Marie Claire's Caroline Garland heads to Portobello Road for an extraordinary afternoon lunch
Portobello Road’s Ukai sushi restaurant was never going to the standard minimalist Japanese space that usually surrounds you while dining on delicately sliced sashimi. The restaurant used to be a pub and still has that informal edge, pushing the door open we were greeted by a three piece soulful jazz band playing classic house, vocals covering the chitter chat of diners, oooh yes I like that.
The atmosphere here is relaxed, less of a formal restaurant, it feels more sociable than that with friendly attentive staff on hand to recommend or explain dishes. Today was all about healthy living (the night before not so much) so ordered an orange and carrot juice – freshly blended and completely perfect for our Japanese feast. After much deliberation we decided to start with the seabass ceviche in a spicy citrus sauce – perfectly pitched against the seaweed salad of wakame seaweed, nori, edamame beans, cucumber and ponzu with it’s rich deeper flavour and contrasting textures.
We then decided to go for a tapas approach and order a few dishes to share, get the most out of the menu – soft shell crab tempura with jalapeno mayo, mango and papaya salad with carrot, coriander, mint, peanut and red nahm jim sauce, tuna tataki – seared tuna with yuzo ponzu (lemony soy type sauce), a tuna and salmon platter of mixed sushi – sashimi/nigiri/hosomaki and the sashimi rose salad of seabass, tuna and baby spinach.
To celebrate this beyond ridiculously indulgent lunch I ordered a Kyoto Style Mojito – mango fused rum, yuzu, homemade ginger lime syrup, shiso leaves and ginger beer – I mean, could 1:30pm on a Saturday be any better?? Actually yes as we still had to choose desert and had to go for the Mochi selection, sweet Japanese ricecakes filled with ice-cream, pretty in pastel colours – yuzu/raspberry/vanilla and luckily melted in the mouth, no eating required.
I’ve got to hand it to Ukai everything was as it should be, fresh, perfectly sized and arranged on the plate with delicate precision. The fish arriving fresh that morning and head chef Alessandro Verros (trained at Roka) skillfully cutting everything into shape. We sadly didn’t try any of the hot dishes but what a good excuse to head back now that winter is upon us, I’m absolutely certain we’ll be dining there again – thank you Ukai an unexpected delight.
Ukai 240 Portobello Road W11 1LL
Tel: 020 7792 2444
Nearest tube: Ladbroke Grove
Mon – Thurs: 12:00 to 12:00
Fri – Sat: 12:00 – 1:00
Sun: 12:00 – 12:00