It’s deserted except for two porcelain-toothed Californians, one of each sex, sipping mineral water and peering at the menus. There’s a moody sort of mood, and an almost adolescent fixation with black décor: black wood, black bar, black uniforms. Look at that photo above. Doesn’t it look dark in there? Not Brazilian - or Japanese, for that matter. Pitch.
Sushinho opened a couple of weeks ago on what Lady Bracknell would call the unfashionable end of the King’s Road. Its USP of Japanese-Brazilian fusion is rather more U than most. (And rather U than me, you’re probably thinking.) But, while it may have sounded a bit odd, it wasn’t without promise. It actually turns out the pairing isn’t so weird: one moderately surprising fact for you is that Brazil contains the largest proportion of Japanese people outside their home country. What’s more, there’s a near-precedent for it in the phenomenally successful Peruvian-Japanese giant Nobu. Anyway, J is a hardy, adventurous sort – so in we troop one Saturday lunchtime.
Frankly, it’s more chichi bar than sushi bar. Friends of mine who enjoy the former – I prefer pubs, truthfully – have never told me they like the lights up, grimly illuminating the late-night revels. As it turns out, Sushinho would do a lot better to stick to its cocktails, abandoning this food nonsense altogether.
For nonsense it is. This is a wildly confusing menu, with no obvious starters or mains. The waitress is doing her level best to explain it, but she’s only been in the job a few days. It doesn’t seem like they’ve been swamped by customers, either, so her patter – and knowledge – need practice. Hey-ho. J wants an orange juice. Is it freshly squeezed?
‘Oh yes. Absolutely fresh.’
What he gets is an apparent glass of Sunny Delight, the pasteurised acid gloop most civilised people abandoned the moment they tasted Tropicana. Why the manky cartoned OJ? Because drinks come from behind the bar, and this is the ‘orange’ of a vodka and orange. (I’ve never tasted vodka and freshly squeezed. It’s probably a revelation, though not something to have habitually with the morning cornflakes.) We drink a couple of cocktails, but no wine.
Anything to take the edge off the food. That’s kabotcha pumpkin gyoza with truffle, there - although the ‘truffle’ is artificial truffle flavouring and is barely perceptible. The gyoza are limp, and wet with fat; they languish on that slick of orange looking like squashed flying saucer sweets. The pumpkin purée underneath is oversugared, like the pastey, carb-fest pumpkin pie of Thanksgiving dinner. Nine quid it costs, too, which is impressively greedy these days.
Here’s one of the specials, pork belly with feijoada bean purée. The pork is about as tender as a mosh pit; and there’s mango chutney on top, for some reason. The bean paste underneath is rich, thick, cloying, black: everything, in fact, you wouldn’t want to have with stolid, fatty meat from a pig’s tummy. This is a fundamentally misconceived dish. But it is as nothing to what follows.
Bottom right on this plate is ‘tuna foie gras’. (Precisely where Japan and Brazil are supposed to meet here is unclear.) It’s horrible. Tuna nigiri is everything foie gras is not: cold, clean, firm, fishy and raw, and its partnership with the liver is as successful as an arranged marriage between Germaine Greer and Abu Hamza. We also have – in the sense of on our plates, rather than in our stomachs – some salmon topped with salmon roe: the vilest, fattiest, farmedest salmon you could imagine, squelching with grease, under tasteless little hills of roe and cold clumps of rice.
This is as depressing as food gets. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. Yo! Sushi produces better rice and fish, while the Brazilian ingredients are curiously underpowered. More, the black mood here is as far from the life and colour of Brazil as it’s possible to be: not that it’s especially Japanese, either. It’s obvious we aren’t really enjoying ourselves, and the manager, Paul McKenna, comes over for a chat. He’s a charming, engaging Irishman: passionate about the Sushinho project, a man who’s been in catering his whole life and, still in his 20s, is already running a restaurant. It’s just a shame that this should be that place. ‘I have a vision of it being just like South America here,’ he says. ‘Friendly and alive, with people moving between tables, a real buzzy feel.’
A fine ambition, but I just can’t see it. My advice to him: keep the drinks, ditch the food. Or better yet - and this applies to you as well - go elsewhere.
Sushinho, 312 King’s Road, Chelsea, London SW3
Tel: +44 (0)20 7349 7496
See on the TFYS Map
Lunch for two, including drinks and service, costs £61.16.