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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

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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)

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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.

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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

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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.

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On the Kilburn question

On the tiring daily commute from the hands of one of its anoraked distributors to the train seat/street floor/bin where it will end its journey, the London Evening Standard is dispassionately fondled by tens of thousands of Londoners. And if you were one of its bleary-eyed, inky-fingered readers yesterday evening, you may have already spotted that the property section’s ‘Spotlight’ was shining brightly on our very own Kilburn and Queen’s Park.

The article mentions that property prices in Kilburn are 25% lower than in neighbouring Queen’s Park, and several assertions are made, by the paper and the consulted estate agents alike, that are undeniably true: the area is family-friendly, ever-gentrifying and on the up (read ‘increasingly expensive’).

But one comment in particular, from one Alan Isaacs, of the Queen’s Park Partnership, caught my attention. Alan made the somewhat ominous prediction that, “within a few years, Kilburn won’t exist. It’ll either be Queen’s Park or West Hampstead.” Now, although it is a matter of some consensus that the borders between Kilburn and its slightly posher neighbours are blurring, with the area’s traditional communities being replaced by legions of young professionals, this is, nonetheless, fighting talk from Alan. But there are those who would proudly defend Kilburn, and seek to fight fire with fire.

West Hampstead, I mean East Kilburn, I mean... I don't know what I mean anymore!

Last month, a Facebook campaign to rename West Hampstead and Queen’s Park stations East Kilburn and West Kilburn respectively, did the rounds on the blog- and tweetospheres. This proposal supposedly makes sense, geographically speaking, and is backed-up by a ten-point manifesto, which contains such gems as, ‘7. This will make residents of Queens Park (West Kilburn) and West Hampstead (East Kilburn) feel more “edgy”.’ And ‘9. Having got used to their new West Kilburn or East Kilburn address Kilburn High Road will not be as scary to our more delicate neighbours.’

People got talking, support started building. On March 31, the Ham & High reported that the Facebook group’s numbers had ‘already swelled to 287 members.’ But maybe it’s time that everyone held their horses, proverbial or otherwise. Bearing in mind that 5,000 signatures are needed before TFL will even consider a proposal to rename a station, and that the group has now, a few weeks on, ‘already swelled’ to an almighty 385 members, there is some way to go before the campaign – or ‘bit of fun’ as it should probably be labelled – succeeds in its stated mission.

One thing’s for certain (or at least possible): the battle is being fiercely fought by both sides; on the one hand, the strong arm of tradition, backed by estate agents, with their insatiable thirst for high ceilings and cash-money. On the other, a handful of graduates armed with laptops and a little too much time on their hands. Oh well, at least they tried.

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C.gars: a beginner’s guide

The cigar has long been a symbol of  status, sophistication and fine taste. Famous cigar smokers are many and count amongst their number everyone from major political players such as Winston Churchill, Fidel Castro and, er, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to effortlessly cool Hollywood types like Jack Nicholson, Harrison Ford and, er, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I'll be tobacc...

Mitchell Orchant is director of world-leading cigar merchant C.GARS Ltd, a multi-million pound business that owns a quarter of the country’s specialist tobacconist shops, and that has experienced an incredible 20% growth in the last year alone. As the company’s resident cigar expert, Mitchell is responsible for testing and selecting the products on sale: “I smoke them all day every day, for quality control purposes!”

I can testify to this; as I walk into the cosy (some might say poky) shop on Broadhurst Gardens, open since Christmas 2009, I am warmly greeted by Mitchell, lit cigar in hand, and his friendly and hospitable store manager Lucia. Mitchell explains that this shop, as a specialist tobacconist, is one of a handful of stores in the country which has an exemption from the smoking ban, allowing him and his customers to smoke in comfort.

With smoking being seen as an increasingly dangerous and anti-social habit (I did leave with my clothes smelling quite pungently of smoke), I wonder who it is that is providing him with such massive business growth. “We get a lot of novice smokers,” he tells me, “young guys, with an average age of 20 – 30. So we get both experienced smokers looking for somewhere to buy and select for themselves a nice cigar, and also new customers looking to try the product maybe for the first time.”

Mitchell is quick to distance his products from your common cancer-stick: “Smoking normal cigarettes, chances are you’re going to kill yourself from lung cancer. You won’t kill yourself from having a Havana cigar; you might fall off your chair relaxed, but because you don’t inhale at all, and it’s a completely natural product, there are virtually no health issues connected with a Havana cigar.” Many other cigars do contain chemicals in the leaves and the fertilizers used in production, but not, he claims, the Havanas sold in his stores.

The walk-in humidor

He leads the way into the shop’s cool-air walk-in humidor. We are greeted by shelves upon shelves of cigars, of varying brands and sizes. For an uninitiated cigar smoker like myself, it can actually be an intimidating sight. So courtesy of Mitchell, here’s a quick beginner’s guide to the Havana cigar:

“In terms of quality, Havana has a unique combination of sun, soil and skill that can’t be replicated anywhere but Cuba. It is the Rolls Royce product of Cigars – nothing comes close.” He says that it’s difficult to describe the exact taste sensation but, basically, “you’re looking for sweet flavours, woodsy flavours or spice flavours; you can detect notes of coffee and caramel, and you get these nuances of flavour all over the palate of your mouth, without having to inhale.”

Best introductory: Montecristo no.4. At 5 inches in length and with a ring gauge of 42, this is the most popular size for a cigar, from by far the most popular brand in the world. It is where everybody starts, and is packed full of flavour – tasty and woodsy, but not too strong. Price: £8 each.

Best on a budget: Jose L Piedra Conservas. Similar size to the Montecristo no.4, these are machine rolled and hand finished, keeping costs slightly down, but quality up. “They’re a good smoke for the money,” according to Mitchell. Price: £5 each.

Best premium: Cohiba Siglo VI Gran Reserva 2009. This is the ultimate top-end product – a limited edition range, with only 5,000 boxes produced, this is for the discerning cigar smoker only. Price: £85 each – “worth every penny because they are magnificent.”

You can always opt for an entirely machine made Guantanamera (hey, like that song!) for £3.40 a pop. These are made using shreds of tobacco, as opposed to the whole leaves used in hand made ones. Consequently, they burn differently and taste different. Mitchell describes the difference as that between a Coke and a supermarket own-brand Cola: “They’ll both quench your thirst, but one’s a lot tastier!”

Mitchell outside the Broadhurst Gdns shop

But if you’re still unsure, just head in and have a chat with Mitchell or Lucia yourself, and you’ll experience the old-school level of customer service that the company prides itself on. If you’re not already a smoker – like me – and have no real interest in starting now – again, like me – you’ll be pleased to know that they also stock a range of award-winning own-brand whiskeys, as well as chocolates and other luxury foodie goodies.

Remember, smoking is bad for your health, but can make you look seriously cool.

beard + cigar = man

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