Regular readers may have surmised by now that I have an interest in Japanese cuisine.
After visiting Japan regularly since 1990 and living in Tokyo for four years, I have more than a passing interest in good Japanese food and drink. In fact, some may accuse me of being hypercritical about Japanese restaurants outside Japan.
That being said, some of the best sushi that I’ve sampled were in New York City and Los Angeles. Of course, if money is no object, you can get high quality fish and chefs almost anywhere in the world. The mark of a happy happenchance is if you can find good quality for reasonable prices…that is what the restaurant critic lives for! To whit, my recent AlphaLuxe reports from Zen Mondo and Miyama in London.
61 UPPER STREET, LONDON N1 0NY, U.K.
Travelling back to the Angel and Islington district of London, I found an izakaya in Tenshi Restaurant. Established in January 2010, this neighbourhood favourite restaurant on two floors is one of the few family-run, non-chain restaurants in Angel. They accept reservations for dinner except on Fridays and Saturdays. As I stayed at the Hilton London Angel Islington, it was but a short 100m walk to the izakaya Japanese pub (居酒屋) or ‘sake shop’.
My review is based on two consecutive dinners at Tenshi (天使), the Japanese word for ‘angel’.
On the first day, I had actually eaten a bowl of my favourite Hakata-style ramen at tea-time so a full dinner at Tenshi was perhaps too ambitious. I decided to order a few dishes as Japanese ‘tapas’ to be washed down with a tasting flight of sake.
First Things First
It is mandatory after a hot Summer’s day to order a ‘daijokki’ (大ジョッキ) large beer mug but as this was London, it was a pint of lager instead!
Cubes of lightly-fried tofu served in a soy and dashi broth. This classic dish is so evocative of home-food that “feels so good” washed down with cold beer.
Tenshi First Class Sake Flight
Yamato Shizuku Yamahai is a pure rice Junmai-grade (without added non-rice alcohol) made from rice polished down to 60-70% original grain size. Non-fruity and deep umami flavour; smooth nutty and rich.
Kozaemon Bizen Omachi is a higher Ginjo-grade (Silver grade) made from rice polished down to 50-60% original grain size. Fragrant hints of tropical fruit.
Dassai 50 is the highest Daiginjo-grade (Great Silver grade) made from rice polished down to 50% or less of original grain size. It is the house recommendation being aromatic and lively with clear taste.
Seared aubergine (eggplant) with sweet sesame miso paste was up next. The salty umami miso just cried out for a variety of sake as found in my tasting flight, so that each one changed the flavour, which was the point of a sake pairing test. The soft aubergine flesh relieved the saltiness of the miso and I wish it had been a whole eggplant instead of a half.
I ordered an extra measure of Otokoyama Junmai, a very dry sake with balanced acidity that usually goes well with sushi.
Hamachi (yellowtail amberjack) and Suzuki (sea bass) were my backup choices in the absence of the Otoro fatty tuna. This was a small family restaurant in a London suburb; it was unlikely to serve too much expensive Otoro. Still, the rice was warm and sour and the fish fresh. The soy sauce was also acceptable.
Salmon roe (ikura) sushi in its iron-clad boat (for that is the meaning of gunkan), provided explosions of salty umami-ness as each salmon egg bursts to combine with the seaweed nori wrap; a sublime experience.
Unagi (grilled freshwater eel)
This is a rare delicacy best eaten in Summer to ward off the heat but I could only take on a couple of small pieces as I was full….
Umeshu (Plum Wine)
There are many grades and brands of umeshu. The usual grade is 10% alcohol and usually too sweet viz Takara and Choya brands.
I selected the top quality Aragoshi 12% umeshu (with natural fruit pulp) on-the-rocks as my dessert.
The next day, “I came prepared to party” and eat upstairs.
Ordering the top end Sushi Set, I received Chef’s selection of 12 pieces mixed sashimi, 8 mixed nigiri sushi, 6 pieces maki sushi (rolls), Ikura (salmon roe) Gunkan and Tobiko (flying fish roe) Gunkan.
Tenshi Luxury Sushi Set
The sashimi was sea bass, akami lean tuna, hamachi and salmon with matching sushi versions. Additionally, there were octopus and prawn nigiri hand-rolled sushi.
Tobiko Gunkan had a more subtle and less salty taste than Ikura Gunkan.
Finally, the “fillers” were the salmon and avocado rolls.
I paired them with two types of sake: the Otokoyama from the evening before proved excellent again with sushi but the Yakujuro Kuro Zura Daiginjo sake was dry, clean tasting and robust enough for the stronger flavoured food.
Extras To End
Unagi Avocado (eel and avocado) rolls was an indulgent “dessert” that I set off against the mixed pickled vegetables (aubergine, daikon radish and cucumber).
Although most of my selections were sushi, Tenshi Restaurant could never be expected to be in the same league as dedicated establishments like the 3-Michelin star ‘Sukiyabashi Jiro’ in Tokyo.
That is not it’s raison d’etre and client base. Tenshi is a most affable izakaya instead of restaurant.
You eat at a restaurant but at an izakaya, you drink with amicable friends and served by amiable hosts.
To this end, I award Tenshi with an angelic AlphaLuxe Three-Tongue Award.
Other AlphaLuxe Japanese Restaurant Reviews
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong.