A Tale of Two Sushis: Yuzu vs Sushi Gen

The Japanese are, on the whole, a healthy lot. (Though I’m not sure I’d take diet tips from those Sumo fellas). It’s all down to a wonderful combination of fresh fruit and veg, and even fresher oily fish. Oh, and whale blubber.

Now, in pure numbers terms, we’re not exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to sushi restaurants in NW6. But everyone knows that it’s not quantity that counts, but quality, and boy do we have that by the net-full. Both Yuzu and Sushi Gen will satisfy your desire for tasty raw fish, but they do provide rather differing dining experiences. With this in mind, I decided to pit them in a head-to-head battle across a range of categories. After a brief introduction, of course:

Yuzu, on Fortune Green Road, is a fusion restaurant serving up the best of contemporary Japanese cuisine with a Latin American twist. This basically just means that as well as an extensive sushi menu, they also serve beef. Beautiful, tender teriyaki beef (£9). Unusual and exotic sauces also feature.

Sushi Gen is an unassuming little canteen-style restaurant on West End Lane that can claim Japanese authenticity, but probably won’t win any interior design awards. The salmon and tuna salad freebie that they give you upon your arrival is a particularly nice touch.

Freebie taster bowl at Sushi Gen

The Food

Like almost every aspect of Sushi Gen, the food is no-nonsense, simple fare. Every dish that you might expect to find on a sushi restaurant’s menu is here, from the single pieces of nigiri to the salmon, tuna or crab-based rolls. The Salmon California Roll (6 pieces for £3.80) is a favourite, as is the Ume Kyu Roll (6 pieces for £2.50), a veggie option consisting of cucumber in a tongue-fizzlingly tangy plum sauce.

The first thing to note about Yuzu is that portion sizes tend to be slightly smaller – typically 4 rolls per portion to Sushi Gen’s 6 – though the individual rolls themselves are slightly bigger. The food itself is just as good, if not better than its rival, and certainly more adventurous. Try the Yellow Tail Tiradito with Ponza Sauce – thinly sliced raw fish, spiced up with jalapeno and coriander (5 pieces for £5.80). And the classic Salmon and Avocado Inside-out Roll is exquisite (4 pieces for £3.80).

The Atmosphere

Yuzu has a warm, intimate dining room, decorated in a tasteful and inoffensive manner. It seems to be popular with medium-sized groups – families and friends more than couples – but still lends itself well to a romantic meal. It can be quite busy on a Friday or Saturday night, so worth calling ahead.

The Yuzu dining room

Sushi Gen does not feel like the kind of place that you would book for a special occasion. Its tiled floor and bright lighting mean that it’s more the kind of place that you might pop into after work or to satisfy those impromptu sushi-cravings. I’ve never experienced it especially busy but, if anything, that’s a good thing as it means you’re generally guaranteed a table.

Sushi Gen even has its own bus stop

Value for Money

This is a tight call. With Sushi Gen you get larger portions for less money, but at Yuzu the food is probably slightly better, so worth the additional cost. They both represent good value – Sushi Gen more so for those with greedy guts and light wallets; Yuzu for those who want a proper restaurant experience and are prepared to pay for it.

The Verdict

They are both fantastic sushi restaurants, though very different in feel. In a truly courageous display of fence-sitting, I simply have to recommend that you try them both. If you like sushi, you won’t be disappointed. And if you don’t, then why on earth are you still reading?

Yuzu, 102 Fortune Green Road, NW6 1DS. 0207 431 6602

Sushi Gen, 243 West End Lane, NW6 1XN. 0207 431 4031


Filed under Eating & Drinking

Beginner’s Boxing at Gloves, West Hampstead

The building trembles as another train rattles past, mere inches from the window. Peering out, I can see commuters piling off onto the platform at West Hampstead station, escaping the rain. Inside, sepia-toned photos line the exposed red-brick walls, and the dull sound of leather pounding leather echoes under the high-vaulted beamed ceiling.

If not for the bass-heavy music being pumped out of the stereo system, and the familiarity of the North London tube station outside, I could easily be in an old New York boxing hall, circa 1950.

My nostalgia is cut short by the arrival of our trainer, Matt. “This may be a gym,” he tells us, “but we’re here to learn how to box, not to watch TV. If you want that, you can go over the road to Esporta.” This may be a class for first-timers, but Matt won’t be going easy on us.

After the warm-up – five minutes of non-stop skipping during which my body makes time for breathers by hurling itself in the way of the swinging rope – we strap up. Hand injuries are common in boxing because of the constant strain the many small bones are put under, so we wrap our knuckles and wrists in elastic tape to avoid bruising them while hitting the punchbags.

With our gloves on, we start to look like real boxers. In some clubs, this is enough to get you into the ring with another person. “Traditional boxing clubs,” says Matt, “follow the model of, ‘let’s see how hard you are, and if you can handle it we’ll let you join.’ But we’re not a competition club, training kids to be fighters; we’re a fitness club, and boxing is the best kind of fitness you can do.”

So here at Gloves, the focus is on movement. Matt has us bouncing on the spot, shifting our weight between our front and back feet. Once we’re comfortable with the timing, we start throwing a left jab. In time, keeping our rhythm, we add a right-hand punch into the routine. Our synchronized movement is dance-like, and the focus required to execute the routine distracts from the exhaustion of performing it.

Once we’re familiar with the steps, we move onto circuits. Those who sign up for membership at Gloves will eventually have the opportunity to get into the ring and spar with a human being. Our opponents tonight, however, for two minutes at a time each, are the punchbags of various shapes and sizes that hang from the gym’s walls.

Matt, the squarest person I have ever come across, chest and shoulders bulging out from underneath his grey hoody, shows us how to tackle them. An ex-soldier who trained as a boxer in the Marines, he has the look of someone you would not ever want to get into a fight with.

As big as he is, he remains incredibly light on his feet, and skips around the apparatus, landing his blows on the punchbags with unexpected grace. “You’re going to find this difficult,” he warns us. Watching him demonstrate, I simply don’t believe him.

My mistake. Landing a blow on the heavy, cylindrical punchbag is not a problem. Doing it at full strength, and for two minutes at a time is. My instinct is to slow down and lighten my punches, but Matt soon appears over my shoulder. “Come on, punch the s**t out of that bag,” he bellows.

This is the first and only expression of the kind of language that you might expect in a boxing club. As much of a hard-man as Matt undoubtedly is, the atmosphere in the gym is far from macho. Two out of the eight in our class are women, as are roughly half of the regulars training around us.

I start attacking the bag with renewed efforts, but the bell rings again and it’s time to move onto another piece of equipment – the floor-to-ceiling bag – seemingly designed with the express purpose of humiliating me. The aim is to hit a round leather ball on an elastic rope suspended between floor and ceiling. Timing my punches is a near impossibility, and I spend the two minute period swinging at air, while the punchbag jerks violently past me.

The bell sounds and the hour-long session is over. I can’t wait to get my gloves off and use my newly freed hands to wipe away the streams of sweat flooding into my eyes. Unwinding the strapping reveals painfully swollen purple knuckles.

I collapse against a wall and gulp down the complimentary orange juice as fast as my lungs, gasping for breath, will allow. I had feared coming home from boxing a bloody, broken mess, but I survived unscathed, suffering only minor bruises to my ego.

The facts:

Gloves Boxing Club (198a Broadhurst Gardens, NW6 3AY) offers free introductory sessions for beginners, Wednesday evenings from 6.30 – 7.30. If you want to return after your second session, you must become a member. Membership costs £99 per month and includes unlimited use of the gym’s facilities, as well as classes every weekday evening. (glovesboxingclub.com, 0207 624 5850)

Leave a comment

Filed under Sports

Football: West Hampstead Wanderers vs Abacus Athletic… again

Wanderers continue to prop up the table

Another week, another match. The Wanderers were facing Abacus Athletic once again in the league. Would the team be able to restore some pride after last week’s drubbing? Dan reports.

Match day 7. Monday 28th February. KO 6.30
West Hampstead Wanderers 5 – 11 Abacus Athletic

After last week’s resounding defeat at the hands – and feet – of Gym United, the Wanderers were determined to get a positive result against Abacus Athletic. A positive opening period saw the Wanderers take the lead, with an early goal from @MatthewMargot.

For 10 whole minutes, the West Hampstead side looked genuinely good. The passing was slick, despite a wet and skiddy surface, the defense was strong and physical, and @Martin_Tse pulled off some spectacular diving saves in goal.

But then it all went down hill. Abacus scored an equaliser, and then took the lead. The Wanderers players’ heads went down, and three more Abacus goals followed. At half time, the Wanderers were 5-1 behind.

At this stage a comeback was still on the cards. The Wanderers were playing some good attacking football, and working hard off the ball. But for large periods, Abacus simply outplayed them.

Second half goals came from @ThomHoffman and @NWSixDan, and @MatthewMargot completed a deserved hat trick, but it wasn’t enough to close the gap. Final score: West Hampstead 5, Abacus 11.

It was a fair result on the night – Abacus were definitely the better side – but there were plenty of positives to draw from the Wanderers’ performance. Next week, West Hampstead take on the table-topping Kilburn Wizards in what will be another tough game. But in this crazy old league, anything can happen.

Here’s a short post-match interview with the West Hampstead Wanderers player-manager, Nick Hudgell.

League standings:

Kilburn Wizards                              P7 W5 D0 L2 GD +15
The Gym Utd.                                  P7 W4 D0 L3 GD +10
Abacus Athletic                              P7 W3 D1 L3 GD +5
West Hampstead Wanderers    P7 W1 D1 L5 GD -30
I wrote this match report for the West Hampstead Life blog. To read the original, or to catch up with past Wanderers results, click here.


Filed under Sports

Kilburn High Road circa 1790

Ed Fordham. You might remember him from such political campaigns as the 2010 General Election, or the unveiling of the AA Milne plaque, or potentially not at all.  What you may not know is that our Ed is also a keen local historian.

On his blog, he frequently uploads bits and bobs from his personal collection. This week, something caught my eye. It’s a map of what is now the A5 (aka Kilburn High Road), drawn in 1790. That is, officially, well old.

What’s especially lovely about this particular map is that it’s marked with ye olde inns; The Black Lion, The Bell, Cricklewood’s The Crown. The wonderfully named Shoot Up Hill even gets a mention.

Also interesting, if you’re that way inclined, is that in the late 18th Century, they spelled it Kilbourn. With an ‘o’, of all things! That’s progress for you.

Anyway, I suggest you check it out by clicking here.

1 Comment

Filed under Old School

Love NW6

Yes, yes, we all love NW6. This is hardly news, I’ll grant you that. But it’s still plain lovely to hear people say as much.

Well, over at Camden Council, they love NW6 so much that they asked photo supremo Jack Latimer to produce a series of videos  showing the world just how great it is around here. A smug Youtube pat on the back, basically.

The videos are a good 18months old, but their message is as true today as ever it was. Just take a look at these happy chappies and chappettes talking up our ‘hood.

Love Kilburn

And while you’re at it, Love West Hampstead

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Football: West Hampstead Wanderers vs Abacus Athletic

Wanderers rack up a point against Abacus

Monday night is football night here in NW6, and this week’s clash saw the West Hampstead Wanderers take on Abacus Althetic in a rematch of the first game of the season, which the Wanderers lost 7-11. But in a rich vein of form, could they steal the points in the reverse fixture. Dan reports: 

Match day 4. Monday 7th February. KO 6.30
West Hampstead Wanderers 9 – 9 Abacus Athletic

When Newcastle United came back against Arsenal from 4-0 down at half-time last weekend to eek out a 4-4 draw, many pundits thought that a more impressive comeback, and a more emphatic capitulation, could not be repeated. Not in our lifetimes, at any rate.

But last night, in a thrilling goal-fest at the Home of Football – Fortune Green play centre – the West Hampstead Wanderers faced an Abacus Athletic side with all the spirit, grit and determination to rewrite the history blogs.

The Wanderers took an early lead after @Talalb01 surprised the Abacus keeper with a long-range effort. The “Mathematicians” equalised, but the Wanderers, brimming with confidence and playing the kind of tiki-taka football that would have Lionel Messi salivating, kept their heads and kept scoring. This reporter’s memory isn’t what it used to be, but the score was somewhere in the region of 5-3 as half-time approached.

Abacus did brilliantly to close the gap, and if not for some outstanding keeping by @DJVectra in the West Hampstead goal, may well have taken the lead. Thankfully, superb goals from @ThomHoffman, @DomChristie and @Talalb01 meant that the Wanderers always had their noses in front.

A close-fought and well-deserved 9-8 victory looked to be a certainty but, with what would turn out to be the very last kick of the game, one of the Abacus players completed a great solo run and shot into the bottom corner of @DJVectra’s goal.

Final score: 9-9. Another strong performance from West Hampstead Wanderers, who really do seem to be going from strength to strength. It’s a long season – and a game of two halves, etc – and there’s still all to play for.

Goal Scorers:
@ThomHoffman x2, @Talalb01 x2, @DomChristie x2,


League standings:

Kilburn Wizards                              P4 W4 D0 L0 GD +14
Abacus Athletic                               P4 W1 D1 L2 GD -1
West Hampstead Wanderers     P4 W1 D1 L2 GD -4
The Gym Utd.                                   P4 W1 D0 L3 GD -9

I wrote this match report for the West Hampstead Life blog. To read the original, or to catch up with past Wanderers results, click here.

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Review: Zeytoon (NW2)

In the 25 years that I’ve lived on the boundary between NWs 6 and 2, I’ve managed to build up an unrivalled un-knowledge of Cricklewood. I have absolutely no idea why this is the case, but Shoot Up Hill has been a kind of no man’s land that I didn’t dare cross.

But last night, struck by hunger and propelled by a new-found sense of adventure, I decided to take the plunge into the murky depths of Cricklewood Broadway.

Now strictly speaking, of course, the Afghan/Persian taste-fest that is Zeytoon isn’t in NW6. But what with it being a 10 minute walk up the road from Kilburn underground station (I’m a fast walker), and considering that dining there was a darned pleasant experience, I think it’s worth the review.

Zeytoon is decorated beautifully with tapestries and tassled rugs, painted murals and Middle Eastern bric-a-brac. The colourful surroundings, the friendly staff and the table lay-out – with long extended-family-sized tables in the centre of each of the two well-lit dining areas – create a warm and relaxed atmosphere.

Freshly baked flat bread

Every few minutes the smell of freshly made Persian flat bread, baked in a traditional Tanoor clay oven in the dining room, drifts through the restaurant. The bread, made to order, arrives at our table warm and soft, and is eagerly devoured.

We shared the Mixed Starter (a selection of any 5 starters, £13.50) between the three of us. The highlight was the Kashk-e-Bademjan, a warm dip consisting of fried aubergines in olive oil mixed with walnuts, herbs and spices. The hummus was disappointing – a little too garlicy for my liking – but the Burani Spinach was a creamy delight.

For mains you are basically faced with the choice of either kebab or stew. My dining companion TC opted for the Chelow Kebab-e-Koubideh, two skewers of fine minced lamb served with rice (£5.95). TC is a greedy so-and-so, but even he was defeated by the generously sized portion.

The Baqoli Polow with Lamb, a speciality served only on Saturdays, was also a huge success. The lamb, so tender that dining companion WC could only assume that it must have been slow-cooked for the best part of a week, was buried in a mound of steamed rice. At £9.95 it is one of the pricier items on a pleasantly affordable menu, but by all accounts well worth the additional pennies.

Lamb and aubergine dominate the menu, and my main was a stew combining the two: Chelow Khoresht-e-Qeimeh Bademjan (£6.95). Packed with flavourful spice, it was just the right side of fragrant – I’d initially feared that I might find it a little soapy by the end. Not so.

Pot of tea, £3

I’m loath to describe the experience as “authentic” because, to tell you the truth, I have no idea what dining in Iran or Afghanistan is like,  but I imagine this is a pretty close approximation, and well worth the short trip up the A5. Good food, good value, good stuff.

Leave a comment

Filed under General

It’s a Dog’s Life

Brooklyn emerges triumphantly from the undergrowth, with yet another tennis ball clasped firmly in her jaws. This is the third one she has found today. The routine is familiar by now: she drops the drool-covered ball at my feet, I send it flying, she brings it back. Then, after the third throw or so, Brooklyn tears the ball into tiny slobbery pieces, before trotting off in search of her next felt-covered victim.

Tom Senior is Brooklyn’s dog-walker, and has been taking the Dalmatian-Pointer cross out for walkies – and watching her savage tennis balls – three times a week since the start of the summer. But in the cold November air, and with the grass wet under foot in London’s Primrose Hill, surely this is a day best spent inside, clutching a warm cup of tea.

Tom, and from left to right: Jasper, Brooklyn, Shoshy and Monty

As a dog-walker, though, Tom takes the weather in his stride. He is certainly well equipped, wearing layered hooded tops, waterproof trousers and heavy-duty hiking boots. “The dogs need to go out,” says Tom, “and they rely on you. Otherwise, they’d just be at home all day. No wind or rain will stop me getting there.”

Tom, still only 22 years old, joined the Lancashire Police part-time while studying at the University of Lancaster. He soon became the only Special Constable assigned to the county’s dog squad, spending his spare time going on drugs raids, searching for illegal weapons and responding to cross-county 999 calls at 130 miles per hour. By comparison, his current job is a walk in the park…

But when his long-term girlfriend was offered a teaching job at a primary school in Warwick Avenue, Tom decided to join her in making the move from Lancaster, even though it meant leaving the force.

When he arrived in London, his plan was to set up an online business selling tickets to events, and he only started walking dogs to make a bit of cash on the side. But he soon found himself earning far more from the dog-walking than he had anticipated. “I never really thought I’d be able to make it into a viable business, but I’m in a position now where I’m getting paid as much as, if not more, than some of my mates on graduate schemes.”

Tom belongs to a new breed of professionalised dog-walker. He is self-employed and runs his fledgling dog-walking company, City Pups, alone. New clients are given a pack containing a photocopy of his passport, a full set of references and details of his CRB check. And not content to collect babysitter-style cash-in-hand payments for the occasional walk, he is adamant that his business operates entirely above board. “I invoice at the end of every week, and I declare everything.”

He enjoys the same working hours as the dog-owners who seek out his services, and I do mean “enjoys” – it is as if the wind changed suddenly one day, leaving an expression of glee etched permanently onto his face.

His first walk of the day – a “bouncy” Golden Retriever called Winston – starts at 8.30am every weekday morning, and he drops his last dog home at 6.30pm. He currently walks around 10 dogs a day, and a maximum of four together at any one time.

“I know dog-walkers that walk up to nine dogs at a time, but if you have that many you just can’t give them all the attention they need.” To grow his business, he is looking to buy a van which, when fitted out with eight comfortable cages, will allow him to take on both more dogs and a second walker.

Tech-savvy Tom has adopted an online marketing strategy. “There are a lot of dog-walkers out there who just have a phone number and operate by word of mouth.” In contrast, Tom has created a website – ostensibly in collaboration with his four-month-old Australian Shepherd puppy, Roxy – and even keeps clients updated using Twitter.

“I post updates on the dogs I walk throughout the day so people who are sat at work can see that their dog is having a good time.” He might upload a picture of a dog playing with a toy, or hiding under some leaves, much to the owner’s delight. “People do feel connected with their dogs, so to see them on their computer at work is really nice for them.”

Seeing as he spends all day surrounded by dogs, I wonder whether Tom misses contact of the human variety. Not at all, he says, assuring me that the dog-walking world has its own social bubble: “I think dogs bring people together. You see the same people every day and you get to know them.” He pauses. “Well, I say that, you get to know the dogs. I speak to people that I’ve spoken to every day for the last two months and I don’t know their name, I just know their dog’s name!”

But that doesn’t seem to bother him. As the dogs potter along around us, sniffing the ground (and each other) as they go, Tom watches over them with that unfaltering smile, and says: “It’s amazing how many people I walk for, whether they’re traders in the City or they work in TV, who say to me: ‘I wish I had your job.’” And right now, I can’t say that I blame them.

Best thing about the job: “If it’s a sunny day, I stand in the park and go, ‘I’m walking 3 or 4 dogs, chucking tennis balls around, having the best time ever – and I’m getting paid for this!’”

Worst thing about the job: “The fact that people just cancel you at quite short notice. To them it’s just cancelling a walk – to you it’s your living. That, and picking up the poo.”

Tom lives in Queen’s Park with his girlfriend, and 4-month-old bundle of fluff Roxy. He currently walks in Primrose Hill, Regent’s Park, Green Park and Hampstead Heath. For more details about City Pups, or to get in touch with Tom, click here – or follow Tom on Twitter.

1 Comment

Filed under People

Fortune Green 5-a-side

Silky skills, precision passing and sheer athleticism – none of these were on display this afternoon on a treacherously muddy pitch in Fortune Green, as 10 Twittering men  braved the entirely favourable weather conditions to put on what can best be described as a game of football.

There has been much talk of late on Twitter about setting up a West Hampstead 5-a-side team, or at least meeting up for a casual kick-about every now and then. I backed this idea the whole way, as I was convinced that it would come to nothing and I could at least claim to have feigned interest.

So you can imagine my dismay when it actually took off, and I was forced to peel myself away from the relative safety of my laptop screen and don a pair of shorts and tattered old boots.

I blame Thom Hoffman, aka @thomhoffman. It was he who managed to coax enough people out of their warm front rooms to play on a leaf-covered muddy patch of grass in Fortune Green at midday on a Saturday.

Back row: @maggot249, @nickhudgell, @thomhoffman, @domchrisite. Front row: @garymc, @timcheese, @SamWong1, @StareAtTheSky, Jamie(?)

We played for about 90 minutes in all, with several water breaks, and one extended time-out when @nickhudgell hoofed the ball into the adjoining – and locked – children’s playground.

Despite what I said earlier, there were some really good passages of play (interspersed with the more prominent tripping-over-our-own-feet parts): some inch-perfect long balls, several nut-megs, and even an audacious overhead kick.

If you’re interested in coming along to the next kick-about, keep your eyes peeled on Twitter/this blog, as it’s only a matter of time before today’s successful outing is repeated.

In the mean time, congratulations to Thom’s team for their 3-1 victory in the all-important final match.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sports

Enlightenment: A Review

The psychological thriller Enlightenment marks the start of Edward Hall’s first season as artistic director at the Hampstead Theatre.

When a boy goes missing during a round-the-world trip, it leaves his mother and step-father in a hell-ish limbo, at times full of hope that their son will return to them unscathed, at others fearing the grizzly worst.

Not dissimilar to how I felt watching this play. At times I was happily swept along by the plot’s dark twists and turns, pleased that the play appeared to be going somewhere. But at others, my heart sank as the actors tried to make the best of the bumbling dialogue, and we had to endure yet another clumsy passage on middle-class guilt or materialism or non-locality.

The acting, on the whole, was excellent, with particularly strong performances by Julie Graham as Lia and Richard Clothier as Nick, mother and step-father respectively of the missing boy. The staging too is fantastic, with a brilliant all-white set that becomes more and more barren as we delve deeper and darker into the family’s grief. In fact, the only thing that lets this play down, really, is Shelagh Stephenson’s script. Unfortunately, it seems that’s quite a key component in this whole theatre lark.

The play successfully explores the vulnerability which comes as a result of  grief, in this case Lia’s, and the way that others seek to exploit this. But there’s too much non-plot and filler, which slows the play right down and, as a result, subtlety is sacrificed. I can’t help but recall a line from Nick: “We keep coming back to everything – it’s Hell.”

There are moments when you are all too aware that you are watching a play, but the tension that builds up in the second act makes for some superbly uncomfortable viewing – it is a thriller after all.

There are far worse ways to spend an evening, but there are also better ways to spend your cash.

Enlightenment runs at the Hampstead Theatre until 30 October 2010. To buy tickets, click here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arts & Culture