Service was hot, but food at Sushi 101 left me cold

PUBLISHED: 10:56 13 May 2008 | UPDATED: 15:04 07 September 2010

BY VICTORIA PREVER Who exactly goes on holiday to Muswell Hill? I find it hard to believe that there are enough visitors to N10 to fill the hotels that line Queens Avenue, but clearly there s a demand for rooms to rent. I dragged Grumpy to the Raglan Hotel this week. Not in

Who exactly goes on holiday to Muswell Hill? I find it hard to believe that there are enough visitors to N10 to fill the hotels that line Queens Avenue, but clearly there's a demand for rooms to rent.

I dragged Grumpy to the Raglan Hotel this week. Not in an attempt to pep up our marital life, but so he could help me try out its new restaurant. I had wrongly assumed the longer standing Flutes restaurant had been replaced with this newcomer, but no, the heavy tourist traffic at the Raglan has clearly allowed them to add a second dining venue to the hotel.

The black and white modern-styled sushi bar and restaurant sits across the hotel lobby from Flutes. When we arrived just before 8pm on a Monday evening, it was empty. There are several shiny black tables with white leather banquette seats on the wall side and square white leather pouffes on the other. As neither of us fancied sitting without back support, we chose to sit next to each other facing into the room.

Grumpy - Captain Cantankerous after too long spent trying to park - had a full-length moan at the lack of comfortable chairs.

The room (reminiscent of B&Q's designer collections) is all shiny surfaces, slidy doors and bright lights. Our bench seat was under a row of spotlights - most unforgiving. Grumpy's mood wasn't improved by the Best of Elton John oozing out of the speakers. This was followed by a selection of KTel favourites - musical torture. The best sushi in the world isn't going to distract me from Nutbush City Limits.

The entire menu is available for takeaway or delivery to a wide range of postcodes. At least takeaway avoids the muzak. There are all the usual sushi suspects - a range of nigiri (sushi topped rice ovals), sashimi (just the fish) and maki rolls - rice rolled around sushi. Within the sushi menu, there's also a section called the 101 Collection of slightly bizarre combinations rolled in sushi rice.

These are divided into classic, tempura, smoked salmon and exclusive collections. These are all a bit culturally dazed and confused - a deluded attempt to marry traditional Japanese cuisine with New York deli.

There's smoked salmon, avocado and cream cheese, goats cheese and sundried tomatoes and chicken escalope, avocado and Japanese mayonnaise. I'm not sure whether they're trying to be avant-garde or just to pander to the tastes of north-west London. Either way, it's fusion gone kamikaze.

There is also a range of hot dishes - tempura, teriyaki and some other random dishes, including yakitori chicken, baby lamb cutlets and various seafood dishes.

We were, at the time, the only guests in the restaurant so our food didn't take long. As is usual in today's Asian fusion-style restaurants, dishes arrived in no particular order. Salmon and tuna nigiri were attractive, fresh and wolfed down by my husband. An omelette-topped nigiri was also tasty.

Next to arrive - on attractive long white hot plates - were sea bass tempura, salmon teriyaki and roasted aubergine in miso. The tempura was light, crisp and perfectly cooked with a soy-based dipping sauce into which we were advised to tip the grated daikon (white radish) and sliced spring onions from the seabass plate. We would cheerfully have eaten that one again... immediately.

The salmon teriyaki was also excellent. The salmon was just-cooked and moist and the teriyaki sauce sweetly shiny. It was also gone in minutes. The aubergine - a favourite dish of mine - was OK, but not the best I've had. Eating it was like playing a child's party game. How is anyone going to use chopsticks to eat half an aubergine covered in sticky miso?

Spinach with sesame seed dressing was a sludgy, dome-shaped mound of moulded spinach dressed in a sweet sesame sauce. It was stone cold, soggy and perhaps not to everyone's taste. I enjoyed it. The sushi from the Smoked Salmon Collection was next up. An ungainly fat sausage of six oversized slices, thickly clad in unattractive (and over salty) smoked salmon and stuffed with avocado and cream cheese. Yeuch. One slice was sufficient for both of us to wholeheartedly reject the whole US-Japanese alliance thing.

We were mildly concerned for the middle-aged Japanese chef, who walked past our table at least ten times during our meal. Did he have some sort of bladder issue? It was only when we left that I guessed that he was preparing cold food at an open counter at the end of the bar and the hot food in the kitchen they must share with Flutes. If I'm right, I have to applaud him for doing such a good job while commuting between two kitchens - not easy.

I'd forgotten about the yakitori chicken by the time it arrived, and perhaps the chef had too, because unlike the perfectly cooked fish, it was a little overdone. The dark sauce it was coated in was fine though. Feeling the need to fill a small gap, Grumpy ordered a plate of tempura vegetables, which were bland.

Too full for the questionably matched mango tempura with green tea ice cream and chocolate sauce, or the interesting sounding lemongrass creme brulee, I tried a mixture of green apple and elderflower sorbets. Both were excellent. When they cranked up Mungo Jerry's In the Summertime we knew it was definitely time to leave.

Sushi 101 is trying hard and I wish them luck. Service was friendly - particularly from the charming hostess - and efficient. Much of the food is more than passable, and the mixture of locals and hotel guests who arrived during our time there seemed to be enjoying themselves. A bit of substance over style might help - with proper chairs and less of the avant-garde sushi.

Their location might be their biggest problem. I'm just not sure they've landed in the right spot.

Sushi 101, Raglan Hotel, 8-10 Queens Avenue, N10.

Telephone: 020-8883 6274

www.sushi101.co.uk

Food: two stars

Service: four stars

Opening hours: Mondays to Sundays noon to 10.30pm.

Takeaway and delivery: Mondays to Sundays 11am-10.30pm.

Cost: £48.94, including service, no wine.

For one-to-one coaching

or cooking parties with a qualified chef, email lessons@victoriaprever.com


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