Aisuru Sushi Bar, Northbridge
Aisuru Sushi Bar is barely a month old, the new kid on the block where James and William Streets meet, next to the New Edition bookshop opposite the iconic Brass Monkey Hotel in Northbridge.
"Aisuru" means "to love" in Japanese, and there's a lot to love about this restaurant.
I jump at the chance to grab a seat at the counter so I can enjoy the live sushi theatre. As I take my seat, camera dangling around my neck, I grin at the chef on the other side of the counter in front of me; he grins right back. This is going to be fun. Throughout the meal, I'm mesmerised by the non-stop sushi rolling, slicing, garnishing and my favourite, blow-torching. The chefs are happy to answer questions or make recommendations - just ask.
A waiter cheerfully takes our order on an iPad. Most dishes are best ordered to share, and that's what we do.
First, tuna sashimi (AU$10.50), consisting of 5 meaty slices of raw tuna with gari (pickled ginger) and wasabi.
Jac is especially keen to try the beef tataki (AU$12.50), 4 pieces of lightly seared sirloin cut beef served with ponzu sauce and shaved daikon radish. The beef is disappointing; chewy rather than fall-apart tender.
My sister Juji's been raving about the sweet corn tempura since her first visit to Aisuru and as I love corn, it's on my must-try list. The sweet corn kernels are sliced fresh off the cob and fried in tempura batter, then lightly salted, drizzled with truffle oil and aioli, and sprinkled with spicy shichimi togarashi flakes. It hits all the taste and texture pleasure spots - it's sweet yet savoury, creamy yet crunchy.
We can't resist the allure of creamy popcorn shrimp (AU$15.50) - 5 tempura prawns served with tentsuyu sauce. The prawns are plump and juicy. They are described on the menu as "crispy", but the coating of creamy chilli mayo has rendered the batter quite soggy. Bursty? Yes, sublimely so! Delicious? Definitely! Just not crispy.
Next is the soft shell crab salad (AU$15.50). We are big fans of soft shell crab and are always excited to see it on menus. The lightly battered and fried soft shell crab is served on a bed of mixed mesclun salad with mayonnaise.
I'm in the mood for chicken, so we order the teriyaki chicken entree ($AU9.50). The chicken thigh fillet is succulent and full of flavour. My only complaint? Needs more skin!
Juji and Jac also order miso soup (AU$3.50).
We like the sound of this combination: unagi (eel) and cucumber rolled uramaki style (inside-out, with the rice on the outside), topped with avocado, fish eggs and drizzled with aioli and unagi sauce. It's called the Caterpillar Roll. Why would that be, we wonder?
I see why immediately when our sushi roll's been made - it's because it looks like a caterpillar. One of those chubby colourful ones that always seem to be munching on something. That vivid visual doesn't put me off though - I'm looking forward to eating this caterpillar.
All sushi rolls are available in 4 or 8 pieces. On hindsight, we should've ordered 4-piece rolls so we could've tried more varieties. That's what I plan to do next time.
If this meal was featured in an episode of Bizarre Foods or No Reservations, it probably would be a sushi roll made from caterpillars! I'm pleased to report this particular "caterpillar" is delicious.
A switch of stations for the chefs gives us someone new to watch. He gets to work preparing our final savoury dish, the Grilled Scallop and Avocado Roll (8 pc, AU$18.50). He carefully arranges sliced fresh scallops on top, ready for the next step - "grilling" the scallops by blow torch.
This sushi is all softness - the barely cooked scallops (I think "grilled" is overstating it a little), the avocado, the surimi (crab stick). I think I prefer the Caterpillar.
I want Banana Split Maki (AU$12) for dessert. We share the 6 pieces of banana tempura topped with strawberry, kiwifruit and whipped cream, drizzled with chocolate and raspberry sauce. I find the sauces sickly sweet (the lurid raspberry reminds me of cough syrup, which i have not consumed since childhood) but the banana bites are delicious. The batter is light and crisp, the banana inside soft, sweet and ripe. We'd have ordered the handmade green tea ice cream as well, but they'd run out.
By the time we're ready to leave, all inside (counter as well as dining room) and outside tables are taken, a small queue is beginning to build and there are people hovering, eager to take over our seats.
I'm looking forward to my next visit. On my "next time" list are the green tea ice cream, chicken karaage entree (marinated and fried chicken thigh topped with slices of tamago and drizzled with spicy mayonnaise), Plum Flower Roll (teriyaki chicken and avocado wrapped in nori and sushi rice, wrapped again in tamago and drizzled with special plum sauce) and the Spider Roll (fried soft shell crab, cucumber, lettuce and wasabi mayonnaise). I have a sneaking suspicion that sweet corn tempura will make an appearance again too...
Vegans, take note - there's a vegan sushi roll menu. I love the names, which include Beets International Roll, Veganpillar Roll, Apple of Love Roll and Magic Mushroom Roll (nine items on the vegan menu, from memory).
And if you don't think Hawaiian pizza's an abomination, maybe you'd like to try Aisuru's Hawaiian Roll, with mango, avocado, crab stick, salmon and mayonnaise.
This is definitely a restaurant for sushi roll lovers. It's not the cheapest Japanese around, but we've been fed well and entertained by the sushi show.
Aisuru Sushi Bar
208-210 William Street
Northbridge WA 6003
Telephone: (08) 9328 8578
Tuesday to Saturday
Lunch 11.30am to 2.30pm
Dinner 5pm to 10pm