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Grab Yo'self A Plate Mate!
Member Name: Hishyeness
Date: 04/10/09, updated on 04/10/09 (152 review reads)
Advantages: Quick and healthy food. Great for lunch or dinner on the fly.
Disadvantages: A bit of the expensive side.
Going for Sushi is a real treat for me, mainly because my wife abhors the stuff, so the likelihood of going for a Japanese on one of our rare nights out is pretty slim. I have all the gubbins needed to make it at home, but whenever I get the chance, I always try and grab lunch at one of London's many sushi bars.
My favourite - mainly because of their many locations, simple layout and quick access to food - is Yo! Sushi. I have tried their branches at Victoria and Paddington Stations, County Hall, and St Paul's Churchyard and found them to be fairly consistent in quality, service and layout, as such, this review relates to the chain in general, rather than a specific branch.
Before "conveyor belt" sushi became popular in the UK, aficionados of this Japanese staple had to make do with frightfully priced, formal sit-down restaurants which were not really conducive to a quick lunch. You could get decent sushi from small sushi bars which specialised in doing bento boxes and sushi selections for the lunchtime City crowd, but if you wanted something quick, informal but not take-away, you were not exactly spoilt for choice.
The gap in the market was filled by the likes of Itsu, Moshi Moshi Sushi and, more pertinently, Yo! - founded by British entrepreneur Simon Woodroffe (one of the original Dragon's on BBC2's Dragon's Den) in 1998. It was by no means the first or the best - but it is now certainly the biggest and most recognised chain of kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi bars, centred mainly in and around London. For a full run down of their many branches, check out their detailed web site (www.yosushi.com).
The main feature of these restaurants is, unsurprisingly, the conveyor belt that snakes its way around a central preparation area. Stools and booths are situated along the belt and you simply watch the food go by and take what you fancy. Plates are colour-coded, with a corresponding price chart indicating the cost of each dish.
These range from cheap end lime green plates (£1.70 - typically basic rice and seaweed (maki) rolls filled with vegetables like cucumber and red pepper) to the mid-range purple (£2.70 - /£3.20) and the most expensive silver plate (£5.00 - such as assorted sashimi - slices of fresh raw fish)
A menu is provided which describes what you can find "on the belt" and what you can ask to be specially prepared and freshly cooked to order. Water fountains (with "charged for" sparkling or still mineral water) are placed at intervals along the counter, as well as pots of wasabi (hot green Japanese horseradish), a bottle of Kikkoman dark soy sauce, gari (pinkish ginger pickle), napkins, chopsticks and small dishes to pour the soy and accompaniments into.
The atmosphere is very informal. You can wait to be seated, but if staff look busy, feel free to find room and sit down where you fancy. At busy times, it can get a bit hectic and you may have to wait for space to be cleared for you, but staff are generally quite efficient at doing this, so waiting times (in all but exceptionally busy periods) tend to be minimal. You will be asked if you are a Yo! novice, and if so, the system is explained to you.
Once you get comfortable, you can get stuck in straight away. I tend to order green tea with my meal which is "bottomless" and is great value at around £1.25. The other two unlimited items are the fountain water (£1) and the excellent miso soup (£1.75).
You order the special dishes by pressing a red button in front of you, which - much like a call button on an aircraft - summons the waiting staff. Service tends to be quick, efficient and attentive - you don't have a dedicated staff member serving you - whoever is in the neighbourhood when you "call" will see to your needs. If an item described as "on the belt" is absent from the conveyor, you can also ask for it to be made for you.
I love salmon and tuna sashimi but I like it to be fresh sliced, so will often order it as I sit down even if there is some on the belt. One small criticism is that staff have the habit of walking round the conveyor and picking one up off the belt, so you need to be very specific if you want it super-fresh. Each of the dishes has a "use-by" time on them in any case, to ensure they don't stay on the conveyor too long.
Yo! provide a very wide range of dishes that cover a broad spectrum of Japanese cooking. On the "raw" side, these include sushi (rice topped with slices of fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and squid), nori rolls (rice and a fish or vegetable filling placed in a thin sheet of dried seaweed, rolled and then cut into pieces), California rolls ("inside out" nori rolls with the rice on the outside, if that makes sense) and fresh made hand rolls, where the ingredients are loosely placed inside a seaweed cone.
Cooked foods include teriyaki chicken and beef, breaded and deep fried prawns, various rice and noodle dishes, teppanyaki and tempura (vegetables deep fried in a light batter). Desserts are a little on the thin side, with fresh fruit and sweet rice cakes the main options on the conveyor.
When you are finished, you press the call button and a staff member will come around and tot up your bill based on the coloured plates of the food you have consumed. You then take the bit of paper to the cashier where you pay for the meal - all major credit cards (including AMEX) are accepted. No service charge is added and tipping is optional, with a "tip jar" available by the till. My meals usually average between £12 and £18 depending on how greedy I am feeling, but that's mainly because I enjoy the more high end stuff. It's easy enough to get by and have a decent meal for under a tenner, but being frank, if you are looking for cheap eats, this is probably the wrong place.
Yo! Sushi is consistently good at what it does and is worth trying for the experience of kaiten sushi if nothing else. It's quick and convenient with a wide variety of fresh and cooked food to suit all palates, and in the main, a very healthy way to eat. It's a perfect introduction to Japanese food, especially for the wary or less than adventurous, as you can start with some familiar dishes like Teriyaki chicken or noodle dishes, and work up the courage to try some sushi. Go on, give it a go, Yo know you want to!
© Hishyeness 2009
Summary: Sushi for beginners...