Pret a Manger’s Takeaway Sushi Is U.K. Best in Taste Test

Daisuke Hayashi is a master of Japanese cuisine. So what does he make of British sushi?

Hayashi, 36, from Kobe, is executive head chef at Chrysan, the Japanese restaurant Hakkasan group opened in the City of London this month. He’s also responsible for Sake No Hana.

He agreed to try six types of sushi. Although it was a blind tasting, not all the varieties were strictly comparable. Tesco’s was a value pack from a convenience outlet; Tsuru sent sushi for the tasting, while the others were bought in store.

Here’s what Hayashi had to say. He spoke through an interpreter while the tasting was filmed by Bloomberg Television:

Itsu salmon and tuna (3.99 pounds, $6.47):

“This is quite big for Japanese people, because European people tend to have bigger mouth size. The rice is quite hard: It’s undercooked and there’s not enough water. Also, there’s not enough vinegar. The fish is OK but the balance between the fish and the rice isn’t quite right.” 4/10

Marks & Spencer (MKS) Fish Sushi Selection (4.40 pounds):

“This looks better than the last one. One reason the rice is hard is that when they make it, they keep it in the fridge. The salmon is marinated in oil to give it a bit of moisture so it’s better than the first one. Again, there’s too much rice. The vinegar is better.” 7/10.

Pret a Manger Salmon & Prawn (4.99 pounds):

“In Japan, people wouldn’t buy this sushi if they saw it. In classic sushi style, the size of the fish is wrong and the weight of the fish is wrong, too. But I don’t really mind. It’s tasty. They’ve twisted Japanese style a little bit for Europeans. That’s why they use smoked salmon, to give it a bit of moisture and make it easier to eat. On the first one (Itsu) they tried to do the classic style. I quite like this.” 8/10.

Tesco (TSCO) Prawn, Tuna and Vegetables (1.80 pounds):

“The rice is very hard, very firm. I don’t feel like I am eating sushi at all. It’s difficult to distinguish what I’m eating. I don’t feel any flavor.” 3/10

Tsuru selection 7.25 pounds:

“This is much closer to Japanese sushi. The rice is oval- shaped, slightly rounded. The others are more square. Japanese people would generally prefer this but I don’t think classic- style sushi is everything, so I accept new styles, like European style. Sushi can be localized. There’s still too much rice here. The way they cook the rice is OK but I prefer the smoked salmon. The fish should be cut thicker to improve the balance. In Tokyo, in the local convenience stores, they have better sushi.” 7/10.

Wasabi salmon (3.95 pounds):

“This has the most fish of all. When we eat sushi we have to have this amount of fish. Again, the rice is too hard.” 8/10.

Previous tests have had very different results. In 2009, Marks & Spencer won. In 2008, it was Wasabi. In 2007, chef Endo Kazutoshi was scared to eat the sushi.

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Martin Gayford on art, Zinta Lundborg’s New York weekend and Lewis Lapham on history.

To contact the writer on the story: Richard Vines in London at rvines@bloomberg.net or http://twitter.com/Richardvines.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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