Yashin, Yamanashi and Koshu

POSTED ON 18/01/2011

I confess that until lunchtime today I thought that Umu off Berkeley Square was the best Japanese restaurant in town. Yashin off High Street Kensington has only been open a few months but it looks like it just might knock Umu off its Kyoto perch. Today’s lunch at Yashin was organized by Lynne Sherriff MW in conjunction with KOJ, a group of 15 Japanese wine producers based in Yamanashi prefecture who came to London for the second time to show their wines made from the local Koshu grape.

Shinya Ikeda (searing) Yasuhiro Menino (rolling)Shinya Ikeda (searing) Yasuhiro Menino (rolling)

Yashin is a small, high quality traditional Japanese sushi restaurant and bar run by two talented head chefs. Yasuhiro Mineno is a brilliant sushi maker as he demonstrated by deftly and swiftly rolling an endless number of fresh sushi before our eyes at rapid speed. Each piece of sushi not only looked perfect, but tasted melt-in-the-mouth heavenly. The fish was about the freshest I’ve ever come across in the UK and wouldn’t disgrace Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. The wasabi seasoning in each case was so delicate that it didn’t remotely interfere with the delicacy of the wines. And there was no soy: read on.

From Shizuoka prefecture, renowned for its seafood and wasabi, Mineno worked at Nobu Group’s Ubon in Canary Wharf where he became head chef. Last autumn he opened Yashin with Shinya Ikeda to produce food in the traditional Edo style, hence the neon ‘Without Soy Sauce’ sign that sits surreally opposite the diners who sit at the long, narrow counter facing the chefs as they wok and roll, well, roll at least. Shinya Ikeda can probably be credited with developing the ‘without soy sauce’ idea from his time working at Yumi Restaurant where he noticed many customers missing out on the true flavours of their sushi by dipping their rice into an excess of soy sauce.

marinated tomato with Tosazu jellymarinated tomato with Tosazu jelly
Oyster, Scallop and Gorgonzola-marinated tunaOyster, Scallop and Gorgonzola-marinated tuna

There was a pair of wines per dish with a succession of delicate dishes beginning with an appetizer of a small ripe tomato with deliciously tangy Tosazu jelly and a stick of broccoli. Cameras were everywhere including video cameras and I was convinced that the moment I so inexpertly failed to negotiate the strip of broccoli that it ended up looking like green cigarette dangling from my mouth was the moment Japanese TV chose to film the surreal happening. Be that as it may, we moved to a sashimi of oyster, scallop and tuna sitting freshly on a bed of crushed rice and the various condiments of myoga and yuzu added to the feeling of freshness and zest.

I’m not particularly keen on dropping names, as you know (oh, btw, saw Boris Becker in the gym the other day shortly after nearly bumping into Lembit Opik emerging from Tottenham Court Road tube) but I should say that among other luminaries crammed into the tiny space, there was quite a spectacular attendance of what you might call ‘living legends’: Hugh Johnson, Michael Broadbent MW and Jancis Robinson MW for starters, all recipients of the Decanter Man, or Woman, of the Year Award, not to mention John Avery MW, who’s long been a fan of Japan and co-chairs the Japanese Wine Challenge with Steven Spurrier, the only living legend who was conspicuous by his absence.

Ayana Misawa of Grace WineryAyana Misawa of Grace Winery

Interestingly most of the 2010 wines were tank samples and not bottled but rather than detract from the pleasure, I thought that gave them an extra zip and freshness that complemented the sashimi and the next dish of Japanese vegetables rather well. I particularly liked the Grace Koshu with its clove pinks aromas and pristine, delicately dry fruit. They mostly showed up the four 2009s, one or two of which at a year old were beginning to lose some of that essential vitality.

There followed a rich, sweet, fleshy dish of grilled yellow tail with chestnut miso, which needed the delicate crispness of fresh young koshu to bring some citrusy life to the dish. By this time, I’d enjoyed the Marquis Winery’s Jien Blanc for its juicy, fresh pear purity of flavour, an aromatic Mars Wine Koshu Verdinho (nothing from Venus, note), Rubaiyat’s pristine, fresh and intense Koshu and the spicy, fresh pear fruit of the So Lucet Koshu. Many of the 2010s were thus: clean, fresh, delicate, almost water white, with a natural fruit quality between apple and pear, some delicately floral, others spicy, light to medium-bodied dry whites that pointed up the delicate freshness of sushi and sashimi where more assertive wines might have overwhelmed them.

Yellow tail, sea bass and red wine marinated tunaYellow tail, sea bass and red wine marinated tuna
Myoga marinated Konbu kelp, white turnip with plum paste, Mizuna with umami dashiMyoga marinated Konbu kelp, white turnip with plum paste, Mizuna with umami dashi

Three sushi dishes followed, each with three bite size pieces of sushi on them. The first was an exquisitely subtle plate of delicate yellow tail with sake paste, sea bass with Konbu kelp and red wine marinated tuna with myoga and miso. Next up was a melting piece of salmon with Tosazu jelly (loved that jelly), some Wagyu beef and yuzu salsa and Botan shrimp with foie gras. While Yasuhiro Mineno was rolling furiously and deftly, Shinya Ikeda had the pleasant job of searing the second dish of sushi with a small blow-torch, so not only did they arrive with a thin seared crust, but the light char added a complexing element.

The final sushi dish was of vegetables and the texture changed to crunchy while the wasabi background added a touch of heat to the super-fresh feel of the myoga marinated Konbu kelp, the marinated white turnip and Mizuna with umami dashi. Dessert seemed otiose but a yuzu sorbet was delicately sweet and refreshing and just what you needed before heading off into the January gloom of High Street Ken and the mundane world of yet another London wine tasting.

Taro, Burdock, Kyoto carrot, Lotus root and Garland chrysanthemumTaro, Burdock, Kyoto carrot, Lotus root and Garland chrysanthemum

The Wines

Grace Koshu Private Reserve 2010
Haramo Vintage Koshu 2010
Marquis Winery Jien Blanc 2010
Mars Koshu Verdinho 2010
Mercian Koshu 2010
Rubaiyat Koshu 2010
Sadoya Zenkouji Kitahara 2010
Soryu Koshu 2010
Yamanashi Sol Lucet Koshu 2010
Alps Wine Japanese Style Wine Koshu 2009
L’orient Koshu 2009
Lumiere Koshu Hikari 2009
Yamato Koshu 2010
Tomi no Oka Winery (Suntory) Koshu 2009 Special Barrel Fermented

p.s. Sorry about the poor quality of the pics: taken with my Blackberry as my Nikon Coolpix didn't take too kindly to being dropped onto a concrete floor recently

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