Monday, 25 February 2013

The Shiori - a welcome piece of Kyoto in London

Wagyu tataki mitsuba maki
The Shiori is probably as close to having a meal in Japan as you're likely to get without jumping on a plane. Recently relocated to Bayswater, The Shiori is the evolution of Sushi of Shiori, the tiny sushi bar near Euston that closed late last year. I never got a table there, since, much like Sushi Tetsu, it only held a handful of seats. At The Shiori, the emphasis moves away from sushi to explore the full range of Kyoto-style kaiseki and showcase the incredible skills of the chef. The room is still small, with around 6 tables, but it is obviously a labour of love for the husband and wife team. That passion for perfection is infectious, making Shiori one of the most enjoyable meals you're likely to have. 

There are a couple of dinner ordering options at The Shiori. We went with the full kaiseki experience at £105 for around 12 courses for which it is usually best to pre-order. There is a shorter dinner menu at £65 for around seven courses too, and a few lunch menu options. On the Tuesday night that we visited, most tables were full at some point during the evening, although that was the night before Fay Machsler gave The Shiori a glowing, and rare, five star review.
Rape blossom ohitsashi
We started with the slightly unfortunately named Rape-blossom ohitashi, which was just a mouthful or two of crunchy green freshness with a hint of smoky bonito. Kobujime sea bream with ankimo sauce followed. Here, the chef marinates the sea bream sashimi overnight and then coats the small mouthful with a sauce made from monkfish liver. This was beautifully balanced with the richness of the sauce not overpowering the delicate fish. The shiso leaf added its unique ethereal qualities too.
Kobujime seabream with ankimo sauce
The third course we had was "Sweet shrimp and fermented rice", topped with French caviar and a few slivers of gold leaf. The oh-so-sweet seafood was countered by a pleasant tang from the fermented rice and caviar. Onto the fourth course and we were served Omi-kabura mizore, which was one of my favourite dishes of the meal. This slightly viscous soup is made with a big white turnip found in Kyoto prepared to look like chrysanthemum flowers. The mind boggles at the skills to achieve this. The sansho pepper leaf floating on top of the broth was a new taste for me. It had a surprising citrus flavour, quite unlike the pepper it bears that I like sprinkling on almost anything. Hiding in the bottom of the bowl were a sweet fresh prawn and a meaty shiitake mushroom. Clearly, there were lots of textures in this deliciously complex dish.
Sweet shrimp and fermented rice
Course five moved into incredible sashimi territory. The dish, titled Lobster, Chu-toro sashimi was actually a selection of five different sashimi with sweet razor clam, seared king salmon topped with enormous pop-in-the-mouth salmon roe, beautiful lobster, melt-on-the-tongue tuna and some black kingfish. Alongside, the chef served his own-brewed soy sauce plus a ponzu dressing. We were instructed to use the ponzu sauce only with the white fish. Freshly grated wasabi and some purple flower buds that could be plucked from a shiso branch completed an amazing array of beautiful sashimi.
Omi-kabura mizore
Course six was red mullet and kinome. The fish was grilled with the sansho leaf which appeared in the soup above giving small hits of citrus against the smoky grilled flavour of the fish. Some pickled turnip, dusted with a little crushed sansho pepper, gave a slightly fiery heat to each crunchy and refreshing mouthful. I liked this dish, but I found some of the fish a little dry.
Sashimi (L-R): Razor Clam, King Salmon, Lobster, Chu-toro (medium fatty tuna), Black Kingfish
Course 7 was Snow Crab's Hirosu which was a bouncy snow crab cake sitting in an earthy dashi-based broth. The crunchy exterior of the cake yielded to an incredibly light and fluffy interior of crab meat and various vegetables. Perched on top of the cake were two grilled green peppers, with a similar flavour to Spanish padron peppers. The best way to eat this dish was to simply pick it up with your chopsticks and bite into it letting the contents of the crab cake mix with the broth.
Grilled red mullet and kinome
After that rich course, the chef changed gears a little and served Wagyu Tataki Mitsuba Maki with a garlic ponzu sauce. Three small wagyu strips are quickly dunked, shabu-shabu style, before being wrapped around the mitsuba green chive. This was an unexpectedly refreshing dish with the vinegar dressing and hidden seaweed. Some additional texture came from a few small balls of puffed rice. Delicious.
Snow crab's hirosu
The nigiri course was actually three courses covering fish, shellfish, and a steamed seasonal special. O-toro, horse mackerel (with ginger and spring onion) and seabass (with a small drop of sour plum sauce) were in the first round of nigiri. Again, the house-made soy made an appearance with a brush to dab just a small amount onto the fish. Some pickled ginger for freshness was also served.
Nigiri: O-toro, Horse Mackerel, Seabass
With the shellfish nigiri course, more luxe ingredients made an appearance. A sweet scallop topped with a shaving of black truffle was an incredible mouthful that I didn't want to swallow for fear of losing the flavour.  The prawn and uni nigiri had that familiar tang from uni, tempered by the sweet prawn. The chef had quickly seared the uni dish with a blowtorch to tempt out the flavours. The final steamed seasonal special of conger eel came wrapped in a magnolia fig leaf. Unfolding the leaf revealed the eel encasing part of the sweet rice atop a few slices of ginger and some shiitake mushroom. I like Japanese preparations of eel and this was a joyful variation.
Nigiri: Scallop and black truffle (L), Prawn and Uni (R)
Tomewan followed the nigiri. This was another soup considered good for digestion and made from a lobster-based red-bean miso stock. Such clean pure flavours here made this an enjoyable penultimate course of the meal. Desserts were simple, but again beautifully executed, with a choice of ice-creams and sorbets served with a home-made cracker. We went with a smoky Japanese tea, a beautifully refreshing yuzu sorbet and the nutty and delicious black sesame.
Seasonal Steamed Sushi: conger eel
Throughout, we were looked after by the engaging Hitomi, who tended all of the tables that night. She took time to explain each dish and answer all our questions about the preparation. She seemed genuinely interested in what we thought of each dish taking great pride and pleasure at our reactions. Her knowledge of the food was matched by her familiarity with the sake menu.
Tomewan
I've not been a great lover of sake, but clearly that's because I've never tried the good stuff before. There is an optional sake pairing with the kaiseki menu, but we chose to go off-piste and try just two varieties. The most impressive was from the Yamagata region called Gazanryu junmai daiginjo. I'm no expert, but the nose of this sake was incredibly floral and the flavour was long and smooth. We drank a few fruity cocktails to begin with, including the plum wine and a refreshing white peach concoction.
Desserts (L-R): Smoky Japanese tea, yuzu sorbet, black sesame
I've rarely eaten such an exciting meal as at The Shiori. It might sound odd to describe food as exciting, but after finishing each delicious morsel, we were genuinely looking forward to the surprise of the next course. I put it down to the number of new flavour combinations I experienced and that reflects the skill of the chef. The attention to detail in areas such as the room, (all black lacquered and designed by Hitomi) and the dishes on which the food was presented, all contributed to the experience. The full kaiseki menu at £105 may sound like a lot of money, but we ate a lot of food and clearly loved it all.

Oh, and if you went to Sushi of Shiori you might be interested to know that the location should re-open this year but as a showcase for Japanese pottery which will be imported from various locations in Japan.Clearly this is another passion of the proprietors.


The Shiori on Urbanspoon Square Meal

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