Five years BC (Before Cubé), the extraordinary popularity of Sushi Tetsu in Clerkenwell demonstrated that London’s love affair with Japanese fine dining wasn’t on the wane in 2012; it just needed a new vehicle for its energies. Tetsu was hardly the first tiny and exclusive sushi joint in London, but it had that unbeatable double-punch of impossibly oversubscribed and loved by the critics, and there’s nothing Londoners like more than to grab a seat somewhere their friends couldn’t get into.
You can’t exactly blame Tetsu for being insanely oversubscribed – they hardly invited the kind of press attention chucked their way – but it is a shame (for them and us) that it seems to drag so much of the limelight away from other, in our opinion, equally accomplished sushi bars. The omakase at Kikuchi, for example, is just as wonderful a way of spending an evening, and if you’re a hedge-fund manager or recent lottery winner, you may want to consider Araki as well. We’ve heard it’s lovely.
And now, settling quite comfortably into the Premier League of sushi restaurants in London, is Cubé. Like so many top sushi joints, it’s a small but beautiful little space – the Japanese are excellent interior designers – and, also like so many top sushi joints, the best seats are at the bar, under the nose of the chef, where you can see the extraordinary skill that goes into the menu.
But before the main event, we thought we’d better sample a few choice items from the rest of the menu. Chicken kara-age was excellent – piping hot with a nice bubbly crust, not too thick, and containing good quality dark chicken meat.
Capelin – a kind of small sardine-type fish that roll ashore in huge numbers for spawning at certain times of the year – were ordered, if we’re perfectly honest, mainly because we’d never seen them on a menu before. However, they were very interesting – served cold and whole with some slices of pickled veg on top, they were similar to a pickled sardine. We weren’t sure whether you were supposed to eat the head or not, so left it. You can make your own decision on that front.
From the ‘Hot Tapas’ section (I wish they’d just say ‘small plates’), we also tried ox tongue ‘tacos’ – chopped tongue, moist and full of beefy flavour, nestled in baby gem leaves for scooping up and hoisting into our faces. These, too, were well worth the effort – especially when treated to the chilli sauce they come with.
Finally, it was time for the sushi. We had been watching chef Osamu Mizuno painstakingly prepare beautiful steaks of otoro, salmon, mackerel and yellowtail as we tucked into the previous courses, growing increasingly excited about what was to come. And when that board of nine exquisite morsels of food were laid before us, they did not disappoint.
None were any less than lovely, but particular mention should be made of the yellowtail, which had a fantastic full flavour; squid, which had none of the chewiness of lesser examples and a smooth, silky texture; and of course the fatty tuna otoro, marbled and pink like ocean-going wagyu. The rice beneath, fluffy and loose, held each slice of seafood firmly and with pride. There are very few restaurants anywhere in town that can make nigiri at this level, we’re sure of it.
So welcome to London, Cubé, and we wish you every success. Intimate, friendly (the staff are all lovely, but spending an evening in the company of charming, knowledgeable Osamu Mizuno is a true delight) and authentic, Cubé may not be reinventing any Japanese restaurant wheels, but will easily captivate anyone with even a passing interest in the sushi master’s art. There’s one more fantastic place to eat Japanese in London, and for that, we should all be very happy indeed.
Have a look at our video tour of Cubé.
JOL was invited to review Cubé on a complimentary basis. We retain full editorial control.