Sushinoen: Whitechapel’s Hidden Japanese Gem

Red paper lanterns, kimono-clad staff and tofu teriyaki bento… Sushinoen offers a tasty serving of Japan at the bottom of Brick Lane

Sushinoen serves a range of high-quality, mid-price Japanese dishes at lunch and dinner everyday in what was St. Mary’s Clergy House, a grand Victorian corner building overlooking Altab Ali park. The building is now garnished with red paper lanterns bearing Kanji script in black. 

As you step through the arched front door, you enter a light and airy front room that seats 30 to 40 people around a mix of large and small geometric tables. The interior is effortlessly natural: raw wood furniture, off-white walls, and hanging lights with plants trailing from them. At the back two chefs are at work in the open kitchen.

A kimono-clad waiter takes you to your seat, where a neatly arranged set of chopsticks, a napkin and a small square bowl await you. The air is floral-scented and relaxed global jazz-pop plays out of a speaker. 

It’s lunchtime. Many of the other diners are businessmen chatting over fizzy draught beers. I sit back in my chair, tune in to the saxophone and imagine I’m in a sophisticated hotel lobby in downtown Tokyo.

I order the tofu teriyaki bento box. That means I can look forward to miso soup, teriyaki tofu, roasted aubergine, cucumber maki, sweet potato tonkatsu, two different seaweed salads, pickled veg and wasabi.

The miso soup comes first, while I am lurking on the stairs down by the toilets, appreciating a series of mostly Meiji-era photographs by Tamamura Kozaburo, Kusakabe Kimbae and others.

The soup is hot and salty. It heats up your chest and rises to your temples. The tofu cubes melt in your mouth and the wakame seaweed leaves are somehow crunchy and chewy without being crispy or soggy.

The sweet smelling tofu teriyaki bento box comes next. It’s delicate and beautiful, like a premium box of chocolates. 

Tofu teriyaki bento box

The highlight is the roasted aubergine. Crispy on the outside, it’s warm and fleshy inside, and glazed with a sweet thick sauce.

The teriyaki tofu is so delightfully syrupy you have to pull each slice away from the next. Take sticky rice with your chopsticks and bundle it together into one delicious mouthful.

Totalling £22.39 with service and a mug of hot green tea included, this is not a cheap eat. But the quality of the experience makes it good value. Come for work lunches, a meal with your parents, a catch-up with a visiting friend, or a date.

Sushinoen translates to ‘sushi in a garden’. Stepping out of this restaurant into the urban smog, confronted by a graffitied red telephone box, you feel you’ve left a garden where peace, friendliness and good value prevail.

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