For the first time since starting this blog I’ve just left a restaurant and immediately written a review. I’m not sure I can do the food or artistry happening at Gaijin Sushi justice, but I’m going to have a go.
My journey to trying Gaijin Sushi has been embarrassingly long. The Southside-based sushi restaurant has been on my radar since Michal (chef and owner) opened the doors back in March, but for reasons that I now can’t justify it’s taken me until July to eat there. Found midway along Bristol Street, the tiny restaurant seats just ten guests at a time and offers an unapologetically intimate dining experience.
Perching on stools at an L-shaped bar you’re immersed in the preparation, everyone getting a front row seat at Michal’s kitchen table. The main man himself is polite but quite quiet, more interested in creating beautiful dishes than chatting about the inferno-like weather outside. He happily answered questions about his entirely self-created menu, telling me a little bit about his background prior to setting up on his own. I say he told me, in hindsight I grilled the poor bloke, finding out he spent some years at Sushi Passion in Great Western Arcade.
The Polish native likes to demonstrate his creative flare for a captive audience, hence the ring side seats as he skilfully slices, diced and balances ingredients. The guy is making edible art out of raw fish – if you can’t show that shit off what can you?! The menu combines your typical sushi offerings with some more unusual options. On my visit I was – as usual – a bit hungover, so I kept my choices quite classic. There’s no judgement here anyway – leave your attitude at the door and just enjoy your meal, your way.
Miso Soup (£2.50) and Goma Wakame (£2.50) kicked things off. A Japanese seaweed salad, for want of a better description, this simple starter is something I like but rarely remember to order. Having found out it’s apparently full of anti-ageing benefits I might rub myself in the stuff next time. Light work was made of the soup, a comforting salty broth with pieces of salmon peeping from the surface instead of the usual tofu. I don’t usually look to fermented bean paste to get my kicks but in this case I’ll make an exception. I probably didn’t need both starters but what you need and want are rarely mutually exclusive in my world.
Time for Makizushi. Bitesize happiness came in the form of Tuna Hosomaki (£4.50 for 6 pieces), classic in both taste and presentation with nori encasing the rice and bluefin tuna. I loved the Crispy Prawn Futomaki (£5.50 for 6) for the change in texture. There’s also a version of this dish with blow torched eel.
A rather large duo of Salmon Nigiri (£3.50 for 2 pieces) gave me a taste of what I could expect from Gaijin’s sashimi offering, with the freshness of the fish clear from one bite. I slathered mine in wasabi and thin slivers of fresh ginger for some heat and zing, but to be honest both the tuna and the salmon need very little help from accompaniments.
I finished up with Crab Meat Uramaki Rolls (£8.50 for 5 pieces). I don’t usually bother with crab when having grab and go sushi because it’s inevitably of the seafood stick kind and, frankly, I loathe the very sight of such things. In this case the ‘inside out’ rolls (thanks America) were packed with well seasoned fresh crab, and topped with wafer thin pieces of ripe avocado and fish roe. Colourful, beautifully presented and a generous portion for the price tag, it was undoubtedly my favourite dish from the meal.
It might be nestled without much fanfare on one of the least attractive streets in the city centre, but Gaijin Sushi is a beautiful addition to the Brum food scene. The restaurant has heart (and a massive fan which in this heatwave was most welcome) and I was honestly delighted by the whole concept. Being able to watch your food being created right in front of you is a nice touch, I found the whole process quite mesmerising. Is it truly authentic to Japan? Probably not – it’s in the heart of Birmingham and most people don’t want to eat sea urchin with their afternoon Twix on the regular – but it’s a lovely dining experience run by someone who really cares about his food.
My meal plus a soft drink touched just over of £25 with a 10% discount thanks to my much loved Independent Birmingham card. For 19 pieces of sushi plus two sides I’d call that pretty good value; I’ve begrudgingly paid more for less in YO! Sushi. Rumour has it there’s some menu changes coming very soon, so if you want any of the above I’d get in quick.
Have you tried Gaijin Sushi yet? Let me know in the comments.
Gaijin Sushi, 78 Bristol Street, Birmingham, B5 7AH
Disclosure: I paid in full for the food and drink including in this post. All words, photos and opinions (yes, we’re all entitled to them) are mine.