“Omakase translates as ‘chef’s choice’ in Japanese. It means ‘trust me’,” says Suren Karki, The Rubens at the Palace’s expert sushi chef. Omakase is the idea behind Suren’s exclusive Sushi and Sashimi Experiences in the hotel’s sophisticated bar, where guests are invited to witness first hand his skill at slicing and arranging the fish. Here, Chef Suren tells us about the art of making show-stopping sushi, how he sources his ingredients and his tip for the perfect sushi rice.
How did you master the art of making sushi?
“When I first came to London from Nepal in 2008, I was a student. I began working at Japanese restaurants to build experience. As a sous chef at Tenshi, I was taught a lot of techniques and my career really took off. Next, I joined Sake no Hana, which is part of the Hakkasan group. But it was at Engawa where I gained most of my expertise, with the guidance of executive chef Akira Shimizu. He brought traditional methods with him from Japan. I became the head chef there, before moving to The Rubens.”
Have you noticed a surge in sushi’s popularity in London?
“Yes, definitely. I think it’s due to the known health benefits of eating oily fish, as well as the high levels of creativity in sushi right now. At The Rubens, I serve the sushi as I wish, using my own inspiration.”
How important is presentation?
“People eat with their eyes and the visual presentation of sushi is key. Ensuring the food looks great on the plate is very important, and simplicity is always best in my opinion. I present a personalised sushi experience for a maximum of two diners in The Leopard Bar. This keeps the temperature of the rice and fish cool, and allows me to tell our guests about each piece. Sushi should not go above eight degrees or be left out at room temperature. The other way sushi is served at The Rubens is in a decorative, tiered stand atop ice to keep it cool. Beautifully presented on a small table, guests can help themselves.”
Where do you source your ingredients?
“I always look for the finest, most ethical ingredients. The bluefin we use in our signature spicy tuna roll is sourced from a sustainable farm in Spain, so as not to plunder the oceans’ precious supplies.”
Can you share the art of making sushi rice?
“Japanese restaurants in London boil sushi rice with mineral water, not tap water. This is because the koshihikari sushi rice we use from volcanic Toyama is high in magnesium. Hard water from London contains a lot of calcium and magnesium, which is not good for a rice already rich in this. Also, before cooking, the rice needs to be at room temperature.”
Should saké be paired with sushi?
“Saké isn’t traditionally paired with sushi. This trend originated in Europe and America, where cocktails are popular. A strong saké decreases the taste of the fish. To focus the taste on the sushi, select a softer, sweeter saké. This is what I do at The Rubens, so as not to ruin the palate.”
What are the differences between sushi in Japan and London?
“You must have at least 10 years’ experience to work in sushi in Japan, and women are not allowed to be sushi chefs as their hands are thought to be warmer. The fermentation process of making soy sauce from miso paste takes more than six months, and wasting soy sauce is considered highly disrespectful in Japanese kitchens.
When eating sushi, Japanese diners dip the fish into the soy sauce and not the rice. They also eat by hand, not using chopsticks. It’s only one bite and doesn’t make a mess. The average life expectancy in Japan is 86. Everyone eats breakfast, lunch and dinner, but in well-sized portions, the right amount for their body.”
To discover more about the art of making sushi, join Chef Suren for a bespoke Sushi and Sashimi Experience at Red Carnation Hotels’ The Rubens at the Palace.