No matter how much Japanese and Korean food i eat, I’ll never quite understand it completely. It really is an Alien world of food. Textures which keep surprising you, ingredients I’m sure you’re actually supposed to eat and flavours which can sometimes be astounding, both good and bad. Sushi and tempura are not one of my favourite things to eat, partly because it’s so difficult to separate the good places, from the bad. Part of my Japanese culinary enlightenment had led to dinner at Sushi Hiroba the other evening.Sushi Hiroba is nestled in among the many chains, and fast food restaurants on Kingsway offering a fusion of Japanese and Korean food for the busy Londoner, but also for those who fancy settling in for the night and making their way down to Hibiki after – the karaoke room, which i’d most probably get far too carried away with after a bottle of sake or two. The decor inside, rich lacquered dark wood, with booths centred around the conveyor built (much like Yo Sushi’s). The place has been here for some time and perhaps now may be a good time for some updating, parts of the dining room were looking a little tired.
The food, well we ate just about everything on the conveyor belt which passed us by. I love the idea of food passing your eyes every second, but unless you are a fast food chain (Yo Sushi) who has a constant stream of customers – it can be a hard task. Here the food was jam packed on to the belt, in such an abundance and not enough customers round it. I’m sure i kept encountering the same dishes which looked dryer and dryer every time they came around again. I couldn’t see any time stamps to indicate their shelf life.
We grabbed hold of the first thing to pass us by, and was possibly the best thing we ate here at Sushi Hiroba. Soft, juicy marinated eel perched on top of very well cooked sushi rice – something they know a thing or two about getting right. Sushi rice is the main part of a sushi (state the obvious) and so many places get it wrong. So many times I’ve encountered more stodgy and chewy examples, but not here. It was perfect.
Things continued quite nicely with this plate of fried tiger prawns, mayonnaise and Japanese brown sauce on a bed of rice and wrapped in seaweed. The prawn, although it did not have much flavour was nicely cooked and the batter had a nice crunch. The batter was more like something you’d see wrapped around your cod in the local chippy, it was quite thick and oily.
The soft shell crab roll, filled with just that, crab stick, avocado and cucumber, all rolled in fish roe. It’s then topped off with that mayonnaise and Japanese sauce medley. The first real problem with this dish was there was much more crab stick, than there was soft shell – of which i think mainly consisted of the ends of its claws. Meaning hardly any meat and mostly batter. Also far too much sauce on top, saturating the whole thing completely if you left it more than five minutes.
Sushi really is what Sushi Hiroba does best (hence the name), but the quality of ingredients needs some better sourcing. I had a couple of their hot dishes, such as the chicken katsu curry which wasn’t particularly memorable, with the chicken being overcooked. A neat pile of that well cooked rice, topped with the best prawn i had here, mayonnaise and sweet chili sauce. It was a delightful mouthful and one which we both enjoyed and managed to agree on a favourite between us.
Vegetable gyoza dumplings are cooked fresh to order and were actually very good examples. Light and golden with a beautiful crunch and lovely crispy ruptures from the deep fryer. The filling was fragrant, well flavoured and stuffed to the brim. Dipped in a little soy sauce these made for a very satisfying affair.
The prawn tempura may look good, but again the actual prawn was lacking in flavour and if you closed your eyes, you’d have never guessed what it was. The batter again was more like something from the local chippy and its accompanying tempura sauce lacked real depth. A cost of £5.25 for three prawns isn’t insanely priced, but it is for this kind of quality. The batter definitely needs some work, this is tempura like none i’ve had before.
Closing in on the end of our meal and the traditional dorayaki pancake made an appearance, which tastes pretty much as plain and boring as every other time i eat it. Ice cream which i presume is home made was really very good, the green tea flavour had that lovely bitterness and freshness to it. The mochi ice cream was outstanding, with a lovely glutinous outer shell.
Before leaving i managed to quickly inhale a small bottle of cold sake, which has to be just about one of my favourite tipples at the moment. As for the food here, well it was a mixed bag. Hot dishes certainly needed some work (of what we managed to try), sushi was mostly good but the real problem was the freshness of it all. I’m quite sure old sushi was straggling around on the conveyor as some of what i ate was on the dry side, with quality items, such as the prawns tasting bland and unrecognisable. Sushi Hiroba’s concept is a nice idea, and was at the time of dining highly recommended – maybe something slipped? With the current state of restaurants in London and high quality being demanded by Londoners, Sushi Hiroba will seriously need to step up their game and perform over all aspects of their menu, not just the sushi.