After having participated in a wine and sushi pairing event at Tsuru I was sufficiently impressed to ask Emma Reynolds, the owner, if I could come and work in the kitchen. On April Fools day.
Tsuru opened 18 months ago with Emma's partners Ken Yamada and Jon Zimern. They started out with a stall on Broadway market, spending their Friday nights rolling out sushi.
I'm introduced to Raja, a Sri Lankan Sushi master. He worked for six years at Yo Sushi and six years at Itsu.
First I'm given a lesson in sushi rolls, maki. Cover your bamboo mat with clingfilm. This means that little bits of rice don't get stuck between the bamboo sticks. Also have a bowl of water with cut lemons in front of you. Dip your hands in regularly, this way rice does not stick to your hands. Raja showed me an inside out sushi roll with flying fish egg roe.
For maki you need a 12g slice of fish and 12g of rice
Lay out the sheets. Prepare a bowl of water with lemons for dipping your hands.
Press the rice to the edge of the nori sheet, cover with toasted sesame seeds.
Then flip it over carefully, laying your filling, avocado, Japanese mayonnaise, fish ect on the other side.
Only Raja and one other cook can do the Nigiri correctly, Raja explains...
"most places, the rice is too packed in, too dense. They do it with machines but you have to do it by hand. It's a subtle thing"Taking the rice with 3 fingers you make a soft rectangle (do not crush the rice together), smear it with wasabi. Then you cover the rice rectangle with the fish, moulding it lightly with your forefinger into the shape of a rectangle, flipping it over so that the rice is on top.
Raja dextrously shows me how. I do one. It's not too bad I think. But he subtly shoves it to the side.
"Aren't you serving my one to the customers then?" I laugh.
I was shown how to make a California handroll 'Tomaki'. The 17 different types of handroll are made to order as customers come in, otherwise it goes soggy.
Below are pictured steps 1-5 of how to make a handroll, you will need:
15g of rice
A slice of avocado
7g of roe
Tsuru makes everything from scratch. Miso soup and rice vinegar is made in-house daily. The vinegar, made with Kombu seaweed, salt, rice vinegar and sugar, is stunningly good. It's a light colour because it is not, as in so many places, over-boiled. I'd buy it by the bottle.
The rice is not cheap, only the best, Akita Komachi, is used for the sushi. Tsuru won't compromise on the quality of ingredients. As a result, to keep their prices competitive, their mark-up on food and drink is very low.
Staff come in at 8am every morning and put on the rice then kept covered with a wet towel. The tiger prawns are boiled with salt water. The rolls with fresh spider crab are unusual because most places use artificial crab (which I have heard is made with nylon). The tuna in the rolls is not tinned, it is fresh tuna salad with chives and Japanese mayonnaise which has a specific taste.
New sushi are invented every week. I tried the latest invention 'topiko' with wasabi covered egg roe. Very interesting, you could taste the wasabi but it wasn't too strong.
The stock for the curries is also fresh, not powdered.
I was not too crazy about the Katsu vegetarian curry but that was because it reminded me of Northern fish and chip shops, with the curry gravy over chips, a similar soggy/crispy combo which as a Southerner I do not feel comfortable with. But that's just my own personal taste.
I ate something called a Katsu sandwich, the veggie version which is sweet potato, mushroom and aubergine fried in Japanese 'panko' breadcrumbs, plus tonkatsu sauce, mustard mayonnaise and shredded spring cabbage. Surrounding it is the softest white bread, like a much lighter version of Mothers Pride. This sandwich is perfect hangover food. In Japan it's what they do with leftovers. Definitely recommend this.