Turning Japanese

When it comes to food I think that variety is the spice of life. While its nice to have comfort foods and favourite restaurants I do like to mix it up, hence making a pact with the Mr to try new restaurants, the basis of the Toon Lunch Club.

This also applies to the meals themselves when we eat out. I always want to try a few different things, so sharing platters, tapas, small dishes and basically anything where I can sample as many different flavours as possible is ideal.

With this in mind we headed to St. Sushi in Newcastle yesterday with one specific mission in mind – to get a bento box. Now whilst I’ve been to St. Sushi  before I haven’t been to their new location across the road; where Salsa Cafe used to be. The Mr has never been to either and was keen to give it a go. As it was Father’s Day we kicked the day off with a home cooked calorific breakfast before heading into town for some healthy sushi for lunch.

Father's Day breakfast
Father’s Day breakfast

First impressions; The new location feels smaller but still spacious. In the previous location when I’ve had lunch on a weekday it always felt a bit empty. This time it was late Sunday lunchtime and there were a few other tables but it wasn’t packed by any means (thank God as it was Father’s Day and we hadn’t booked..!) There is also seating and a bar upstairs, presumably to tap into private dining opportunities.

We were promptly seated at a booth downstairs which had plenty of room for Little Dude’s pram next to us.

The refit is nice enough, the walls have been painted and Japanese lanterns strung, which don’t hugely change the place but equally add a Japanese ambience. Anyway we were there for the food…

The previous pile of a variety of slightly tatty menus in the old place have been replaced by one heavy wood bound number, which still has more options than you can shake a stick at. We started to get lost in it until the Mr steered us both back on track – “we came for the bento boxes” ah yes.
After much deliberation he settled on breaded pork katsu curry bento £8.95. I, at the last minute, went for the Unagi bento box £11.95. “Are you sure….?” Asked the Mr. “Its eel!” Yep, I was sure. I was going to take a risk and hope it paid off! The waitress informed us of their offer of a couple of salmon skewers for an extra £1.50 as we were spending over £10 on food. We went for it, of course…

St Sushi
Our bento boxes

When the bento boxes arrived, we got excited. There’s just something about those boxes full of different delights that makes me happy. I was extra excited as I’d only had their lunchtime special bento before (Mon-Fri 6.95) which has less sushi in it (but miso soup instead, which I’m also a fan of). This one contained sushi, salmon sashimi, rice and the grilled eel.
I, like most people I’d imagine, know very little about eels other than that they look like snakes, are slimy and cockneys like to eat them in jelly. Having read a fantastic article I now know that Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eel, and that in fact 70% of the world’s freshwater eel catch is eaten in Japan. Some more Eel Facts* at the end of this article, in case you’re interested (I was, so went a little overboard in reading up on them!)

My Unagi (eel!) bento box
My Unagi (eel!) bento box

The food arrived promptly and I gathered my chopsticks, skewered a piece of eel and went for it. Luckily I wasn’t disappointed, the eel was soft to the point of almost melting on your tongue, tasting like oily fish but with a quite unique, subtle flavour. It was cooked in a sauce that complimented rather than overpowered it. Mr TLC had a bite and despite his initial reservations was also impressed. The sashimi was fresh and delicious especially when dunked into the obligatory soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger. Salmon and cucumber sushi rolls and a couple of pieces of salmon sushi made of the rest of my plate, along with some pickled cucumber slices and lettuce. As if there wasn’t enough salmon going on already, the skewers were cooked to perfection, with a sweet and slightly salty sauce.

Baby snacks
Baby snacks

Little dude happily munched on some rice cakes and a sliver of cucumber as he’d eaten before we left, and we were able to get on with devouring our lunch.
Oh yes another thing about the decor, gone is the wide screen TV playing Japanese pop songs. This is bittersweet for me as it was always pretty entertaining, but definately distracting when out for a sociable meal. In the new place they play more chilled Japanese music (when we were there), and no vids.

When we’d demolished as much fish and rice as we could manage we settled up, no room for dessert and keen to crack on with the matter in hand – curtain shopping. We couldn’t fault either the food or service at St. Sushi, it was a pleasure and the Mr is already planning our next visit. Also, I have now become an eel fan! Fascinating and tasty, I’d always discounted them previously. “Will you try jellied eel when we’re in London?” Asked the Mr. I shuddered at the thought, I think that might be taking it a step too far…!

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*Eel Facts

  • Eels are indeed fish (despite their serpent like features), can swim backwards, and their blood is toxic to humans so they can’t be eaten raw.
  • They have weak jaws and a few tiny teeth, so they have to spin wildly to break apart and kill their prey.
  • They are born in the sea but live most of their lives in freshwater, where they go through many physical changes in their lifetime and are caught early on and fed up in tanks.
  • Very few have been successfully bred in captivity.
  • Most fascinatingly of all, European and North American eels are all born and (if they make it) die in the same, far flung place – the Sargasso sea, a two-million-square-mile whorl in the Atlantic Ocean, south of Bermuda. No one knows quite why as they’ve never been able to successfully track them or see them reproduce in the wild. Up untill a century ago no one really knew how they reproduced, in fact Aristotle thought they were sexless and spontaneous generators that grew “from the guts of the earth.”
  • They are also pretty valuable due to overfishing, and most American and European eel are bought by China and South Korea where they are gutted, grilled on mass and sent back on the rest of the world.

Toon Lunch Club = educational, who knew?! 😉

St. Sushi

89-93 Westgate Rd, NE1 4AE

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