Booking London’s Toughest Table
Sushi Tetsu is considered the UK’s hardest restaurant to book. But what makes getting a table here so damn hard? Well for starters, this little unassuming sushi bar has only 7 seats with just 2 seatings per night. Open 5 days a week, that’s 70 covers a week in a city of almost 9 million people! But what really makes these scarce seats so coveted is the intimate dining experience with ex-Nobu sushi master Toru Takahashi, who prepares everything himself.
To book a table you have to call – they don’t take bookings by email – on a Monday, during a 3-hour booking window, for bookings the following week.
Every Monday the phone line opens from 11 am to 2 pm, by which point they will have sold out for that week. This way everyone has a fair shot, however, the line gets so busy that most callers never get through. Challenge accepted.
On Monday 30th July at 10:30 am, myself and 3 others picked up our phones and called Sushi Tetsu. It rang twice and went straight to voicemail. We tried again a few times, same thing. Then at 10:50, the line became engaged, as expected. 10:55, still engaged.
Then at 10:58, I had an idea. I opened the date and time preferences on my Mac and watched the seconds hand tick towards 11:00. At exactly 11:00:01, I pressed the dial again, and Sushi Tetsu answered.
Confirming the Booking
I honestly didn’t think it would happen. My husband called 56 times and never got through. My friends called around 30 times each. I called around 16 and couldn’t believe my luck when I was the first caller! Mission accomplished.
However, the call is just half the process. In order to confirm your booking, you first receive a confirmation email with a page and a half of 9 detailed rules, their cancellation policy and further instructions.
According to the rules, customers who book successfully will not be able to book again in the same month. They also ask not to wear perfume, as it will interfere with the delicate smells of the sushi; and no cameras or photographs, except smartphone photographs of your plate.
Deposits are non-refundable and taken the day before your booking by telephone. However, miss their call and you miss your booking. If this happens, the availability is tweeted that afternoon, with no shortage of people waiting to snap it up.
What We Ate
We were given the following three options and asked to choose ahead of our booking. Sushi Tetsu recommends the chef’s choice omakase for open-minded customers willing to give anything a go. For more choosy eaters, there is the a la carte option.
#1. Omakase £96/pp (sushi + sashimi, approx. 2 hours service)
#2. Sushi Omakase £96/pp (sushi only, approx. 2 hours service)
#3. A La Carte (minimum order £65 excluding drinks )
We chose option #1 sushi and sashimi omakase, which consists of 3 sashimi plates, 7 pieces of nigiri, 1 temaki and 1 sweet omelette.
Toru kicked us off with a sashimi plate of sea bass, turbot, and bigeye bream with ponzu sauce and spring onions. Each morsel so fresh and delicately prepared.
The next dish was a summer dish of squid noodles in cold bonito broth. I’m normally a bit skeptical of raw squid, but this was one of my favourite courses! The squid was soft and delicious but the broth was fantastic, rich in umami, with fine slices of nori full of flavour.
Next, we savoured a plate of salmon, sea bream and medium fatty tuna sashimi topped with fresh wasabi, grated on sharkskin.
Real fresh wasabi isn’t widely used in the west because it’s rather complicated to cultivate and very expensive! A bit like truffles, the flavour and heat also disappear very quickly. However, Toru explained that he sources his wasabi from a small farm in the UK that only recently started growing the root. I highly appreciated the effort, as it is a far better compliment to the subtle flavours of sashimi than the nostril-busting horseradish.
The next plate was diced horse mackerel with shiso and yuzu that disappeared in seconds.
Another standout dish was the seafood sashimi bowl, combining seared squid, snow crab, sweet prawn, scallop, clam and razor clam together, served alongside a miso sauce for dipping. I am a little obsessed with the snow crab and sweet prawn sushi these days so this was a fantastic combination.
Last but not least, the final sashimi dish was a torched horse mackerel with freshly grated radish.
1. Tuna – Maguro
2. Yellowtail – Hamachi
3. Sea bream – Tai, seasoned with soy and flakes of yuzu
4. Prawn – Ebi
5. Salmon – Sake with ponzu and chives
6. Fatty tuna – Otoro, blowtorched
7. Salmon roe – Ikura gunkan
Finally, Toru made his signature three-way tuna sushi temaki, wrapped in the highest-quality imported Japanese nori, followed by a Japanese omelette.
Best Japanese Sushi in London?
Sushi Tetsu is definitely among the very best authentic Japanese sushi bars in London. Of all the places I’ve been so far, this is the closest to feeling like you’re actually in Japan. The sake selection was excellent and the sushi top-class. I really enjoyed the sashimi appetizer courses, while each bite of nigiri was perfection.
I would love to come back again in a year or so to see what Toru’s doing then, as I believe his skill and style will continue to evolve as he reaches for those Michelin stars. That’s not a criticism, but an acknowledgment of the Japanese ethos of constant improvement. When I asked Toru how many years it took him to master his rice, for example, his reply was simply that every day he is learning.
Although some of the rules and instructions during the booking process are stating the obvious, they are only meant to help avoid misunderstandings. Namely, that Sushi Tetsu is a sushi bar, serving fish and seafood sushi, the Japanese way. There are no tempura or dragon rolls here and no vegetarian option.
The distinction between sushi bar and restaurant is actually really important for comparisons. According to the Michelin guide, the best sushi bar in London is the Araki with 3 Michelin stars and a £300 price tag to boot. But for £96, I believe Sushi Tetsu is the best sushi bar in London at that price.
Of course, filling your belly with omakase sushi is expensive. Sometimes it helps to combine with some yakitori or other Japanese mains. For Japanese restaurants in London that also do stellar sushi, my top two recommendations are Kiku in Mayfair for traditional sushi and Japanese fare and Yashin Ocean House, probably the most inventive Japanese restaurant in the city.
Sushi Tetsu, 12 Jerusalem Passage, Clerkenwell, EC1V 4JP
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