Sushisamba review: the height of intercontinental fusion

Japanese cuisine gets a South American makeover, high above London

SushiSamba, London
(Image credit: ©Ming Tang-Evans)

What’s the connection between Brazil, Japan and Peru? The simple answer is a restaurant called Sushisamba, high above the City of London, which seeks to fuse the three countries' cultures and cuisines.

The less glib response, according to the Sushisamba website, involves a “tri-cultural coalition that took root in the early 20th century when thousands of Japanese emigrants travelled to South America’s fertile soil to cultivate coffee plantations and find their fortune”. On farms and in towns, “the integration of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cultures flourished”.

Perhaps, but we’re a long way from the world of the South American sharecropper on the 38th floor of the Heron Tower, and SushiSamba’s designers have wisely opted for gloss over grit. Even the jungle-and-Japan-themed foliage is pulled off without faux-folksiness: the giant bamboo shoots are industrial rather than artsy, anchored as they are in a polished marble floor and soaring up past double-height walls of glass.

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On a late summer evening, with the sun slanting in low from across the city, it looks sensational.

Beguiled by the view and buoyed by cocktails, we order the tasting menu, which gets proceedings underway with a trio of appetisers nodding towards the three national influences. Peru proffers cancha seviche, a collection of crunchy corn kernels in a sharp, citrussy dressing. Fish taquitos, representing Brazil, are good but not as moreish as the Japanese offering of green bean tempura spears and their pot of black truffle aioli.

Better still are the wagyu gyoza, slippery on the outside and unguent within, their flavour and texture enhanced by pumpkin puree. Despite being the tastiest item on the menu, they’re upstaged by the next dish, which looks like the work of an unusually precise arsonist.

The centrepiece is several charred planks of yuca, the root from which we derive tapioca. That may explain why it remains quite bland even when blackened beyond recognition. What lifts it, apart from its startling appearance, is the ash-like bed of “smoke emulsion”, which has the texture of panko breadcrumbs and the smokey-sweet flavour of barbecued ribs. Stirred up with a dollop of creamed sweet potato, it brings crunch and punch to the yuca shards. They’re still less delicious than the beef gyoza, but they win hands-down on style.

The next course tilts eastward with a selection of nigiri that’s delicate and creamy, in just the way that supermarket sushi isn’t. Soy-marinated salmon with wasabi mayonnaise and a sliver of asparagus is as good as it sounds.

The only false note is the “El Topo” (a registered trademark, according to the menu), which consists of sushi rice layered with cooked salmon, deep fried onion, jalapeno pepper, spicy mayonnaise and a slab of melting mozzarella. In a diner, served with fries and BBQ sauce, it would have made perfect sense, but here it seems imprecise and artless.

It is also quite filling, and we still have two more courses to contend with. I polish off an elegant French-cut lamb chop, its fat crisp and its flesh pink, but a rich, buttery seafood stew presents more of a challenge, though not through any fault of its own.

Somehow, though, I make room for a moist chocolate banana cake with maple butter and rum vanilla ice cream. Well, who wouldn’t?

By now, some time has elapsed since we took our seats by the wall of glass. The sun has set, the sky has darkened and the roads have become rivers of light. Sushisamba must have one of the best views in London, certainly better than at Oblix, halfway up the Shard, where you are a detached observer, looking down on the city from across the water. Here you are right at the heart of it, shoulder to shoulder with the skyscrapers.

The trinational origin story might be a bit of a gimmick, but that doesn’t really matter when the food is good and the restaurant is a cheering place to be. In reaching out to embrace Japan in the east and Brazil and Peru in the west, Sushisamba is embracing London with open arms.

Sushisamba is at 110 Bishopsgate, London EC2

The yuka dish pictured above is inspired by a partnership with Cool Earth, a charity that works alongside Amazonian communities to protect the rainforest. Sushisamba sources a range of ingredients from the Ashaninka people, providing them with a stream of revenue to fund conservation work

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Holden Frith is The Week’s digital director. He also makes regular appearances on “The Week Unwrapped”, speaking about subjects as diverse as vaccine development and bionic bomb-sniffing locusts. He joined The Week in 2013, spending five years editing the magazine’s website. Before that, he was deputy digital editor at The Sunday Times. He has also been’s technology editor and the launch editor of Wired magazine’s UK website. Holden has worked in journalism for nearly two decades, having started his professional career while completing an English literature degree at Cambridge University. He followed that with a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago. A keen photographer, he also writes travel features whenever he gets the chance.