Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mmmmm... edokko!

I had my first raw prawn yesterday. It was a mouthful of slightly strangely sweet, smooth silkiness. It was part of a platter of assorted sashimi at Edokko, a small Japanese restaurant tucked away on Red Lion Street, in a quiet corner of Holborn, central London.

I liked the place as soon as I walked in. Or in fact sooner, because the two glowing scarlet lanterns hanging outside reminded me happily of paintings from childhood books. Inside, through a curtain and a door, there's little wooden booths, bar seating round a refridgerated cabinet full of fresh fish, pretty blue and white cushions, warm lighting from the paper lanterns and a smiling waitress ready to greet you (or at least there was when we went).Sitting at the bar (this was the only place we could reserve; the tables evidently go early, although both options are good) we started with the aforementioned sashimi, prepared in front of us by a silent, silver haired chef. The plate, and everything we saw emerge from his deft hands, was an aesthetic triumph - a magnificent sculpture of immaculate looking chunks of carved fish flesh, grated radish and elegant garnish.I'm no sashimi expert, so I can't place this in any grand scheme or rate it against any recognisable arbiters. But to this sashimi virgin, it was superb. We had tuna, salmon, sea bream, sea bass and the aforementioned prawns. The tuna in particular had a subtle meaty flavour that I enjoyed, but all of it was delicious - a soft, pure kind of texture and delicate taste, that I found left me with a strange contented satisfaction quite unlike the 'full' feeling I'm used to getting on eating more earthy foods. The prawn was a revelation.

We followed the sashimi with a mixed tempura plate – slices of aubergine, courgette, sweet potato, and some gigantic prawns, encased in a light batter. A more filling dish than the sashimi, it was tasty and fun biting in to each bubble-cased package, but not as revelatory as our first course.

I was smitten again with the dessert – but more for my eye than my mouth. The green tea ice cream which accompanied its red bean and vanilla cousins, was the most gorgeous shade of green. It tasted pretty cute too – just like green tea. The red bean though was a little bland, and the vanilla no more than a mediocre vanilla ice cream.

B was intrigued by a strange fruit squashing ritual going on to our left as we finished dessert, so we enquired of the waitress what she was making. It was Shochu – a kind of Japanese spirit, which was being served for some Japanese businessmen behind us with a preserved plum and some warm water. So, interest piqued, we tried one too. I liked the big red floating sun in the glass, and the liquid itself was smooth and subtly flavoured, except when you get to the dregs, and all the salt of the plum surprises you. With lemon – as we tried it afterwards – it was refreshing and clean. We started, by the way, with a small pitcher of warm sake – I love warm sake (although apparently the warm stuff is common and you should drink the quality stuff cold). Then we cut through the grease of the tempura batter with a couple of dry asahi beers – both perfect complements to their accompanying courses.

As we left, the table of Japanese businessmen (the clientele is predominately Japanese – a good recommendation) were being served a fourth or fifth round of shochu and appearing in increasingly good spirits. My spirits were in good form too – full of the delights of raw prawns, warm wooden d├ęcor, pickled plum drinks, beautifully hued ice cream and the unfaultable service. In fact, as B commented, the only thing we could fault edokko on was playing Kenny G. An offence, for sure, but given the rest, one we can forgive them for.