Features Editor Tracy Ramsden tries her hand at making sushi with the experts at Sushisamba. Welcome to the new foodie masterclass.
A confession: I don’t cook. I don’t bake. I don’t know my Mary Berry from my Nigella. The kitchen most certainly isn’t my place. It’s just one of those ‘life skills’ that I never particularly took to. Truth is, however much I enjoy eating food, the preparation, planning, concocting part of it just never appealed to me. There are always 10 million other things I would rather be doing.
Needless to say, the prospect of eating out in a restaurant where it is my sole responsibility to prep and serve-up my own meal is met with some trepidation. This isn’t just any restaurant though. This is the hottest foodie masterclass of the moment. Unless you’ve been living beneath a small rock at the bottom of the sea, you’ll already know about London’s Sushisamba, occupying floors 38 and 39 of The Heron Tower in Bishopsgate.
Quickly joining the ranks of other sky-high dining stalwarts like Jason Atherton’s City Social at Tower 42, Paramount at Centrepoint and Oblix at The Shard, Sushisamba has become the late-night go-to for bespoke cocktails, a 24-hour laidback party vibe and undeniably good sushi. Until I rocked up, donning the chef’s gloves and tried to roll my own…
Marie Claire’s Tracy with her serious chef’s face on
First things first, there’s no actual cooking involved in sushi-making, obviously, which is handy. It’s a task based largely around portion control (too much rice and you risk a puncture in your California roll, which is useful to precisely nobody) and mixing and matching your ingredients is key – I went for salmon and avocado to keep things basic.
On arrival at the city’s current tallest building, the novelty of stepping into a glass lift that shoots you silently and seamlessly to the top of said building isn’t without child-like excitement. ‘My ears just popped!’ you will exclaim, like an elevator-dwelling Charlie Bucket to your Grandpa Joe-like companion. Probably.
Impressive views from The Heron Tower
The views from the top of Heron Tower are quite simply awesome. No matter how many times – and from how many angles – you look at London, there is always something new to discover. And nowhere more so than from the dizzying heights of Sushisamba’s cocktail bar. From the lush green mounds of Hampstead Heath to the urban wasteland across Stratford, whether in daylight, dusk or twilight, it’s worth a pause to take in the panorama.
But back in the room (bedecked with Havana-style decor and a hipster-meets-city clientele), the sushi masterclass has already kicked off with a glass of sparkling Champagne-like sake called Tobiroku, which means ‘Festival of Stars’. Now I’ve sampled sake in Japanese restaurants all over the UK, and indeed across the world, from California to Tokyo and I’ve yet to find one that didn’t burn as it sears down your throat. Assuming it perhaps just wasn’t my tipple of choice, what I didn’t expect was to find a crisp, dry, seriously palatable sake, a smooth substitute for prosecco – one you could happily have refilled all night, which I did.
That’s just how I roll
Around 12 guests gather in the private dining room, a kind of glass mezzanine overlooking the main restaurant where we are introduced to two of the head chefs. Like any masterclass, walking away feeling cleverer than when you arrived is pretty essential. And this was made possible thanks to an introduction to the ancient Southeast Asian origins of sushi, as well as a scientific look at how sake is made, complete with slideshow.
Down to business, the secret to rolling sushi, I learned (the hard way) is to go easy on the rice. Pat it down onto your seaweed sheet less than half a centimetre thick and as flush to the edges as possible, leaving a 2cm gap at the top. A rolling mat enables you to keep the ingredients packed in tightly. Again, don’t overfill – one slice of avocado or cucumber and one thinly sliced piece of tuna or avocado is plenty (don’t worry, the professionals prepare the fish) .
With endless snacks provided as we roll – green beans, tempura and taquitos (all delicious but the spicy taquitos especially so) there’s no danger of going hungry. And if you do, just roll some more. Of course, the sushi chefs at Sushisamba have trained for years to prepare and deliver some of the finest Japanese cuisine in the city, but under their watchful eye, you can easily walk away feeling as though you have played some small part in conjuring up this feast. And surprisingly, the one thing more satisfying than seriously good sushi, is seriously good sushi made by your own fair hands. Even if I do say so myself.
Book the Sushisamba Sushi and Sake 101 masterclass here, £125 per person.
And if sushi isn’t your thing…
We all know cupcakes are, like, so five years ago, but that doesn’t mean baking master classes are totally off the radar. Hello, Shoreditch’s ACE hotel, which does a cheap and cheerful introduction to Raw Chocolate (it’s a super food, ya know). Head to The Dorchester in October to be taught to bake like Mich Turner MBE (judge of Britain’s Best Bakery) before a champagne afternoon tea or Coworth Park Chocolate Kitchen in Ascot which is all about truffles – oh, and goodie bags galore.
You know when you go on holiday, eat loads of amazing food and vow to cook more, then you get home and… well, don’t? The Abinger’s Surrey-based Pasta class is all about the kind of pappadelle and gnocchi you’ve never tasted outside Rome, while ceviche hot spot Coya in Soho helps you separate your seabream from your seabass – before washing it down with a pisco sour.
Know your port
If there’s nothing like a bit of James Martin (no? Just us then) to start the weekend and stir a sleepy hangover head, then go one better and sign up for a Saturday morning master class. The Ape & Bird (Soho pub from Pulpo’s Russell Norman) launches a very cool Byron-inspired (the poet, not the burger joint) class in September – inspired by his love of a morning pint of Port. South London’s Le Pont de la Tour’s Food de France takes you from morning coffee to a boozy three-course lunch while Sophie Michell’s running back-to-school classes at her Pont Street restaurant in London’s Belgrave hotel.
Cocktails got a cool-over
Things have come a long way from mixing a couple of cosmos on a hen do; and whether you love craft beers or coffee, there’s a class for you (hic). The Draft House (various London locations) will sure help you swot up on your rotary evaporators (and learn how to filter hops with marmite…) while Caravan in Kings Cross teaches latte art and milk science. Who knew? If you really want to brush up on your cocktails, try The Old Fashioned Cocktail Club at Fulham speakeasy, GOAT. That dusty old bottle of Limoncello is about to be put to use.