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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Yashin Ocean House - Japanese Head to Tail Dining and Some of the Best Sushi in the Capital!

Where: 117-119 Old Brompton Road, South Kensington, London SW7 3RN, http://yashinocean.com

Cost: The dinner menu is small but well thought-out, with appetizers from £4 to £12, sashimi dishes from £8.50 to £32, hot mains from £11.80 to £29. The Omakase Sushi offerings (chef’s choice) are always worth exploring in Japanese restaurants, and at Yashin Ocean House, there are 3 selections of 4, 8 or 11 pieces of sushi (£13.50, £30 and £45 respectively) served with the roll of the day. The Express Lunch Menu is excellent value at £19.50 for 3 courses (appetizer, sushi and main courses) or £24.50 including dessert. An Express Dinner Menu is also available between 6 and 7pm for £24.50 for 4 courses.

About: Yashin Ocean House is situated in a beautifully restored Victorian stables in one of the plusher parts of South Ken. With a large central sushi station surrounded by a turquoise ceramic counter-top and a massive refrigerated cabinet with plate glass for displaying and drying out the fish for which they are known, the restaurant features a rather stunning and contemporary setting.

Opened as recently as 2013 as a sister restaurant to Yashin Sushi & Bar on High Street Kensington, Yashin Ocean House specializes on fish and seafood and the concept of “head to tail” dining which makes use of every aspect of the fish from roe and flesh, to skin and bones to create some of their signature dishes.

In Japan, nothing is wasted and the concept of “mottainai” (waste not!) is something that is deeply ingrained in the national psyche. It is socially unacceptable to be perceived as wasteful in Japanese society, “mottainai” is not only about physical waste, it also refers to thought patterns that give rise to wasteful behaviour.

Yashin Ocean House was founded by business partners Yasuhiro Mineno (ex-head chef at Ubon by Nobu) and Shinya Ikeda (former head chef at Yumi). The kitchen is headed by senior sous-chef Daniele Codini, a talented Italian chef who trained at some of the most prestigious kitchens around the world including L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Paris and The Fat Duck in the UK where he worked for the last 3 years before joining Yashin Ocean House.

Service was efficient and discreet - our waitress Paulina was impressively knowledgeable about every aspect of the menu, and gave some very good recommendations for drinks.

What We Ate: The amuse bouche on the evening we were there was sugi white fish with truffle infused soy sauce, sake and mirin, fig compote and pineapple mint, served with a glass of ginger infusion. For me, the myriad flavours in this amuse bouche did not quite come together as a whole – the fish tasted strongly of tinned tuna, and was unfortunately not a great start to our dinner.

Luckily, things picked up quickly from there with our choices of appetizers - Zuke Ikura (£11.80) was a stunningly presented little golden bowl of salmon caviar (ikura) seasoned with truffle soy, and delicately smoked, the caviar pearls were topped with a hefty serving of truffle. I had never tried the combination of ikura and truffle before but thoroughly enjoyed this rich appetizer. Perhaps some carbohydrate in the form of rice or some crunchy, julienned daikon might have further enhanced my appreciation of this dish.

The Miso Cappuccino (£3.50) was our 2nd appetizer. Charmingly served in an old English teacup and saucer, this was a delicate but well flavoured miso soup topped with deliciously thick soya milk foam. I loved this and must try and replicate it at home.

To follow, we had the dramatic Omakase Sashimi without Soy Sauce (£32 for 2 people). Beautifully presented on a glass bowl and a great deal of white smoke, this included a selection of 6 different fish, each with a respective accompanying sauce, jelly or other flavouring - yellowtail with homemade kizami wasabi, fatty tuna with truffled ponzu jelly, salmon with Tosazu jelly, wild sea bream with plum sauce and rice crackers, prawn with coriander sauce, and wild seabass with tomato salsa. These were some of the best sashimi I have had outside Japan, warranting a visit to Yashin Ocean House on its own right.

Next came the Cod Cheek with Chilli Amazu (£7.80). The cod had been sliced into bite sized pieces, lightly battered and deep fried, and served in a deliciously chillied sweet vinegar broth (amazu), with a scattering of crispy leeks. Similar to a nanban dressing, lightly sweet but with refreshing acidity and a hint of heat, the dressing cut through the meaty cod cheeks’ crispy batter, this was a delicious dish and one of my favourites of the evening.

The house special, Head to TAI-L (Tai translates as sea bream in Japanese - £26 for two people), featured a whole, dry aged and grilled sea bream, served complete with head and bones. The dish is designed to be eaten to the last morsel - head, bones and all.

The dry ageing made the flesh quite firm, and more intense in flavour, while the grilling of the skin, bones and head made every bit of the fish edible, although the bones were extremely crunchy.

The fish was served with a simple but magnificent dressing of Tosazu jelly and grated daikon radish (Tosazu translates as Tosa vinegar). Tosa is the ancient name for an area in Shikoku (one of Japan's main islands), a place where fishermen have long pulled in bonito (katsuo) - so the name suggests an infusion of primarily katsuobushi (dried shaved bonito) with other ingredients including konbu (seaweed used for making dashi stock), soy sauce, mirin and vinegar. The bonito adds a heady dose of smoke, flavour, and rich umami, which combined with the acidity of the rice vinegar, makes for a delicious and refreshing accompaniment to grilled fish. Yashin Ocean House’s Tosazu jelly brought a wonderful acidity, freshness and texture contrast to the grilled sea bream and we loved it.

Next up, and the last of our savoury courses, was the Omakase Sushi Eleven (£45). This comprised eleven pieces of sushi served with the roll of the day - salmon, cucumber and pickled ginger, with a wasabi dressing.

The sushi was outstandingly good – one of the most important elements of sushi for me is the rice – Yashin’s was well cooked and seasoned, light and with perfect texture. The fish was obviously fresh (a given in any decent Japanese restaurant), and the tiny dabs of relishes, spice or sauce on top of each sushi brought a new dimension and interest - each one unique, like a Faberge egg.

Some of the stand-outs were the Wagyu beef on crispy rice (great flavours and textures), summer truffle and miso foie gras; yellowtail with sun-dried tomato and parmesan (thanks Daniele!); salmon with tosazu jelly; fatty tuna with truffle oil, salt and pepper; razor clams with seaweed butter (a revelation!); grouper with spicy cod roe; wild seabass with dried miso flake; mackerel with grated ginger; shrimp with coriander sauce and rice crackers; and tuna with kizami wasabi.

Desserts were chosen from a refrigerated cabinet surrounding the sushi bar displaying an array of tantalizing choices.

The chocolate and vanilla mousse with candied hazelnuts coated in chocolate, edible flowers and gold leaf, served with vanilla ice cream was a deliciously rich dessert, expertly made and beautifully presented, this is a must to any chocolate lovers.

Our second dessert was a gorgeous and refreshing Yuzu mousse with white chocolate and shochu jelly served with sorbets of watermelon and sochu. We were impressed by both desserts – they were magnificent. I enjoyed the combination of light pastry, crunchy candied nuts, ice cream and jelly, myriad flavours and textures on a single plate – well judged and executed, they showed real skill and a highly sophisticated palate by the in-house Japanese pastry chef Seiko-san.

What We Drank: The restaurant specialises in sake, and has a range of sake cocktails, as well as a comprehensive list of sakes including sparkling sakes, and a flight of three shochu made from sweet potato, barley and shiso for £11.

The house Champagne is a Dosnon & Lepage for £64. There is an extensive wine list, particularly featuring European wines, with whites starting at £28 for a Picpoul de Pinet. Red wines start with an organic Clos du Tue-Boeuf, Cheverny Rouge Rouillon 2010 for £37.

We started with a 300ml bottle of Mio sparkling sake (£23) from Shochikubai Shirakabegura. This is only 5% alcohol, and off dry with fine bubbles and a delicate on the palate.

To accompany the sashimi, sushi and main course, we had the Chavy-Chouet, a Puligny Montrachet 'Les Enseigneres" 2012 (£80) - we had a 375ml carafe for £40.  With a heady nose of apple, citrus and tropical fruit, the palate was richly complex, with layer upon layer of flavour, fresh acidity and a long satisfying finish.  This was about as far from the high street Chardonnay as it is possible to imagine, and utterly magnificent.

We finished with a cocktail - Kagurasaka (£9.50). Yashin's version of a Manhattan, this had single malt Japanese whisky, with Junmai sake, Cointreau and shiso leaves.

Likes: Both the sashimi and sushi Omakase selections were excellent and stunningly presented. Some nicely and quirky presentational touches. A small but well considered Japanese menu. Comprehensive wine & sake lists. Excellent value Express Lunch and Dinner Menus for £24.50 (4 courses).

Dislikes: Some of the stools around the sushi counter are less than optimal if you would like to see the chefs in action, and these were unfortunately where we were seated, so apologies for the poor quality of images in this post.

Verdict: An elegant Japanese restaurant, Yashin Ocean House serves some of the most creative sushi & sashimi I have tried outside Japan, as well as excellent cooked options. With highly skilled cuisine and pastry teams, and superb wine and sake lists, Yashin Ocean House ticks all the boxes for me, and I cannot wait to return. Very highly recommended.

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