Itsu’s New Japanese Restaurants Are A Disappointment
Published 5 September 2010
Working London professionals would have at one point or another had one of Itsu’s ubiquitous take-away sushi boxes. However, this Japanese takeaway chain have in the recent past opened up proper sit-down restaurants, where much of the same food – and a few new dishes – are served.
I went to try one of these new Itsu restaurants on Saturday, prompted by the £16 for £40 Itsu Restaurant voucher deal offered on Groupon a few weeks ago. Groupon, by the way, is one of a new breed of websites offering massively discounted deals, with each deal only offered for 24 hours.
Out of the three restaurant branches that Itsu have in London (Notting Hill, Soho, and Canary Wharf), I went to their Soho branch on Wardour Street. Inside, it looked more like a modern bijoux club, complete with modern decor of dark colours and disco balls hanging from the ceiling, slowly rotating and throwing off glitters of light.
Seating is around a sushi conveyor belt, a la Yo Sushi style. The first thing you notice is that they have the name labels under each plate of dish going past you, which is a boon to everyone. Instead of having to make a hasty judgement whether it was spicy eel or teriyaki chicken in that maki roll going past, now you just read the label to find out what’s inside. Why don’t any of the other sushi conveyor belt restaurants in London introduce this?
So, after a good first impression, we order some hot dishes, grilled eel (unagi) sushi (£5.25) and tiger prawn tempura (£6.95) to start off. While we were waiting for the hot dishes to arrive, we tucked in to some salmon sashimi (£4.50), which was fresh and tasty, served with ginger and grated radish and seaweed. We also tucked in to some vietnamese duck crystal roll (£3.95), which were decent, but not as delicious as the crystal rolls we’ve had in Pho or Song Que.
Salmon sashimi “new style” (£4.50) was also a bit of a disappointment, with the sauce quite bland although we could taste a slight whiff of sesame and miso paste which should have been stronger.
Our tiger prawn tempura, five on a plate, came with a sweet thai chilli sauce dip. However, the dip was a bit too runny, and while the prawns were fresh and sweet, the batter they were cooked in were too hard and fluffy, as real Japanese tempura batter should be like. The grilled eel sushi was good. However, despite having to wait 15 minutes for the dish to arrive, the unagi eel was only lukewarm, suggesting that it was not cooked freshly to order, and the unagi sauce dip provided was freezing cold, which we had to send back to the kitchen to get heated. Unagi sushi should always be served warm, and the sauce, if provided separately, should be warm as well. What blasphemy, from a place that specialises in Japanese food!
We also tried two of their aqua zingers, the shoga apple (£3.50) and the pineapple zinger (£3.50), both of which were good and well refreshing.
In the end, we left the place feeling a bit disappointed. Normally, we leave Japanese restaurants having been wowed by the flavour and freshness of the food, but this meal felt like we’d just eaten Itsu’s takeaway food, but in a restaurant setting. We’re quite forgiving about the quality of takeaway food, as its usually eaten chilled and a few hours after preparation, and hastily at a desk while rushing to complete a deadline. But when we go to a restaurant for a proper meal, we do expect a higher standard than takeaway, and here Itsu have not stepped up their game when opening up new restaurants.
Perhaps it is no wonder that they have had to result to 60% discount offers to get diners in through the door!
Price: £40 for a lunch meal for two, including a drink each
Cuisine: Sushi, shashimi, and a selection of hot Japanese dishes
Address: 103 Wardour Street, Soho, London W1F 0UQ
Booking/Enquiry tel: 020 7479 4790
Official Website (and menu): www.itsu.com/restaurants/soho/