The stereotypical Western-Japanese restaurant was showcased in the early 90’s by Homer Simpson’s ill-fated visit to Springfield’s Happy Sumo. The staff, shocked at Homer’s loutish ways, personify Japanese restraint, masking their indignation as he eats everything on their menu. With the head chef distracted, Homer is mistakenly served the whole poisonous fugu fish. He is told he’ll be dead by the next day. Conveniently, Happy Sumo’s menu has a map to the hospital on it.
Japanese food is perhaps the most bastardised in the world. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but try telling that to a hocho yielding Itamae. During a trip to Reno, Nevada, I sat in a casino-hotel ‘restaurant’ with several friends. The waiter was foie-gras plump and endearingly stupid. He served us pancakes with syrup, eggs, bacon and, inexplicably, California Rolls (mayonnaise + rice – no fish). The ultimate ersatz. Whilst we greedily devoured the lot, a small part of us all died that day.
Japanese food in London is often like Tinder experiences: tasty pictures, less so the flesh. For every Dinings there are 25 McSushi’s. Each day from my office window I see a Japanese man, running full pelt, with a large cart, office to office, his sweat seasoning the nigiri. I tried it once. It was terrible.
Uchi is a welcome neighbourhood gem; understated and beautiful – a firm swipe to the right. Entering through a set of traditional noren you are greeted by waitresses in denim jump suits amidst a backdrop of brushed gold countertops, hanging kokedama and a steamy, visible kitchen. It’s all very emblematic. And it works. Expectation jumps three notches.
Uchi (home) is split in two. The back area is infinitely more comfortable. Large tables are perfect for big groups and you are given compulsory slippers to use the bathroom. And use it you will. Asahi is served in pints and sparkling sake with a nod and a smile.
Standout dishes include: tuna crunch with shiso, daikon, spring onion & spicy mayo, hijiki seaweed salad with sweet beancurd, eryngii mushroom and spinach nigiri with black rice. These are served on impeccable Japanese ceramics and banana leaves. It’s as fresh as it gets. Simple washoku with few riffs and all the better for it.
Uchi proves that if you go to the right places you can eat some exceptional Japaense food in London: Dinings, Sake no Hana, Chisou, Kiku and Sumosan are high end and worth it. Uchi is brilliant and comparably very reasonable (£40 per head). Take a Tinder date and order the fugu fish.