Your life has been a huge lie.
First the Easter Bunny.
Then Santa Claus.
And now wasabi.
Because you, like 99% of the rest of the world, have probably never tasted it.
You see this? This is a horseradish-based paste with food dyes yellow no. 5 & blue no. 1. It comes in a powder that the chef mixes into a thick paste, and it’s what you’ve been told was wasabi your entire sushi-eating life.
THIS is the real wasabi. The reason it looks so much like a horseradish root is no coincidence, of course – they’re from the same family of vegetables (the Brassica family, also including cabbage & mustard) which makes it an easy bait-and-switch.
Real wasabi, however, has a considerably more complex, vibrant, and sweeter flavour. The taste is fresh – almost herbal – and is bracing, without burning your nostrils (and destroying the flavor of the fish in the process). People tend to describe it as a very ‘clean’ heat.
So why have you never had it before? Well, to put it simply, it’s perishable. To put it slightly more complicatedly, it’s extraordinarily, crazily, eye-poppingly perishable. It’s rare even in Japan. The plants themselves take a full two years to grow, and will only do so in veeeery specific conditions. In fact, there’s only one successful wasabi farm in Europe.
Thankfully, that farm is right here in the UK (at a secret location, of course, to prevent industrial espionage of their growing methods), so the real deal is available at a select few London restaurants. It will be freshly grated table side – it loses its flavour after about 15 minutes, you see – and you’ll probably have to specifically request it… but you can get it.
Because we love you and want you to be happy, we did the due diligence, and called up every truly great sushi restaurant in town to ask them if they served the stuff. Here are the places that do:
Nearly impossible to book (we tell you how right here) Sushi Tetsu only has a seven-person counter, meaning they treat each customer with unparalleled care and attention. You won’t have to ask for the fresh wasabi, they serve it as standard.
This excellent Soho raw fish spot prepares complex rolls in a sleek but unpretentious space – and go with them, you’ll find genuine wasabi freshly grated on a sharkskin board.
This gorgeous-looking Kensington restaurant proudly serves their sushi ‘without soy sauce’. They even have a custom neon sign proclaiming it hanging above the bar. They do, however, serve actual wasabi root (on request, of course).
Rock Star Sushi Merton Abbey Mills
Rock Star is based in a small-but-perfectly-formed space in Merton Abbey Mills down near Wimbledon, and they proudly have real wasabi perpetually in stock – in fact, they’ve literally NEVER served the fake stuff.
This tiny, classy Mayfair joint takes their raw fish very, very seriously. Ask for the omakase (that’s where you sit at the sushi counter, and the chef simply starts prepping/giving you sushi until you say ‘stop’), and they’ll grate some wasabi on a sharkskin mat for you.
Also in Mayfair, also extremely classy – and again, you’ll need to get the omakase, as they reserve their real wasabi for the counter, not the table.
This unassuming Willesden sleeve-space has bare walls, close to zero decoration, and incredible sushi. They tell us that they’ll provide fresh wasabi on request, so make sure to ask when you book.
Unsurprisingly, Nobu tell us they serve the fresh stuff — but they were upfront about telling us they’re not guaranteed to have a supply, so they occasionally have to resort to powder.
One of the more expensive sushi joints in the city, Zuma’s Knightsbridge branch justifies the price with some stunning cuts of fish, and some real-deal wasabi (on request, of course).
…Now go see if it tastes as sweet as they say. And don’t worry. The tooth fairy won’t mind.
(Main image: Courtesty of The Araki)