Discover the secrets of this year's explosive Sushi of the Year, Dragon Volcano, and a little more about the chef and restaurant behind it.
The winning roll of the 2012 Sushi Awards was brought about by the teamwork of London’s Tsunami restaurant, and the innovative mastery of its Sous Chef, Kok Haw Lee. Dragon Volcano is made with King Prawn tempura, spring onions, avocado, shredded chilli, tempura flakes, tobiko and a carrot, onion and mayonnaise sauce. It is then flame torched to provide its characteristic smoky flavour, before being drizzled with tare and chilli sauces.
“My inspiration for this was a mixture of things. Firstly, Tsunami’s own Little Volcano was an important starting point. Then came my own experimenting. When I was younger and living in Malaysia, my parents were extremely busy and never had the time to cook for my siblings and me. The food we ate was very basic, so when I could I would go out and eat in restaurants and try new and exciting food. When I eventually started cooking for myself, there were many ingredients I couldn’t get hold of, so I had to start inventing new ways to get flavours”. This was his thinking behind the carrot and onion mayonnaise, which has a unique cheesy flavour despite having no cheese in it, and also the flame torching to produce the roll’s distinctive smoky wok flavour. “I chose these flavours because they are the ones that most appeal to the UK audience”. This knowledge no doubt comes on the back of his rapid ascent in one of London’s most suave Japanese restaurants. Regardless of where it came from though, his victory in a competition that was voted for by the UK public proves he was right.
But Chef Lee says without the support of Tsunami, this would never have been possible. “Not all restaurant kitchens will let you experiment”, he tells us, “I have to thank my head chef as he is the one who gives me the freedom to try out new dishes. Without this, there is no innovation”. He also says that the Tsunami staff gave him a huge amount of support, and this helped him keep his confidence up throughout the event. “The first day I was nervous, but by the third day I was fine. The second day was so tough, there were so many people!” But Tsunami’s manager was always by his side, and this kept him focused and positive. There is a hint of that winning bravado in Chef Lee’s voice when he tells us that he wasn’t so much surprised when he won, just relieved: “I had picked the flavours that the British like most – of course I would win!”
About Chef Lee
Chef Lee (centre) is of Malaysian origins, but made the switch to Japanese food after he realised how much he adored its intricacy and delicacy, its colour and healthiness. Malaysian cooking, he says, is also full of many secret family recipes, so his study of the cuisine could only go so far. He has always been aware of Japanese food, as it has long been popular in Malaysia, and he was especially keen on the fusion dishes it brought about. His history of working in Japanese restaurants is simple: he came to the UK three and a half years ago and started at Tsunami. Here he has honed his skill, toned his palate, and begun inventing his own fusion recipes, an activity that takes over his free time too.
Tsunami’s award winning ideology is split between two restaurants, located in Clapham and the West End’s Charlotte Street. With a concerted commitment to ‘freshness and seasonality’, as well as traditional and contemporary styles, Tsunami restaurant epitomises London’s growing number of chic and fashionable Japanese eateries. The dishes are bold and inventive, paying respect to Japanese traditional cooking by re-jigging them for the Western taste. That said, the sushi and sashimi is of such a quality that even the fussiest Japanese food connoisseur will be satisfied. Share a plate with one and see for yourself! Click here for more information about Tsunami.
Text by Fred Gifford
Images by Kohei Suzuki