Friday, 27 November 2015

Uchi Hackney, Clarence Road, Clapton

I've not been blown away by many of the new openings in Clapton recently. Some seem to shove their 'concept' down your throat a bit too much, showing off the chefiness and forgetting that there are only so many people who won't baulk at pretentious, try hard menus. Anyway. I'm not here to rant; I'm here to sing the praises of Uchi, which is one of the better new openings in Clapton this year.

Uchi specialises in sushi and sits neatly on the same road as Tonkotsu, which specialises in ramen, and Sho Foo Doh at Pacific Social Club, which specialises in okonomiyaki - Japanese pancakes. Three specialist Japanese restaurants on a road where four years ago the riots blazed.

Uchi's opening has been gradual and tantalising. It started with them launching a bicycle sushi delivery service. They deliver anywhere in the Hackney borough (to the envy of my friends just outside the borough boundaries), and it's a pretty neat thing having getting nice sushi delivered on a bike. For delivery you can order from a selection of white rice sushi, sashimi and nigri and black rice vegetarian sushi options.

The restaurant itself opened in early September, and was worth the wait. They've done it out beautifully in a low key, but high quality Japanese style. It's all white and bright, with lovely bleached, untreated floorboards (my friend says to me "wait til customers start spilling soy sauce on it", low tables and bars that run along the walls, all with low wooden stools. There is a nice bar, with Japanese spirits behind it, nice little brass-plated ceiling lights, and all the staff are wearing denim aprons. 

It's pretty busy on the cold Saturday night we visit, and the crowd seems chiefly locals. People swing by over the course of the evening to pick up sushi orders, and I spy the manager dash onto his bicycle at least three times to do deliveries - the delivery cyclist has called in sick that evening.

The menu is simple, with all emphasis on the sushi and snacky sides. There is a short selection of black rice vegetarian sushi rolls and white rice meat and fish rolls, as well as nigiri and sashimi. The take away/delivery menu has a slightly wider selection than the restaurant menu, but you can order any favourites from the delivery menu if you can remember them.

I rate the sushi as good by London standards. It's not the snazziest or the most manicured - this isn't about obscure, expensive fish, but well-made, hand-rolled goodies with a few flourishes here and there. We enjoy a roll of soft shell crab, which is fried in tempura, and rolled up with avocado, spring onion and maybe some mayonnaise.

We order a salmon and avocado roll off the delivery menu. It's not the inside out roll I loved when I first had a delivery, way back in May, but the salmon is fresh and the classic combination doesn't tire.

We also order haloumi, sweet potato and carrot black rice sushi, which is a lovely combination of nutty, crunchy and sweetly salty.

A black seaweed salad with lightly pickled carrots and thins of deep fried tofu is full of interesting umami tastes, and a surprisingly crunchy texture.

The warm dishes include skewers of pork belly, chicken and miso aubergine, and a few fried dishes - kara-age chicken, gyoza and tempura vegetables. The karaage chicken is succulent and juicy, with good flavour. Its coating is crisp and not claggy, and we polish up every last bit. The tempura veg, too, are nicely done, and includes king oyster mushrooms, sweet potato, aubergine, peppers.

The prices are just fair for the quality and quantity. This is no bargain night out, but neither is it taking the biscuit compared to other mid-range Japanese restaurants.

A few creases still need ironing out - the frying happens too close to the restaurant (can leave you a bit greasy), service could be a little more attentive (drink re-ups, clearing empties), a dish is forgotten from the order.

But this is decent sushi in a part of town where you don't find much of it, at a time when Japanese food is having a bit of a moment. With a decent offer to pescetarians, carnivores, vegetarians, vegans and gluten intolerants, I suspect Uchi will do quite well serving Hackney. I'm already thinking about my next delivery!

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