JESSICA CARTER makes a welcome departure from her stodge-based winter diet to visit this Cirencester one-off
Japanese fare may not be considered awfully exotic any more – branches of sushi restaurant chains run conveyor belts bursting with the stuff, and grocery shops stock their to-go sections with box-upon-box of it – but it’s still among the lesser-seen cuisines in Cirencester.
Sushi and sashimi manage to not only be nutritious (fresh fish is known to be loaded with omega 3), filling and sympathetic to the waistline, but simultaneously colourful, full of flavour and fun to eat, meaning this oriental fodder has been eagerly welcomed into lunchboxes (and onto dining tables) of Western countries such as ours in recent years. It’s become a pretty large niche, then, but one that would be left entirely unoccupied in Cirencester (and for many a mile beyond, for that matter) – aside from the odd generic, disappointing lunch pack in the supermarket chiller aisle – if it weren’t for the guys at Soushi.
Housed within the Old Post Office development in the town centre, Soushi is a refreshing and welcome deviation from the traditional market town’s composition. So welcome, in fact, that when we arrived for our unfashionably early dinner on a Tuesday evening there was already a family ordering takeaway and a smattering of occupied tables in the dining room.
After sliding ourselves into a booth (I had with me my foodie nurse friend, who was about to retreat into a stint of 14-hour shifts and deserved a good send-off ), we read and re-read the menu several times. It took some ums, some ahs, some salted edamame beans (£3.10) and a chat with the well-versed manager for us to finally send an order to the kitchen.
Despite there being no conveyor belt at this particular Japanese, we were nevertheless delivered a constant stream of beautiful-looking dishes, which we grabbed at so quickly it was as if we feared they would otherwise pass by. The pork and cabbage gyozas (£6.60) were moist, dainty parcels of meat and vegetable, while the king prawn tempura (£7.70) saw wonderfully sweet meat encased in the lightest layer of hot, crispy batter. The yaki tori (£5.50), meanwhile, comprised plump and juicy cuts of chicken, skewered and slathered in a sticky, moreish sauce and topped with a peppering of sesame seeds.
A brief breather after that little lot was brought to an end by the 24-piece platter (£23.50). Displaying the freshest nigiri, sashimi and maki rolls, it was bold, bright, and incredibly beautiful. The slices of raw salmon and tuna were butter-soft, cutting like lard and melting into nothingness in our mouths. The nigiri featured more of the same, the soft fish lolling over small mounds of plump seasoned rice (we can vouch for the shrimp, scallop and eel, although be sure to watch out for the pesky bones in the latter – we learnt our lesson too late).
The sparkling tuna (£14.10) and sparkling salmon (£13.50) are obligatory orders at Soushi, apparently. After seeing them induce schoolgirl excitement in another guest – well, to be fair, she was an actual schoolgirl – and then having it recommended by the manager too, we were always going to give both a whirl. They were bang on the money; crumbed king prawns ran through the centre of the rolls, which were topped with more fresh sashimi and a splodge of zingy chilli mayo.
The tuna carpaccio from the specials board was the evening’s deserving headline act, comprising slivers of oh-so-lightly seared tuna, dressed in ginger, wasabi and soy sauce. Despite the almost unscalable mound of food on our table, this bowl was all but licked clean.
If the carpaccio was the headliner, then dessert was the after-party and, having nearly refused the invite, we were glad we reconsidered. The traditional Japanese anmitsu (£6), topped with sweet azuki beans and served in a hollowed orange, was a first-try for both of us. Sweet and refreshing, it went down a treat, despite our bellies already being at capacity. The ice cream tempura (£3.50) was a dream: the cold, creamy filling melted slightly into the hot, crispy case to form a layer of doughy deliciousness.
You might have to travel a little way to find another Japanese restaurant, but you’d have to go further still to reach one to rival Soushi. The Sri Lankan, Malaysian and Australian chefs here may not have the origins you’d expect, but I definitely didn’t need any convincing over their levels of skill or the authenticity of their work. Perhaps that’s another reason why this lone Japanese has seen no-one yet proffer any local competition?