I’ll be honest; I’d never heard of Atariya until I looked at Timeout’s list of best sushi restaurants in London. I was meeting an old school friend, and although both of us eat pretty much anything, we have pretty different tastes – her favourite cuisine is Asian and mine is Italian, and coincidentally our own favourites are each other’s least favourite cuisines! I also love Indian food but she cooks it a lot at home since both of her parents grew up in India, and since she goes back frequently I guess our Indian restaurants are a pretty poor version of the food she’s so used to eating! One thing we can both agree on is our love for Sticks ‘n’ Sushi though, but since I eat sushi out so rarely I wanted to try somewhere new.. cue the Timeout search! Reading Timeout is the highlight of my weekly commute (it doesn’t take much though, let’s be honest!) and I know I can always rely on them for good recommendations and truthful reviews!
Atari-Ya have a chain of restaurants and shops in London and they actually have a wholesale food company selling Japanese food, drinks and fresh and frozen fish. They have a few sushi bars in London, but I chose the one in Swiss Cottage as I was hoping it would be a little quieter since it’s not in Central London. We turned up when they opened at 12, and they had quite a few tables free, though they did also have quite a few reservations and it filled up pretty quickly. It’s quite a small place just a few minutes’ walk from Swiss Cottage tube station, with a few dark wooden tables (perhaps seven or eight tables for two) and a bar area which seats about eight people on stools. They have an extensive menu, and they also have a few lunch deals including bento boxes, which makes it slightly better value.
My friend opted for a bento box but I ended up just ordering a ton of sushi from the main menu as the bento boxes were slightly restrictive and there were a lot of different things I wanted to try.
The service is probably as you’d expect at a typical Asian restaurant – the waiters/waitresses are blunt and to the point, there’s certainly no frills in the service and you have to try pretty hard to attract their attention if you want a refill. I do find that Japanese food tends to be more nicely presented than other Asian food, and I definitely saw some impressive looking sushi rolls coming out. Clearly I need to 1) order better and 2) learn what the names of the exciting looking sushi rolls are, since mine were distinctly average.
The same amount of care and attention certainly didn’t go into all of their food though – my friend ordered the katsu curry (which we ended up sharing – human dustbin strikes again!) and it was shoved into a box in the most unappealing way.
Perhaps that was part of the ‘charm’ which they were aiming for in the dish but I don’t personally think that it was nicely presented and the build up of steam in the box just added to the already far-too-soggy texture of the dish. Don’t let the apparent golden brown coating in the photo deceive you – it most definitely gives it more justice than it deserves. The rice was soggy and congealed, the whole thing was drier than the Sahara (okay perhaps katsu sauce is a British take on a Japanese dish?) but surely any rice dish should come with some sort of sauce!? Then there was the chicken. God it was awful. Now much as I prefer the breast I can see why places would use leg or thigh meat in a dish as it can be much more juicy and flavoursome, but this was literally a bunch of horrendously fatty and awful offcuts of meat bundled together in a limp and soggy batter. On some pieces you’d have struggled to even decipher what you were eating! By far the worst katsu I have ever, ever had.
And to top it all off they served it with the most bland pondwater (which they claimed was a miso soup) and a pathetic excuse for a salad – literally a bowl of leaves and a slice of cucumber. The sushi which I ordered was definitely more appealing, made fresh to order and presented on individual plates or wooden blocks.
The highlight for me as always was the tempura prawn. I got it both as sushi rolls and as a hand roll. Both were delicious – the batter was so light and crispy, but for me the hand roll was probably my favourite, Perhaps it was just because it provided a bit of a change from the other sushi I ordered which was all quite similar in style, but I love how cute and dainty they are, and the crispiness of the seaweed on the outside (which is ironic, as I once tried some crispy seaweed from Itsu and it was bloody disgusting!).
There was probably a bit too much rice in the roll for me – I’d rather have had more tempura prawn! – but other than that it was the highlight of the meal for me. The rest of the sushi was good but certainly nothing to get excited about. To me it just tasted like any other sushi, and without the mountain of pickled ginger I asked for it probably would’ve been a little tasteless.
I’m not sure if I was being unnecessarily harsh, and I certainly don’t have a decent range of benchmarks (yes I used that word.. Such a nerd.) since I wouldn’t eat sushi somewhere where I didn’t think that the quality would be good, but for Timeout’s number one sushi spot it really wasn’t anything special. Perhaps it was the expectation that it was going to be so great that set it up for one almighty disappointment but for overall experience and choice, I’d pick Sticks ‘n’ Sushi over this place in a heartbeat.. plus the desserts there are absolutely sublime!