The middle ground
Tel: 2733 1555
My letterbox was made to receive letters and hang onto them until I arrive home and collect them. The clue is in the blessed name. Nowhere does it state that it wants to play host to unsolicited mail.
Unsolicited should be another clue. I could probably list a number of synonyms for that, some of which more unsavoury than others, but I’m sure every reader has their pet name for the stuff in our letterbox that we did not specifically request to receive.
The paradox about this mail is that, detested as it is by some, we tend to carry it over our doorstep and into our homes before winnowing the wheat from the chaff.
The consumer’s home is a hallowed place and penetrating it is the dream of everyone who is trying to sell us anything. And I, the consumer, gladly carry these gratuitous sales tools into my cave.
To be perfectly honest, there is the occasional item that proves to be worth the paper it is printed on. I am naturally inclined to pay more attention to those that mention food than all other forms of communication.
A restaurant menu, complete with phone numbers to call for take-out and a delivery service,will have much more of my attention than, say, a catalogue for high-performance sportswear.
A couple of weeks ago, as I plonked the pile of paper pitilessly pushed into my letterbox onto my kitchen table, I espied a folded sheet of paper that looked like a sushi menu. A proud chef stared at me from the outside cover and the Sushi Club, for so the restaurant is called, stated that it served both Korean and Japanese specialities.
Stands to reason, I thought. While I have yet to visit Japan itself, most chefs I’ve seen at Japanese restaurants seem to hail from all over the world, with Japan being vastly under represented. The food shots looked interesting and the Korean specialities sounded fun to pronounce. Bibimbab? I’m all for it.
And so off I trundled at my first opportunity. Parking in Paceville needs no introduction, so I’ll leave the language I employed to describe it to myself off these pages of unimpeachable purity.
The location is quite thankfully off the beaten track, so one is spared the ordeal of pushing through hordes of sunburnt youngsters wearing ‘I heart Malta’ T-shirts.
Down on this side of the woods tourists are more wily. They wear T-shirts that say ‘I heart Santorini’ to show everyone that they haven’t just won a holiday. Au contraire, these T-shirts scream, we are well-travelled.
The Club Sushi sign is well illuminated and beckons from afar. Up close, the restaurant looks neat and white and well-lit. A long bar at the far end displays fresh fish that will no doubt make it onto our dishes.
Tables are neatly laid and, while tables on the porch looked lovely, the sticky evening heat had me opting for a table all the way inside the air-conditioned restaurant.
Maroon 5 played in the background and Arirang TV, doubtless Korea’s finest, provided entertainment with subtitles in English and Chinese.
The rest of the décor is quite stark and understated. I think I missed the usual scrolls of Japanese calligraphy and a battery-powered Maneki Neko, the little beckoning cat that waves good luck into the restaurant.
We were immediately welcomed by a young lady who was polite, smart, and impeccably mannered. As we walked towards our table, she picked menus from a pile and was handing them to us by the time we sat down.
She took our order for water and gave us time to have a look at the menus, letting us know she was available should we need any help.
The menus are quite comprehensive and include most of the styles we’ve come to expect of sushi restaurants with sashimi, maki, temaki and nigiri as well as udon noodle dishes and even Japanese main courses making an appearance. The final addition is that of a section dedicated to Korean specialities.
I was surprised at the range and, as is my wont, wanted to taste an item from every section.
I settled for a more realistic selection – the sushi I like to start with and a Korean speciality for main course. Salmon sashimi, spicy tuna maki (roll) and ebi tempura maki (tempura prawn roll), nigiri (finger sushi) with smoked eel and surf clam and salmon roe gunkan (rice wrapped in seaweed and topped with the roes).
I was itching to order temaki (cone-shaped rolls) and some tempura, but figured it would be better to go easy on the initial order and place top-up orders if necessary.
For main course, I picked the Bibambab. Not only does it sound like it should taste heavenly, it is also described as a Korean speciality of vegetables and minced beef served with rice and a ‘hot’ Korean sauce. Tekka Don, a raw tuna salad from the Japanese specialities, would be consumed by the incurable sushi lover across the table.
Every table that was occupied in the restaurant had one thing in common. The party included at least two people of Asian origin. I considered this a good omen. If they’ve tried this place and returned, there must be something quite good going for it.
Our food took a while but then sushi that is prepared to order requires time and patience so I’d rather wait an extra five minutes than be served a roll that has been languishing in the fridge since breakfast time.
The only really annoying factor during the wait was the smell of hot oils and frying that seemed to find its way out of the kitchen and all over our table. I hoped it would go away or that at least I’d get used to it but neither of these happened.
Our waitress, helpful as ever, had suggested that we try the Japanese plum wine off the menu. It is served in a little carafe that I am used to being served sake in and also poured into tiny, thimble-like cups. I’m quite partial to sake and this, while unrelated, proved interesting.
Sweet and tasting of ripe cherry, it worked like a charm with hot Korean sauce that turned out to be as sweet as it was hot.
Our sushi was served on long, rectangular dishes and laid out with an artful affection so that I allowed a few moments to take in the eye candy before I dug in. I won’t describe all the items at length but overall the quality was hard to fault.
I object to the addition of mayonnaise to my maki, a particularly Western bowdlerisation of the original, known for a paucity of flavours rather than a sticky assault. And yet I live in the Western world and when in the West, we do as the Westerners do.
The presentation skills extended to the main course. The salad, that may be ordered in two sizes, was fresh and pretty and tasty. The portion size was just right, as well. My Bibimbab, and I said this word for the sheer fun of it until my lips went numb, also looked pretty, with its neat radial pattern of veg arching towards the perimeter of the plate from the central pile of minced meat.
The flavours were simple and distinct, all the individual texture of the vegetables had been preserved and the sauce was a sticky, sweet, viscous, tangy treat.
We are used to paying more for our food in Malta than most other places I have visited, so I suppose the bill for €30 per person is to be expected. It is not a bargain though.
Club Sushi is sitting in that awkward gap where it’s too pricy for a take-out/fast-food place and not posh enough for fine dining.
I’m sure there’s ample room in the market for this segment but something needs to be done to the character of the place to elevate it from the awkward middle ground.
I will be back for the Bibimbab just the same.
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