Sushi isn’t something I’d ever make myself. I have zero desire to spend the afternoon wrestling with slices of seafood before unleashing a savage and unholy terror on the digestive systems of my unsuspecting guests, so it’s something I’ve always left to the professionals. (Besides, we don’t have the knives for it. All ours are used interchangeably to cut food, open ASOS packages and scrape crap out of the kitchen tile grout.)
I was excited, therefore, to visit UNI in Belgravia for a preview of their new sushi class. My hideous health kick has been grinding on, and Japanese (or, in UNI’s case, Japanese/Peruvian fusion) is one of the few ways you can go out and gorge guilt-free. Ish.
We started the afternoon with some of UNI’s signature cocktails, including the beautiful and bizarre chili mojito, made with coconut milk, mint and a whole chili. The flavour was very unusual and hard to describe – almost like a long, cool curry in a glass, easily drinkable with a big kick lurking at the bottom.
Downstairs, our chef and tutor Oscar Cuevas was waiting for us with boards of fresh ingredients. We donned hats (!) and aprons, which was just as well because it turns out that rice is a lot like sand and gets everywhere (i.e. two weeks later you’re still finding it in your various crannies). Together we created a whole tray of the most popular sushi and sashimi, including the California Roll. I say together…I did attempt to squash and squidge my little fishes into the right shape – it’s all in the fingers, apparently, and I have all the natural dexterity of a five-legged crab – but ballsed up so spectacularly that Oscar had to come and rescue my poor, mangled seafood. It turned out quite nicely in the end though! (And still tasted fantastic, which is what really matters.)
After the sushi, we also watched Oscar create what turned out to be my favourite dish of the day: sea bass cured in a salty mixture of chilli, amarilla, red onion and yuca. I’ve tried ceviche in a few places in London – Bob Bob Ricard, Senor Ceviche and the brand new Pachamama in Marylebone – but this was the best.
We then moved into one of UNI’s little dining nooks for a closer look at the whole menu. Now, overall the restaurant doesn’t have a whole lot of space. The upstairs bar is quite cramped, and the downstairs area is quite little too. That said, what they lack in capacity they make up for with a very special setting: there are two gold-flecked caves, which are essentially very private dining rooms – small enough for an intimate, romantic dinner, yet just big enough to fit the six of us comfortably.
We started with edamame beans. The ones slathered in extra spicy sweet chili sauce were my favourite, but then I am the sort of person who drinks the stuff straight out of the bottle if they can get away with it.
Next we tried were these little tacos, miniature versions of the menu’s regular full-size versions, which come loaded with either king crab, salmon or scallops. A nice alternative to sushi, especially if you’re trying to avoid carbs.
Next, the seaweed salad, which sounded like it was going to be…well. A bit shit. But I was surprised – it was actually a a silky nest of tangled greens, drizzled in a sesame dressing.
There was also more sashimi and maki sushi and a sublime aubergine and sweet miso dish that nearly stole the show. (I always jump on aubergines in restaurants because I have tried and failed to make anything nice with them at home. The first time I bought one I cut it open expecting it to be essentially a giant purple pepper was was horrified to find it was more like a meaty sponge; I just covered it with garlic and bunged it in the oven and it tasted like arse.)
We also tried the octopus ceviche, £9.00, which was very nearly as delicious as its sea bass sister (£13.50), which Oscar had made for us earlier.
And then some more sea bass! Because why not.
For me, the Peruvian dishes were my favourite; the flavours were much bolder. There’s lots of chili, garlic and zesty citrus. (I do love sushi, but there’s no denying it is designed for the more sophisticated palate. In fact, in Japan sushi is always served early on in the meal before the tongue gets muddled with stronger flavours.) The only thing I wouldn’t rave about was the tofu, and that’s frankly because Jesus Christ himself couldn’t make the stuff taste as delicious as, er, actual food.
My other favourite (aside from the ceviches, the aubergine and some tempura rock shrimp…) was the Wagyu beef, which is as mouth-wateringly melty as everyone says, though comes in at a hefty £36. Look at it though.
By this point we’d all exhausted ourselves through sheer gluttony, but we had a little dish of pudding balls* to try first.
(*Not actual term.)
I left with a big bag of sushi that James 1 sucked down the second I got home – you make a lot in the class. The masterclasses are so new there aren’t any details on their website yet, but they come in at £35pp and can currently be booked by phone on 0207 730 9267. If you’re too lazy (or clumsy!) to make it yourself, just go for dinner. And do not leave without trying that ceviche.
Full disclosure: I was invited to UNI for a blogger event, but as always all opinions are my own. All prices are listed with pictures, but the full menu is available online. You can find UNI just around the corner from Victoria Station at 18a Ebury Street, SW1W 0LS.
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.