I have always lived in Tower Hamlets since making London my home several years ago. When Sushinoen first opened on the corner of Altab Ali park I had mixed feelings. I was disappointed that the former pub, which used to hold the sometimes hilarious, sometimes awkward open night mike nights for amateur comedians had closed down. However I was mostly excited that we would finally have a taste of Tokyo close by.
Flossy’s rating: ★★
I cannot remember my first visit to Sushinoen too well. I recall going there with my partner and being astounded at the bad cocktails and huge bill. However that was almost two years ago, so I recently decided to give it another go on a mild and slightly chilly Saturday morning in early December 2015 when I was hugely hungover.
After spending the morning out and about running errands, and with an empty stomach, groggy feeling and mild headache, I walked past Sushinoen and was impulsed to go in for a meal. It was just what the doctor ordered. To start with, I had ordered the vegetable gyoza’s, which are traditional Japanese pan-fried dumplings. They arrived promptly and were so deliciously warm and succulent, filled with just the right amount of seasoned vegetable and with a light dipping sauce that had some bite. Following this, I had a vegetable ramen soup. Now I’m a big fan of the Vietnamese Pho, which is my favourite Asian soup, and this ramen was definitely on par with the best Pho. The broth was a little more salty and thick, and it was served with a generous amount of egg noodles, oriental mushrooms, bean shoots, and onions. The meal was absolutely top-notch, washed down with a cherry mocktail and I left feeling very satisfied.
After this good experience, I went again to Sushinoen the following week, this time on a Friday evening with my partner. Sushinoen is only a small establishment with the dining floor split over two levels and that evening it was very busy. We waited about 8 minutes at the door to be seated, and were advised that there was a 20 minute wait for food because the kitchen was busy. We were okay with this. We ordered Salmon Tataki to start, which was very lightly seared and finely sliced salmon served with a ponzu sauce. It was a delicate dish, which would appeal to those who are fond of salmon sashimi (which we are), and the salmon tasted like it was the best quality. Following this, I ordered an udon noodle soup served in a pot with vegetables and prawn tempura. It was a particularly chilly evening outside and I needed some warming up, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. The soup had been served with a lid, which was subsequently taken off, but the steam had caused the tempura batter on the prawn to become very soggy. I was also horrified to see a poached egg floating in my soup. Now I’m sure hardcore ramen connoisseurs will chastise that a Japanese soup always is served with egg, but it was not written on the menu and its an ingredient that people can either love or hate. I spent a good part of the evening trying to scoop it out, but I kept coming across more floating pieces of egg white. And if that wasn’t bad enough, although the noodles were generous there was hardly more than 5 spoonfuls of soup! A winter warmer it certainly wasn’t. My husband fared slightly better. He ordered udon noodles with pork that was finely sliced and fried, served in a salty, rich sauce. His noodle dish was very tasty, however for the price of £10 it was surprisingly plain and didn’t contain any additional vegetables or garnish.
The ambiance at Sushinoen is pleasant, as its situated in a lovely old English building decorated with lanterns right by Aldgate East tube. The staff working there are polite and accommodating and the menu seems to have some good Japanese classics. However the prices are above average for Asian cuisine in East London and there are many other better restaurants nearby. After having two out of three bad experiences, I’m unlikely to return again any time soon. However, it could be a case of ordering the wrong thing at the wrong time, therefore if you are local to the area I would suggest giving it a try at least once but perhaps opting for one of their many sushi or sashimi dishes. They also have some great value lunch deals advertised.