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A Yen For Sushi


My younger son has always wanted to visit Japan. I don’t know how he came to identify this country as suitable for his travel needs. His total exposure to the culture is a weekly visit to his Japanese piano teacher but that hardly explains his desire to spend a holiday exploring Tokyo. For his birthday treat he chose to lunch at Yo Sushi and has requested a return visit ever since. I preferred to introduce my kids to the real Japanese experience rather than a gimmicky chain where colour coded- bowls circulate on a conveyor belt. We are fortunate to live in an area densely populated with Japanese people so the local sushi bars are good. One of the 5 top Japanese restaurants in London (Zagat rated) is but a five minute drive. Not Japan itself, perhaps, but as close as we are likely to get for now.

green tea at cafe japan

We sat at the bar at Café Japan and watched five sushi chefs performing their zen-like tasks. Spankingly fresh slabs of tuna and salmon, fillets of sea bass mackerel, eel, yellow tail and turbot were expertly sliced for sashimi and nigiri. The magnificent knives slid through fish flesh with grace, extensions of the chef’s hand. The sushi chefs deftly rolled endless rounds of sushi on their small bamboo mats. Who needs conveyor belts with this standard of entertainment?

sushi chefs

I’ve long been fascinated by how popular sushi is amongst children who are not Japanese. It is hardly the sort of food I would have imagined that kids would like. Bits of raw fish wrapped in seaweed is not what I would have contemplated putting in my mouth at a tender age. Not that sushi was available when I was growing up.

My kids perused the menu and picked out what they felt comfortable eating – no eel, but then I am with them on that. Having had a lifelong snake phobia I find it difficult to stomach eel , although I have once eaten it cooked by a Michelin starred chef. So perhaps I must get over myself.

bento box at cafe japan

We watched our food being prepared and served on a beautiful ceramic platter. The children practiced using their chopsticks. This is an art that puts me in mind of learning to ride a bike. You think you will never manage to stay upright until that moment when you suddenly find your balance and then it stays with you for life. My younger son kept dropping his food back onto his plate until suddenly ‘I’ve got it’. It’s one of those things that you can demonstrate but not teach. The turning point comes from within.

We tucked in to nigiri of salmon, prawn and tuna, followed by sashimi of mackerel – each piece of fish daintily anointed with a dab of wasabi and a dunk of soy sauce. I wondered whether the boys would consider eating their salmon raw at home if I were to serve it thinly sliced?

sashimi cafe japan

We followed on with a variety of sushi rolls which inspired my son to investigate taking a sushi making course. That’s one I will happily support.

Endless cups of green tea were drunk as we watched bento boxes being filled with tempura and teriyaki. All this remains to be explored on a return visit of which there will be many if the children’s enthusiasm is sustained. The not immodest bill arrived with tiny wafers of thin peppermint chocolates. ‘This restaurant gets 10 out of 10’ declared my youngest. It’s the small touches that count after all. As we hopped off our bar stools to leave, five sushi chefs bowed in unison.

Café Japan, 626 Finchley Road, NW11 7RR