Where: 2 White Church Lane, London E1 7QR, http://www.sushinoen.com/
Cost: Average cost per person is in the region of £30 excluding drinks. Sushinoen offers a range of lunch options including bento box sets from £12.90 to £19.90, sushi bar set menus ranging from £10.90 to £19.90, and several hot dish set meals with rice, a side dish and miso soup partnering hot main courses such as pork katsu curry, or bulgogi for a very reasonable £9.00 to £11.90. It is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner.
About: In London's East End, just off Whitechapel High Street and a stone's throw from Aldgate East station, this cosy, unpretentious Japanese eatery offers authentic Japanese home-cooking style dishes and freshly made sushi.
Two things struck me quite favourably about Sushinoen which reminded me of similar eateries in Japan – it has a very laid back, even a tad shabby, feel about it like an old-fashioned Japanese izakaya (Japanese pub/cafe) somewhere in Asakusa or in some other less salubrious areas of Tokyo. I love those places.
The other was their pricing – it is surprisingly reasonable. It is refreshing to see Sushinoen in London, and I just wished they existed 25 years ago when I arrived here as a student and totally broke, what a contrast from the madly expensive Japanese restaurants in Piccadilly of the time.
What We Ate: We ordered a selection of bread-and-butter Japanese home-cooked dishes as well as some of Sushinoen’s more modern sushi/sahimi offerings. This included the shiro maguro carpaccio, a dish of seared white tuna slices (also known as butterfish or Escolar) with a yuzu dressing (£12.90). This was beautifully presented with little slivers of cherry tomato, the fish was topped with yuzu kosho (a deliciously spicy condiment from Kyushu Island made from chillies, salt and the rind of the yuzu citrus fruit) and fresh wasabi. With a fine and buttery texture and flavour and a lovely kick of heat, this made for a very good start to our meal.
The Aldgate Platter (£27.90) consists of 6 pieces each of assorted sashimi and maki and 5 pieces of nigiri sushi, although I asked for mine to be slightly tweaked to substitute more sushi for the sashimi. The sushi rice was well made and seasoned (the most important aspect of sushi), topped with an assortment of fresh fish and seafood including scallop, sea bream, sea bass, tuna, fatty tuna, salmon and octopus, as well as maki rolls of tuna and California rolls. The platter was well presented and a real pleasure to eat.
We also ordered the Bravo Duo (8 pieces - £16.90) – a Dragon style California roll topped with blow-torched tuna slices, garlic oil, ‘tenkasu’ (the crunchy bits of tempura batter), and tobiko eggs (flying fish roe). This was delicious – crunchy, well seasoned, and lovely.
To follow we had a platter of mixed tempura of fried prawns and vegetables (£9.90) including aubergine, carrot and courgette. I serve tempura often in my Japanese and Nikkei supper club, and hardly ever order it in a restaurant – but I was glad I did at Sushinoen - the tempura batter was light and crisp, the vegetables and prawns fried until just right (retaining still some their bite), whoever is frying that tempura, knows what they are doing.
With the tempura we enjoyed a portion of Katsu Don – breaded pork cutlet served on a bed of rice topped with Japanese sweet omelet (£9.90). I loved this – so simple yet so comforting, home-style Japanese cooking that I grew up with but hardly come by in London.
For dessert, we shared a portion of Sushinoen’s tempura ice cream (£5.50) - a kind of Japanese baked Alaska topped with Anko (sweetened Japanese red bean paste). For me, this dessert didn’t quite work – the ice cream was not of great quality and if it was, the flavour was masked by the tempura batter that encased it.
What We Drank: Green tea (£2.20) and Sapporo beer (£4.35).
Likes: the sushi was well made, the tempura was also crispy and expertly fried, and a scrumptious dish of butterfish carpaccio. Friendly, informal setting.
Dislikes: the tempura ice cream was uninspiring.
Verdict: For unpretentious Japanese home-style cooking dishes and well made sushi that will not break the bank, Sushinoen is the real deal. Recommended.