We sat at our seats, elbow to elbow, feeling a bit awkward with the lone lady dining next to us. The restaurant was very quiet. Breathing a sigh of relief, she left soon after we sat down. The chef was at work behind the counter, crouched over working diligently. Like a good girl I stuck with Sencha tea, and we were soon served this by our sweet waitress. Crab wrapped in nori in a light, fishy vinegar sauce, it was served cold (like all our dishes). It awakened the palate and left us hungry for more.
Our waitress told us that this course would normally be miso soup, but as it's summer, this cooler dish is served instead. Cold noodles in a beautifully clear dashi broth was topped with a slice of shittake, shards of some sort of ginger and wafer-thin rings of spring onion. The sweetest little sweet prawn sat atop the noodles, its flesh succelent. With such beautiful presentation in gorgeous little dishes, our already enormous excitement grew.
Slices of fatty yellowtail from the belly sat on top of baby spinach and rocket leaves. I'm afraid I missed what that orangey sauce was on top, but the fish was well seasoned from it. The longer the fish warmed in your mouth, the more the fat melted, and I savoured every mouthful.
In between devouring each course, we watched the chef at work attentively. The amount of detail he went to and the care and delicacy he took in constructing each dish was absolutely mesmerising. Little dabs were dotted here and there, shards of vegetable painstakingly balanced on top.
When our waitress was explaining each item, she told us the scallop had 'something special' in it. It was very special indeed; the sweet, melting scallop flesh was the best I've had sashimi'd, and within lay a little black truffle paste. It was a heavenly match, and made me go "ughhhhaaaaaa!" out loud in glee. Tuna chunks were topped with very finely chopped yam and seasoned seaweed that had a pleasantly slimy quality. Another sweet prawn, with a dab of shiso pesto sang with freshness. A gorgeous almost-creamy minced fatty tuna was wrapped into a roll with nori and a layer of yuba (tofu skin); amazing textures of chewiness from the wrapping and the mouth-coating quality of the tuna. These little additions raised the plate from good to jaw-droppingly brilliant.
By no means unpleasant but least favourite of the plate was the tomato stuffed with diced skate and spring onion. Visually it was adorable; the tomato had its lid removed with the little stem hat, and the tomato peeled entirely but on the flavour stake the fish was unremarkable.
The sushi plate arrived next. By now conversation was at stand still and we gazed wide-eyed at the chef's rhythmic workflow. Every time we tried to talk about something interesting my gaze trailed back to what was going on in front of me. Probably best not to take a date here.
Rice was at room temperature and was of a perfect consistency. Salmon and avocado rolls were excellent examples. Squid, with a tiny criss cross cut into it, was chewy and perked up with a small pile of grated ginger. The chef marinates his own fish roe in citrus, and this piece, a huge mouthful was indecently satisfying, citrussy fish roe bursting in the mouth. Sea bass was topped with a glob of sweet plum sauce and had the additional surprise of a hidden slice of shiso leaf beneath the fish. Fatty tuna and fatty salmon were damn tasty. Eel had sancho pepper hidden within it and gave my tongue a good tingle, while the slice of shiitake mushroom nigiri was sweet, sour and salty all at the same time. This is no ordinary plate of sushi, not by a long way.
At this point, our waitress asked us if we were full. "No! I'm fine!" I blurted out, feeling pretty full but incapable of admitting our experience was nearly over. The chef looked over alarmed, and they swapped concerned looks. My friend did the right thing and disagreed with me, so I retracted my words.
The final savoury course was the meat nigiri. Iberican pork, cooked shabu shabu was pearly white in colour, topped with a sesame sauce. But the real show stopper was the wagyu beef, topped with ponzu jelly. I think I chewed it until there was nothing left to chew, wanting to savour every delicious meaty bit of it. Flamed on the outside, raw on the inside, the ponzu jelly gave it that lift.
Finally, we were asked to choose dessert from the list of home-made ice creams. Black sesame was impossibly smooth and creamy, dramatically grey against the white of the bowl. Plum wine sorbet was tart, plummy and palate cleansing. The perfect end to the meal.
Sushi of Shiori isn't cheap, but so much work goes into it. The attention to detail throughout is truly amazing, from the chef slightly hunched to his work station, gently insisting which angle the dishes were to be presented, to the toilet roll in the loos folded in a neat triangle every time you visited. A beautifully sedate procession of a meal, one that I have vowed to return back to regularly. Perhaps on paydays.
Sushi of Shiori
144 Drummond Street,
Off Hamstead Road,
London NW1 2PA
Tel: 020 7388 9962
Omekase menu starts at £30 and must be booked in advance. Like other decent sushi places, Sushi of Shiori operates slightly odd opening hours; they close at 21:30 in the evening.