You say sushi, I say Sushi Say is one of the best restaurants Willesden Green has to offer.
I believe a neighbourhood restaurant should be judged by how it stands up to repeated visits, because that is how it’s likely to be used.
Anyone other than an oligarch or a superstar is unlikely to become a regular at fancy-pants city-centre restaurants, so a one-time once-over is fine. It’s with that in mind that I go to Sushi-Say, a Japanese place in my neighbourhood. Upon searching for a good centrifuge of Sushi Willesden Green -ness, I was told about it by friends, who gush about the freshness of the fish, the mouth-meltingness of the tofu and the no-nonsense service.
I first find a local couple who haven’t yet been to, or even heard of, Sushi-Say. Booking a table takes some brinkmanship – I want 8.30pm on a Friday night, but the silence at the other end of the phone is so long, and so pointed, that I fear I won’t get anything at all. Then, muttering. Finally, I’m allowed in at 7.45pm, “before it gets busy”.
The unprepossessing venue is nestled in a parade made up of pound shops and closed-down sportswear emporia. Inside, a long, narrow room accommodates a traditional bar at the front, behind which a tall, bald sushi chef straight out of central casting wields a knife over gleaming piscatorial pieces. Further back, plain wooden tables sit against a concrete-y wall upon which hang beautiful Japanese paintings that pop with colour.
From a short list of hot, warm and cold sakes we have Junmai Daiginjo “Jun”. Terrifyingly smooth, it is hard to stop myself from letting the liquid slip down too quickly. It offsets the punchy starters of kimuchi (spicy pickled cabbage; agedashi dofu (silky tofu dredged in potato flour and deep fried, but still enchantingly light, served with an intensely savoury soy broth); and kabocha no netsuke (cubes of sweet pumpkin given an oriental makeover, very toothsome.
We’re already sighing with pleasure when our pretty little embossed plates are taken away, to be replaced by other pretty ones. It’s an elegant touch that defines the entire experience. The place fills up with, yes, regulars, and soon the two ladies at the next table are extolling the virtues of the wasabi ice-cream.
Whoa. We start to regret what is a monumental case of over-ordering (the sushi say menu was too enticing to warrant any level of applied discipline). Sashimi mori awase is an array of perky raw fish which, unfettered by rice, is soft and, um, moreish. Yasai tempura is mixed vegetables in feather-light batter, served with a light dipping sauce. Tendon, a sticky rice pot topped with prawn tempura with a slick of dressing, is a dish too far, delicious though it tastes.
We are defeated. A scoop of home-made wasabi ice-cream sits melting, untried. My guests, meanwhile, declare themselves ready to sign up to the local fan club of this humble yet muscular sushi eatery.
Sushi-Say address: 33B Walm Lane, London, NW2 5SH
Sushi-Say Opening Hours: daily from 12pm-2:30pm, 6pm-10pm