Refuel: Yo! Sushi ***
Brown Thomas, Clarendon Street, Dublin 2. Tel: 01 6728950
There's nothing the Japanese like more than a good gimmick -- except, of course, a bad gimmick.
This is, after all, the country that brought us dusting socks for cats, funnels for inserting eye drops and chin rests for narcoleptic subway commuters.
The Japanese have a word for pointless inventions: chindogu -- it's used to describe an innovation that solves an every day problem, but which is so impractical that it creates another set of problems, more troublesome than the one it set out to solve.
Conveyor-belt sushi is almost, but not quite, a chindogu. Apparently, the guy who invented it was having trouble staffing his sushi restaurant. But then, one day, he visited the Asahi brewery, saw bottles whizz by on a belt and thought to himself, 'I could do that with sushi'. Five years on, in 1958, he opened his first conveyor-belt sushi restaurant in Osaka.
It has taken almost 50 years for sushi conveyor belts to arrive in Ireland. Aya on Clarendon Street was, to my knowledge, the first place to do it here. It has since closed and been replaced with Yo! Sushi, a British chain that prides itself on being "Fast!" "Fun!" and "Fresh!" Although you can order dishes including tempura, dumplings and katsu from a human, Yo! is best known for its sushi on a circuit, which rolls on long after the kitchen has stopped taking orders.
The anticipation of what might or might not appear on the conveyor at Yo! Sushi was an uncomfortable prospect for me. What if I choose a plate and then change my mind? My accomplice, the Drama Queen, was full of helpful advice. "You pick -- you stick," she said, stabbing the air with a chopstick. Fear of commitment was not an option.
I managed to buy some time with a bowl of miso soup, brought to the table by a waiter. You can consume an unlimited amount of the stuff for a flat fee of €2. It was a good soup, not too salty, a little bit smoky and definitely tasting of the sea. I could have slurped a while longer, but the Drama Queen was already plucking colour-coded bowls from the belt. The green ones (€2.25) were simple vegetarian norimaki -- small, tightly rolled cylinders of seaweed-encased rice with either cucumber, avocado or pickled radish.
She tried to convince me that vegetable sushi rolls are mere vehicles for wasabi -- incendiary mustard paste for which she displayed an alarming tolerance. I prefer subtle flavours, but not so subtle that they fail to register with your taste buds, as was the case with cucumber and avocado maki. Suddenly, I too was spooning on the wasabi with a heavy hand. A grey plate (€6.75) featuring cool peachy salmon in a variety of guises -- sashimi, nigiri and maki -- was a better investment.
Next to be plucked from the belt was a purple plate containing two California rolls (€3.75): a combination of crabstick, avocado and cucumber. A sushi aficionado once told me that this, as the name suggests, is a Yankie bastardisation never served in Japan. Its inherent blandness confirms this claim.
We pressed on with an orange plate (€4.50). It was inhabited by four cold and unappealing cubes of tofu. Eager to improve our orange experience, we quickly chose an alternative: nori filled with tuna loin and Japanese chilli, which at least packed some punch.
Moving on to the pink (€5), and eager to close the deal, I picked a plate of straightforward nigiri -- rice topped with slices of tuna loin, salmon and prawn.
Eating at Yo! Sushi was a hit and miss affair, which wasn't helped by the fact that we arrived after 9pm and got the distinct impression that our food had been there long before us. On the plus side, we benefited from a special promotion that saw our food bill cut by a third, easing the pain of having to pay €1 each for drinking from a water font on the table. Tap water was not available, we were told. Our final bill came to €38, which included a carafe of hot sake. It seemed like an appropriate price to pay for our novelty eating experience.
TYPICAL DISH: California rolls
THE DAMAGE: €38.75 for 10 sushi plates, two miso soup, water and sake
ON THE STEREO:Pop
AT THE TABLE:Tourists
WHAT TO WEAR: Diesel
DO SAY:Hello Kitty!
DON’T SAY: What goes around, comes around