All-you-can-eat sushi in Soho

all-you-can-eat-sushi-eatery-soho-london

Now that you’ve seen the words “all you can eat”, I bet you’re fired up and ready to go. Before you do, here’s the small print: the bill at Sushi Eatery must be paid in cash, you’ve got an hour and a half to be in and out and drinks are paid on top. Now off you go.

It’s the same premise here that you get with the sushi buffet at Sushimania, where you’re given a small card on which to score a tick beside the dishes you want. You can get up to six rounds of the sushi and sashimi dishes, and only one for the hot dishes (featuring tempura dishes, gyoza, calamari and noodles etc), so make your choices wisely – and fast, the clock is ticking.

When we visit on a Thursday evening the place is packed to full with mostly Asian clientele. The food is decent – perhaps not the freshest or the best you’ll taste – but a good way to sample a lot of different things. I tasted something called Japanese butterfish and enjoyed the tuna sashimi and salmon and avocado sushi, washed down with a cup of Japanese tea.

The portions are generous and we just about make it to the fourth round. I don’t think it’s possible to get through more than four rounds, but if you do, you deserve a pat on the back.

The menu is fairly extensive and obviously fish- and meat-heavy. If, like me, you like raw salmon you’ll be happy.

Service is brisk at this small restaurant, which is set over two floors. The seating downstairs consists of long communal tables sunken into the ground – you almost feel as if you’re sitting on the floor (soft cushions are provided) – and it is difficult to elegantly enter or exit the seats; you have been warned.

Sushi Eatery doesn’t accept reservations and the cover price is approximately £20 per person.

If you can’t quite move at the end, you’ve probably got your money’s worth. Good work.

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Slurp noodles at the new Ichiryu Hakata Udon House

ichiryu udon house tottenham court road london

A brand new “Udon House” has opened its doors on New Oxford Street.

Ichiryu, the brainchild of Take Tokumine, the CEO of Shoryu and Japan Centre,  prides itself on its thick, chewy white udon noodles, which are handmade on site and served up either hot or cold with toppings such as prawn tempura, fishcakes and beef.

The menu also features sushi, tempura (cod, aubergine, chicken, fishcake, burdock root and courgette variations, all cooked in rapeseed oil), rice bowls, and Japanese classics such as edamame, miso soup and Hirata buns. Plus, there’s sake, beer and Japanese tea to wash it all down.

Located just a few minutes from Tottenham Court Road station, the eatery has been designed in a grab ’n’ go-style perfectly suited to the work crowd, although there is a small relaxed seating area for those who wish to dine in.

At the launch, Mr Tokumine revealed that every Ichiryu employee is gifted a share in the restaurant upon joining (in a similar way to John Lewis’ organisational structure) – so the company’s success will be shared by its staff.

A chef at Ichiryu also explained what makes udon dishes a little different: while Ramen, the Japanese noodle soup, is most often flavoured with pork-based broth, udon dishes have a fish broth base.

Standout dishes, in my opinion, are the sushi and the refreshing chilled udon dish, Buta Shabu Niku – I’ve only ever tasted udon noodles steaming hot, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Find it: 84 New Oxford St London WC1A 1HB, nearest station Tottenham Court Road

Shoryu: Japanese dining in Soho

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The vibe: a loud sit-down Japanese restaurant famous for its generously portioned ramen dishes, located behind Piccadilly Circus.

What’s cool: Shoryu’s menu includes a glossary on the last page, which helpfully simplifies the Japanese terms you find dotted through the descriptions. Plus, this particular branch has the largest selection of sake, shochu and umeshu, with over 130 to choose from.

What’s not cool: you might have to wait for a table, they don’t take reservations. At 7pm on a Thursday evening when we visited, there was a queue of about 12 people waiting [outside, in the rain] for a table.

Don’t be alarmed by: the bang of a loud drum when you enter the restaurant. It’s the staff welcoming you in. For the first fifteen minutes or so, you’ll be startled by it every time someone new comes in, before slowly becoming accustomed to it.

We drunk: Kirei Momoshu plum wine – peachy and fruity liqueur with “added youthful hyaluronic acid” according to the menu, ooooh! It was sweet and refreshing and didn’t taste alcoholic, although it was.

We ate: Shoryu Buns (£4.50 per piece) – nice, but Ippudo and Bao’s hirata buns are way better.

Shichimi Mushrooms (£5.50) – avoid.

Chicken Karaage (£6) – chunks of tender chicken with a tasty dip. Get this dish.

Salmon sashimi (£9.90) – yum.

Miso Wafu Chicken (£11.50) – the ramen dish was good, and huge, enough for two people!

Final thoughts: the portions at Shoryu are generous, and provide good value for money. The food is good too, I’d give it a 6.5/10.

Escape Rooms: will you make it out in time?

pharaoh chamber escape rooms london bridge

It’s not often that you find yourself locked in an underground chamber near London Bridge on a Friday evening. But at Escape Rooms, the latest real-life escape room game after HintHunt and clueQuest, that’s exactly what happens to you — as you’re challenged to escape Pharaoh Khufu’s chamber within 60 minutes. If you fail to work through a series of riddles, codes and puzzles to get out, you risk being “cursed forever and sucked into Khufu’s tomb to act as his guards for eternity”.

The concept of Escape Rooms is based on the Japanese online game Takagism, in which players have to find their way out of a virtual locked room by manipulating their surroundings. Armed with a torch, clipboard, pen and a walkie talkie (in the event that we needed to call on the host to use one of the three clues available to us) we were informed that we were the 100th raiders of this tomb — the 99 who came before us were believed to have perished in the chamber.escape rooms london bridge

We had to find the treasure and escape in an hour and, in order to do this, we were simply told we had to “light the flame of the Gods” before being imprisoned in the themed room. The unforgiving red countdown timer on the wall quickly ticked down; 59:59, 59:58, 59.57, as the six of us explored the room in excitement, finding mysterious props, most of which would eventually come in handy, but others which would create confusion.SONY DSC

15 minutes in and we still hadn’t managed to crack the first challenge. We radioed the host, who gave us a somewhat obscure clue. Still, it had us on our way.

The experience is engrossing. Challenges are far from straightforward and two are particularly mind-boggling — we really did need to harness the power of the entire team to get through. The hour goes by in a flash — and we were shamefaced to escape 10 minutes into extra time, with additional prompts from our host after having used up all three of our clues. The quickest escape time from the Pharaoh’s Chamber since its opening in August is 43 minutes, 5 seconds. *Covers face in embarrassment*

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There are two themed games to choose from at Escape Rooms: the cursed Pharaoh’s Chamber, or the newly opened Room 33, where you’ll find yourself in a fictional room in the British Museum containing a precious piece of Chinese porcelain, which you must steal to return to its owner.

Escape Rooms co-owner Dee Zou gives one piece of advice for those attempting the challenges. She says: “Use your team working skills. Split into two teams and solve the puzzles simultaneously, that way you’ll save some time”.

Teams of three to six players are required to participate; prices range from £19-£25 per person, depending on team size. Book in advance online at escaperooms.co.uk. Escape Rooms is located at 134 Tooley Street. Nearest station London Bridge.

This article was originally published on Londonist.com.

A nine-course feast for the ladies, Benihana-style

Theatrical knife-wielding chefs, delicious freshly cooked dishes, upbeat music and an extensive cocktail list combine to make for a distinctive and memorable dining experience at Benihana.

The Japanese Steakhouse, which pioneers group teppan dining – where your dinner is cooked right in front of you on a hot plate by a flamboyant chef who performs all kinds of dizzying tricks – is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a special 9-course ladies-only menu.

The Keiko Menu has been designed in honour of Benihana’s female CEO Keiko Ono Aoki, who took over the Benihana empire in 2008 after her husband and founder Hiroaki ‘Rocky’ Aoki passed away. The chain has grown from just one restaurant in 1964 to 120 global locations today.

I was lucky enough to have a taste of the limited-edition menu (available till late August) this week, and as the courses progressed, the food only got better – I’ll give a course-by-course breakdown in a sec.

I was bursting out of my jeans by the end of the 9 courses thanks to generous, filling portions, which make the menu great value for money (£30 per person, including a plum wine cocktail and a glass of wine). It also presents the perfect excuse to get together with the girls – especially if you’re not into all this World Cup malarkey!

A birthday meal is also extra special at Benihana. The chefs make it into a massive deal: they surround your table and serenade you with a Japanese version of the happy birthday song, and often you and your group get a free dessert – so perhaps consider making it your birthday destination and make sure the restaurant knows it!

Here’s what you get in the Keiko menu:

Benihana onion soup

Onion Soup

  1. Onion soup

Tastes way better than it sounds – just the right side of punchy.

Benihana Salad

Benihana Salad

  1. Benihana salad with homemade ginger dressing

Lots of lettuce leaves smothered in a sauce, basically. Crisp and tasty.

Keiko menu starter

Starter plate

  1. Healthy starter plate (rock n roll sushi, tofu with ikura, edamame and avocado)

So pretty! Didn’t know which to go for first; opted for the spoon of tofu. Tofu has a very soggy and wet texture as you’d expect, but combined with the sauce, and when you sip it all down together (don’t try and bite it into two as I did), it tastes best. Sushi was delicious, but it was a massive mouthful. If you manage to eat that in one go, and look elegant at the same time, I’ll pay you £50 – I looked like I’d just put a baby elephant in my mouth. The little red caviar balls on the sushi add an interesting touch too.

  1. Vegetable tempura

Can’t comment – for some reason these didn’t appear on my table, not that I needed any more food!

  1. Prawn and vegetable appetisers

The prawns actually ROCKED MY WORLD; they were fresh, succulent, bouncy, and perfectly cooked. Plus, the chef cut up the prawns with impressive dexterity and speed before cooking them and flinging them through the air straight onto my plate. Cool.

  1. Hibachi salmon

This was served with vegetables and it was soft and light. When we explained to the chef that my dining companion didn’t eat steak (included in course 8), he was very accommodating and substituted her hibachi salmon for the steak, and instead made her hibachi black cod for this meal. All I can say is WOW. Just wow. If you go to Benihana and don’t try the black cod, man, you’re missing out. I think I could eat about 10 plates of that. Irresistibly good.

  1. Chicken crêpe with hoi sin sauce

Reminded me of the Chinese duck wrap, but this was made with chicken and a thicker, sweeter pancake. The vegetables in the pancake gave it crunch and the hoi sin sauce was moreish. Great with the Benihana signature ginger sauce.

  1. Hibachi steak with mushroom served with hibachi rice

A Benihana classic: this was a mammoth piece of steak, and the chef cooked it exactly how I liked. It was tender, juicy and plump. The fried rice was really good too – and again, the chef performed a dazzling trick where he flipped the bowl of rice through the air to land on my table, and not a grain fell out!

Cheesecake dumpling Benihana dessert

Cheesecake dumpling

  1. Cheesecake dumpling

They saved the best till last. This unique dessert merges so many textures: the crispiness of the dumplings, the creaminess of the cheese inside and the cold, sweet ice cream with the squidgy strawberries. Divine.

It was a fun night out, complete with flying prawns and knives – and the Keiko menu is satisfying; not only for the food, but also because it celebrates womankind. Power to us!

Keiko Benihana ladies only menu

Thanks to our skilled chef Richie for keeping a firm hold on those knives, and to Oscar from Benihana Piccadilly for looking after us and making our evening so impressive.

Find out more about Benihana on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and its own website, www.benihana.co.uk.
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