Today we have been married for five years. How the time flies!
To celebrate we went to Shuko last night. The Internet tells me a fifth anniversary is traditionally marked by gifts made from wood. When we were seated I smiled when I saw the countertop.
This was our second visit to Shuko. I have to admit we were underwhelmed by our first dinner several months ago, a shame given how much we loved Neta. Neta's former head chefs Nick and Jimmy left to become co-owners of this new venture so of course we went with high expectations. Perhaps we needed to give the team more time to get into their groove. Indeed booking a table these days requires a certain amount of forward planning and determination.
Being a celebration, we opted for the sushi kaiseki menu. Despite a shaky start and a disappointing toro and oscietra course (how can two of my favourite things be put together so badly?) overall things definitely appear to have improved. Our sushi in particular was extremely well executed. There remains a certain something however that nags me. Something about the experience that still puts it below our original Neta dinners. Perhaps it's a certain lack of generosity displayed in some of the courses, or aspects of the service. And there are the less than exceptional dishes we started with. My nit-picking aside, Shuko is a worthy way to spend an evening if the desire to indulge takes you.
We started off with warm mochi with shiso leaf, dengaku miso and pistachio.
Dungeness crab and hairy cucumber with chrysanthemum petals in ginger, soy, sake, dashi and rice vinegar. The crab meat didn't sing, as I would expect it to in the restaurant of this calibre.
Toro tartare, oscietra caviar and chives. The balance of flavours seemed off - the fish too strong tasting compared to the mild and soft membraned fish eggs. Overall to me the result was bland and unseasoned, with crunchy chives dominating. I wondered if salmon belly tartare would be a better match. Perhaps I should have smeared the whole lot over the finger of toasted Japanese milk bread it was served with, as another diner did, rather than nibble gingerly on each egg as I am wont to do when I get the chance to have caviar.
Slices of tender, fatty veal breast were the epitome of meaty, yielding flesh, dressed with an umami rich sauce and served with crushed baby broad beans, sautéed fiddlehead ferns and mint leaves. This was more like it...
A lovely mouthful of ocean trout with daikon and trout roe hidden underneath, topped with tempura flakes and shiso leaf, seasoned with Meyer lemon and miyoga Japanese ginger.
This heady combination of tastes, textures and aromatics comprised chunks of lobster and charred asparagus, bread and butter pickled slices of celeriac, a lemony artichoke sauce, micro chives and nutty shaved summer truffles.
Soft shell crab deep fried in potato starch, which gave a wonderfully crunchy result, perhaps even better than the rice flour and cornstarch combination we have been using at home up until now. Paired with mildly sweet and sharp pickled ramps and parsley pistou.
'Magic mushroom soup' was clear and savoury, a lovely palate cleanser ahead of sushi.
Good ol' fatty tuna.
Skipjack shima agi belly was phenomenal.
Cobia with a sliver of red onion.
Firm fluke with salted seaweed, hiding a pokey amount of wasabi.
Striped bass with fiery yuzu kosho paste.
Sea bream with shiso leaf and a mild pickled ume plum paste.
A clean tasting, freshly dispatched scallop is always a pleasure.
Bouncy crisp and clean tasting kopashira orange clam muscle was new to me and extremely enjoyable.
A glistening piece of heavenly uni.
Deliciously meaty toro tuna sinew with a surprisingly hefty whack of chilli packed a punch.
Buttery maitake mushrooms on warm crispy rice was a great contrast of textures.
Another soft shell crab claw.
A little extra sushi thrown in by Jimmy when we noticed our obvious delight in trying new and unusual tastes - raw scallop roe cleverly split to reveal its creamy innards.
Spicy trout roll with crispy potato.
Lean maguro tuna, rather uniquely dressed with garlic juice
Pickled lotus root roll with shiso and ume plum, another well considered plate cleanser.
Fragrant, syrupy strawberry granita.
A happy anniversary apple crumble pie that was entirely unnecessary but a sweet gesture.
Hmmm lets have a look at the similarities and difference between what we ate at the end of November last year.
Sort of the same...this was East Coast Petrossian caviar. And notice how much more there was.
We also had another similar dish - cured sea trout with trout roe, tempura crumbs, shiso, yuzu ponzu, young ginger and water chestnut but I can't find a photo of it.
Grilled Boston scallop, maitake mushroom, cauliflower, bacon, truffle vinaigrette, black truffle and mizuna. Very similar to the lobster dish - perhaps a seasonal variation. Delicious both times.
Tempura carrots, spring onions, lotus root and kokeyake chrysanthemum root. This was replaced with seasonal soft shelled crab.
Skirt steak, Brussels sprouts, fingerling potatoes. Remember the veal breast? An improvement for summer appetites.
Hello again lovely dashi with matsutake, shitake and shimeji mushrooms.
And now the sushi with plenty of familiar friends. Left to right: toro tuna, Spanish mackerel with miyoga Japanese gingers, skipjack and sea bream with ume plum.
Uni sea urchin, fluke with kombu seaweed, scallop with lime salt and akami lean bluefin tuna with kale, fried onion and miyoga.
Crispy rice with maitake, toro 'hanger steak' (i.e. sinew), shitake.
Lotus root roll with shiso leaf, ume and chrysanthemum petal, negi toro tuna roll.
Looking back at my notes I've just realised that we were served an apple pie with burnt bay leaf ice cream on this occasion too! Happy anniversary my foot...
There's nothing at all wrong with having similar menus both times, and I certainly felt that many of the dishes on our most recent visit displayed more finesse. The sushi was definitely a step up. I can't help being annoyed though that the caviar serving size had been reduced and I do feel it affected the dish's overall composition. And that bloody apple pie...