. It wasn’t long before the picture menu was discarded and Matt and Cat plucked dishes at random – striking taste gold on every occasion. Worthy of a special mention is tangy kaiso salad: sesame-marinated kaiso (Japanese seaweed) salad with edamame and carrot.
If you’re determined to stick to your favourites you can summon the waiting staff by illuminating a bubbled acrylic wand. Use the subsequent attention to order a specific dish from the menu or ask for a top-up of your unlimited hot drink (miso soup or green tea). Cat tested the system and requested an aubergine salad: aubergine with harusame dressing (garlic, sesame, ginger). She then had the pleasure of watching one of the chefs rustle up this oiled and chargrilled veggie treat.
2 x Purple £5.80
2 x Orange £6.80
Green tea £1.50
M&C were seated with a view of the fish chef who busied himself reducing chunky fish steaks into wafer-thin slices of sashimi (raw fish) ready to be draped over rice logs (nigiri). Now, in case you didn’t know, be advised that sushi does not necessarily involve raw fish, despite what your mother told you. Raw fish is one possible ingredient, for sure, but it’s easily avoided if you don’t fancy it. Admiring the fish chef’s dexterity, Matt and Cat decided that they might just risk it, so picked from the belt a pink-edged dish with five pieces of raw Scottish salmon, a slice of lemon and some shredded white radish. Cat took the first bite; the fish was fantastically soft and very subtly flavoured. Matt anointed his slice with soy and wasabi making it a bit bit zingier. Having done some post-lunch research, it seems that M&C broke all the rules of sashimi: it’s supposed to be eaten prior to any other dish before strong flavours have affected the palate. Mixing wasabi and soy is also denounced by purists. However, M&C do not claim to be experts and are happy to admit their noob mistakes. The raw fish was certainly a very subtle eating experience, and the condiments made this understated dish tastier.
Yo! Sushi is a fun place, the cheese-dream of a Harajuku girl who’s developed a keen interest in pop-art and model railways. The bright colours and unusual serving style are worth a visit alone. However, the opaqueness of the dishes – their contents often only revealed by delving through the very well-thumbed food catalogue – could be an issue if you have a special diet. Also, despite there being several seemingly busy staff in the kitchen at Cambridge there was not always much food appearing on the belt, and certainly not the vast variety advertised in the menu.
The big problem that Matt and Cat have experienced both times they have been to Yo! Sushi is resisting the temptation to try everything. This is particularly worth noting if you’re intending to take the kids there. At the end of their lunch Matt and Cat had a pile of eight plates between them which soon totted up to a bill for over thirty quid. It’s amazing how quickly the dishes can literally stack up. As with tapas, if you’re not keeping an eye on what you have, you can end up spending the equivalent of a decent evening meal. Drinks too, even tap water, cost extra – although some come with free refills, which is great. Some Yo! Sushi restaurants offer set menus at a fixed price – the one at Cambridge didn’t (but Gunwharf does), so if you are at all concerned about cost, this might be a good option if it’s available.
Despite the expense and dish ambiguity Matt and Cat will definitely visit Yo! Sushi again. Unlike the previous night’s dinner Matt didn’t need to get chips on the way home; the little portions turned out to be deceptively filling. Recommended.