Paolo Tullio: Raw ambition
Michie Sushi, 11 Chelmsford Lane, Ranelagh, Dublin 6 Tel: 01-497 6438
One of things that I like to do is find restaurants that are a little different, a bit out of the ordinary; places that might never get on to the culinary map without a little publicity. In truth, I don't find them that often, but when I do it's a real pleasure for me.
This week brought one of those surprises. It was a restaurant that wasn't easy to find, that's tiny inside, very plain almost to the point of discomfort, and which serves raw fish. You can see at once that it isn't going to appeal to everyone. You won't find a starter, main course and dessert on this menu. But if you're one of those people to whom surroundings matter less than what's on the plate, read on.
Michie Sushi is down a lane off Ranelagh, a part of Dublin where you pay for parking up to midnight, so be warned. As you might have guessed from the name, it specialises in sushi and sashimi, the Japanese words to describe raw fish with rice and without rice.
I'd arranged to meet Caitriona McBride there, a lady with a passion for food that rivals my own. Having got a rare parking place, finding Michie Sushi in Chelmsford Lane was easy enough, but getting in the front door turned out to be somewhat harder. It took me a while to work out that it was a sliding door, so pushing and pulling vigorously had little effect. I could see faces inside turned towards me, watching the latest patron make a fool of himself trying to get in.
Caitriona was already there with a pot of green tea and we sipped that while looking at the menus. Helpfully, one of the menus has pictures, so even if you have no idea what the name of a dish means, you know what it looks like.
A very charming waitress in a traditional kimono was serving the room of six or seven tables. The tiny kitchen supplies not only the dining room, but a takeaway service as well, so the delivery courier was in and out quite a lot.
A poster of Mount Fuji was on the wall behind Caitriona and another had the autumn leaves of Japanese maple scattered in a garden. That's about as far as the Japanese theming went. The tables were white laminate and the seats quite hard.
I'm a huge fan of Japanese cooking -- or, in the case of sashimi, the lack of it. There's something that's both dainty and precise about the preparation; it's hugely skilful and, like many Japanese arts, its beauty lies in the attention to detail. It's part of the Shinto tradition that every act, no matter how trivial, should be done with care and attention, a belief that applies to cooking as well. It can take 10 years to become a sushi master.
I was converted to raw tuna a while ago at a dinner where tuna came both cooked and as sashimi. There really was no contest: the sashimi won hands down, the texture and the taste were far superior to the cooked version. So one of our choices was salmon and tuna sashimi, the others were a 'small set', Chirashi and ura maki.
We also ordered a small sake at €7, which our waitress suggested we should have iced, so we did. Three half-litre bottles of sparkling water made up the rest of our drinks. The first thing that arrived at the table was the small set, which was a platter of six nori maki rolls and a tuna, salmon and prawn slice on rice. The usual accompaniments of pickled ginger, wasabi mustard and soy sauce were on hand to make the dressings.
As I said, almost everything in Japan is neat and dainty, but that doesn't include my side of the table when I'm using chopsticks. I swear, it looked such a mess that I felt like the proverbial gaijin oaf. I can deal with the bite-sized pieces easily enough, it's the bigger bits that give me grief.
Anyway, after that was cleared away and the nice waitress had given me another napkin to muck up, the other three plates arrived. The salmon and tuna sashimi, which has four thick slices each of salmon and tuna; the Chirashi, which is a varied platter of sushi, and the ura maki, which is sushi rolls with the black nori seaweed on the inside instead of the outside.
Part of the fun of eating food like this is not just the struggle with chopsticks -- although they do offer you occidental cutlery if you want -- it's also mixing up the wasabi mustard with the soy to make your own dipping sauce. Quite how the Japanese manage to dip and eat without making the mess that I do is something that I need to investigate.
You'd think that there's nothing much filling in this meal, but there was. We had to struggle to finish it all, and yet despite feeling replete, we still had a sense that what we'd eaten was somehow healthy and easy on the digestion.
I know that the idea of uncooked fish is unpalatable to many, but if you can overcome any residual reservations I would really encourage you to give sashimi a try. It can only be done with the very freshest and finest-quality fish, so at least you have the comfort of knowing that what you're eating is the very best the sea can offer.
Another look at the menus dispelled any thoughts of desserts or coffee, neither of which were on offer. Instead we finished our meal with another pot of green tea, which rounded it all off very nicely.
I liked Michie Sushi a lot, despite its very simple and plain décor, and it does offer you great value for money. The bill for all the various dishes we'd eaten, three half-bottles of mineral water and a small carafe of sake came to a very modest €54.14, which is precisely the takeaway price of €47.70 with 13.5pc VAT added.
ON A BUDGET
If you wanted to give Michie Sushi a try without spending very much, I’d suggest that you try the ‘small set’ that we had. This gives a little taste of various sushi creations and, at €8 for the takeaway version, it certainly won’t break the bank.
ON A BLOWOUT
A blowout isn’t easy at these prices unless you’re prepared to eat a lot, which somehow defeats the delicacy of sushi and sashimi. There is a specials menu where you can find more expensive dishes, such as soft-shelled crab rolls at €12.50 and Chirashi sushi at €13.50.
VALUE FOR MONEY 9/10