Review: Ukai Sushi at Poland Street, Soho
Published 3 February 2011
I’ve always had a weak spot for good Japanese food, and when a deal for a meal at Ukai came up, I snapped it up quickly. Ukai had a branch just around the corner from my former office in Bayswater, but they also have branches on Portobello Road, Lavender Hill, and now in Soho.
I went to the Ukai branch on Poland Street in Soho, and immediately on walking in, was struck by how different it looked to their Bayswater branch. This new outpost of Ukai was very modern, sleek, and club-like. The lights were dimmed, and dark colour furniture seemed to be the theme, creating a rather romantic atmosphere. In comparison, their Bayswater branch looks like a cosy neighbourhood Japanese sushi bar.
The menu at Ukai is quite evenly split between sushi/sashimi and hot dishes, although from our meal, the sushi was the standout. We had a standard salmon sashimi, which was 4 very thick slices of fresh salmon, some of the best I’ve ever had in London. The sashimi was of the highest quality, very sweet and firm. A pity there were only 4 slices!
Another sushi that we had was the inari sushi, which was in the Ukai specialities section. I really like inari, and I was curious to find out how good it could be at Ukai, as inari (rice wrapped in a beancurd skin) is a relatively easy sushi to make. I was slightly disappointed when it arrived; on the menu, the description mentioned 4 pieces. On the plate was two inari sushi, each cut into half, to create 4 pieces. A bit deceiving. Taste-wise, the beancurd skin was the right sweetness, and the toasted sesame seeds sprinkled over added a nice crunch and taste to the otherwise plain inari. However, at £3.95 it didn’t come cheap – most other Japanese restaurants only charge £2.00 for inari!
We also decided to go for the omelette nigri, which to my delight arrived with big rectangular blocks of egg omelette completely draped over the rice underneath. Exactly how omelette nigri should be like – with the bright yellow colour of the egg providing a playful and uplifting colour to the meal.
For the main course, I went for a spicy tuna chirashi, which is slices of spicy tuna sashimi on top of warm sushi. Like the salmon sashimi, the spicy tuna sashimi was absolute heaven, melting in my mouth and very sweet. The warm sushi rice was also just right, not too soft or hard, and just the right amount of rice vinegar as well.
My partner had the seafood ramen, which came in a somewhat small bowl, and disappointingly for a sophisticated restaurant, it included cheap crabsticks, available at Sainsburys a dozen for a pound. While crabsticks is distinctly Japanese, its usually served in cheaper types of sushi.
Overall, the sushi and sashimi at Ukai was exceptionally good, but the seafood ramen was disappointing and I suspect the hot dishes play second fiddle to the cold dishes at Ukai. Pricewise, it is slightly pricey, especially for inari and sashimi, although the quality is unparalleled. If going for just sushi and sashimi, expect to spend £20-£30 per person!
London Insider tip: get a free trial for the TasteLondon card, and get a 50% discount off your meal at Ukai!
Ukai Sushi Restaurant
Cuisine: Japanese (sushi/sashimi and hot food), and cocktail bar
Address: 58 Poland Street, Soho, London W1F 7NR
Booking/enquiry tel: 020 7734 1444