[Atariya], my local sushi eatery has now become something of a pilgrimage for North Londoners like myself.
Located on Fairfax Road, Swiss Cottage which runs off the cacophonic Finchley Road, sandwiched unobtrusively between Thackeray Court & “Think Rugs….Think Wood….Think Woodenfloors.Uk.Com” you could be forgiven for passing Atariya’s unassuming white frontage without paying too much attention to the melange of Japanese culinary delights that await you within.
My wife and I joke that we frequent the establishment so often we are putting the owner’s children through school. Although we joke, sadly there is an element of truth to this. Such is our obsession with Atariya that we named a table at our wedding after it. More worryingly the staff who greet us all seem to know us by name. I must make a mental note to [get out more].
In recent years Atariya has grown in popularity and having now established itself is visited by the who’s who of North West London including the old lady that lives a few doors down from me, the man who’s always sweeping leaves outside his building and the guy who owns the rug store down the road. As well as a restaurant in Swiss Cottage there is a shop in Temple Fortune where they sell all of their fresh produce at source to passers-by and distribute to a wide variety of retailers and restaurant’s including [Nobu]. They also have restaurants in Ealing, Hendon & in the West End on James Street.
When my wife and I first moved into the area we would frequently wander in off the street after an arduous day however these days we seldom get a table without booking in advance. We are not the only ones. On one occasion when a woman visiting with her parents was told there was no availability we watched helplessly from the window as she began sobbing violently outside. As her salty tears began streaming down her face whilst I was tucking into my beef fillet tataki I could only wonder what was going on in her parents mind as they tried to comfort her.
So to the food itself. What is it about Atariya that makes certain people cry? What distinguishes Atariya from other sushi restaurants is not the freshness of ingredient’s, although when savouring a delectable plate of sashimi one cannot help but feel as though one is taking a bite out of salmon that has just been airlifted from the sea and placed delicately onto your plate. Nor is it the culinary wizardry of the chefs that construct the dishes, although upon further inspection of my omelette sashimi it remains to be seen how one can simply conjure up a stone cold miniature omelette of such angular proportions.
No, it is neither of these two factors. Rather, what sets the food in Atariya apart from good but not great sushi restaurants is the diligence and the beguiling attention to detail by which the food is prepared. To give an example [wasabi] in most sushi restaurants consists of a lurid green paste which can often be a grainy and unpalatable texture particularly when refrigerated below room temperature when it clumps together. Far from being grainy the wasabi in Atariya is of a smooth delicate consistency & gives the kick your tastebuds deserve.
The crab meat and avocado salad is decorated with a threads of saffron which not only adds aesthetic appeal with the fiery red saffron beautifully juxtaposing the avocado but actually adds an enticing and complex sea side flavour to the dish.
Then there are the deserts. A little known secret is the vanilla pod crème brulee with chestnut ice cream. There are no superlative’s that could ever do this dish justice. Simply to say that I have never tried crack but if I did I would imagine that this would still be more addictive.
At its very best dishes in Atariya are of an exemplary mouth-wateringly standard & at the very least they will still make you crave more food. Quite frankly I can’t understand what all the fuss is about Nobu, I would pick Atariya every time.