I’ll never forget the first time I became infatuated with sushi, and specifically sashimi. I was 8-years-old, and my Japanese neighbor offered sashimi as an after-school snack. Supple and soft, its gentle caress around my tongue awoke taste buds I never knew I had.
Japanese cuisine is far more than simply sushi or sashimi; but their culinary art, refreshing seasonal flavours and precision have been behind its global popularity. With its growing charm and trendiness in Kenya, more sushi restaurants are becoming readily available in Nairobi’s burgeoning gastronomy scene – the latest, Osteria Warwick.
Situated on UN Avenue, opposite the United Nations compound in Nairobi, Osteria Warwick is the latest addition to the Italian Osteria Del Chianti restaurant chain. The new eatery on the ground floor of the Warwick Centre showcases a lofty interior with a spacious al fresco patio to match. Osteria’s signature baby blue painted wooden chairs dot the modern space and complement the large black and white artwork. The baby of the Osteria family even offers fresh sushi and tepanyaki as a “new twist” to the usual Italian menu.
Naturally, my interest was piqued when I heard the news, as my immediate reaction was more conservative. To my surprise, I was informed that the chef had prepared something from the menu in advance for the group when we visited. Like at an authentic Japanese eatery, we ordered omakase style, meaning “I leave it up to you.” And I did just that – I left it to the chef as this is usually an invitation for him to impress the diners with his finest daily ingredients and offering. But, perhaps the words “in advance” were telling.
There was the ngiri, maki and sashimi platter. The sushi rice was good, its vinegared edge was delicate and the grains clung to each other without being needy and inseparable. There was the sashimi, specifically the salmon (Kshs 550) and snapper (Kshs 450) that oozed of water and literally, sweated. The wooden serving block sat helplessly as thawed-raw-fish-water pooled and seeped into its grain, leaving visible unappetizing watermarks. Watching the fresh flavours and quality of the fish seep away from the sashimi was an injustice, probably a result of poor thawing practice. The lackluster sashimi sampled flavourless and left a murky aftertaste. The snapper was tough, perhaps it was not sliced accordingly, which is dependent on the type of fish. When held up by chopsticks, the meat broke into pieces, its natural suppleness absent.
The temaki or hand rolls (Kshs 400 to Kshs 500) were equally disappointing. Again, the culprit, excess water, the nori seaweed roasted to crispy perfection was damp and chewy. The resulting tug-of-war between my mouth and hand holding the sushi cone together was hardly an appetizing experience.
The Japanese menu at Osteria Warwick reads of basic and classic offerings: sashimi, ngiri (sushi rice with toppings), maki (rice-filled rolls wrapped in seaweed), futomaki (large rice-filled rolls wrapped in seaweed), and temaki (hand –rolled sushi).
It tasted like supermarket sushi, like the ones that you run to buy when you’re looking for something “exotic,” but have no time to sit and indulge. Simply put, there is no excuse for sweating raw fish. Hopefully, my experience was an isolated one and I’m grateful I did not become ill after that meal. I’ll go to Osteria Warwick for spankingly good Italian and sweet service, but not for sushi, sashimi or temaki.