Sumi review: Endo Kazutoshi’s ‘casual’ sushi spot has the wow factor
The Notting Hill venue is onto a winner with its top-tier ingredients and friendly service
Previous guests of Endo Kazutoshi’s Michelin-starred Endo at the Rotunda restaurant are likely to recognise something of a family resemblance in its “little sister” Sumi. However, this inviting Japanese restaurant is as much a counterpoint to Endo as it is a relative.
There are no vaulted ceilings here, and the culinary theatre is pared right back: in its warm and muted surrounds, Sumi’s friendly service and stellar food are the stars of the show.
Sumi sits at one end of a short parade of restaurants on the leafy Westbourne Grove in Notting Hill. Named after Endo’s mother, it’s unassuming from the outside and cosy from within – all golden wood and gentle lighting. The only potential shock in store for its diners is the chorus of “Irasshaimase!” with which the entire staff greets guests on entry; or the clipped cries of “Hi!” as the chefs accept new orders from the waiting staff.
Your awareness of this will vary depending on where you are seated: the 40 covers are split between short counters spanning the narrow length of the restaurant, and a few tables and chairs grouped at either end.
Towards the back, you’ll be closer to the dedicated cocktail bar; if, like me and my dining partner, you’re lucky enough to be sat on one of the four stools facing the chef’s table at Sumi’s entrance, you will be witness to the chefs’ punctilious artistry – and organised chatter – throughout your meal.
Here you can see up close the bulky pink wodge of tuna sitting in ice, from which perfect cuts of sashimi will be meticulously carved; or perhaps glimmering sheets of salmon being diced into curved nori for the taco-like temaki.
Most satisfying of all to watch is the assembly of the nigiri, each piece a thumb-sized bed of rice, shaped by hand like confectionery and then covered by thin blankets of seabass, yellowtail, salmon – you name it – each fishy morsel with a piquant swipe of wasabi pasted on its underside.
Before it is served, much of this seafood will be gently scored with the chefs’ glinting array of knives, the better to retain the marinades they apply. Watching it all unfold is a special pleasure and certainly enhanced my appreciation of the à la carte menu.
With the help of Sumi’s knowledgeable and affable service staff, it was no trouble to choose a good selection of sushi, and it’s genuinely difficult to pick out highlights thanks to the sheer quality of the ingredients and their beautiful presentation across the board.
From our seaweed salad starter – zinging with ginger and crunching with chopped almonds – we moved onto the five types of sashimi arranged artfully on their bed of crushed ice, seabass slices swirling deep pink into salty white, pearly scallop topped with the aromatic wallop of a sansho pepper leaf.
Our nigiri choices were served in order from leanest to fattiest, culminating with a salty burst of salmon roe and the indomitable otoro – the fatty cut of tuna belly. On request, Sumi will provide this cut as aburi – its upper edge crisped with a naked flame – so that its oceanic tang is enriched with an earthy smokiness.
In my case, this delicacy was then placed directly in the palm of my hand, topped with a tiny orb of wasabi and showered with grated black truffle, along with a command to knock the lot back shot-style so the fish lands directly on the tongue. The depth of these conspiring flavours makes this delicacy a smile-inducing must-try.
Also confoundingly good was our sea urchin nigiri – a seasonal off-menu option – whose impossibly fresh flavour evoked the serene, lucid brine of a coastal rock pool. In fact, with the exception of my scallop “hotate” temaki (which I found was slightly dominated by wasabi) every course shone with a careful balance of subtle flavours – right down to the matcha mille crepe dessert, a milky delicacy cut through with a sharp creme fraiche.
Make no mistake, for all of Sumi’s homely feel and “casual” branding, it is not easy on the wallet, with our meal (including our Asahi lager) averaging around £70 per person before the service charge. But as an experience, the expense is more than justified, especially if you are able to get a seat at the chef’s table.
For me, the real cost is the benchmark Sumi has set: I fear I will rarely be satisfied with sushi from anywhere else.
Sumi, 157 Westbourne Grove, London W11 2RS; sushisumi.com