Yasuhiro Mineno, Yashin Ocean House and Yashin Sushi Bar, London

The  Staff Canteen

Yasuhiro Mineno is chef-patron together with his partner, Shinya Ikeda, of Yashin Ocean House and Yashin Sushi Bar.

He is the ex-head chef of Ubon by Nobu and is famed as having the best knife skills in Europe. The Staff Canteen caught up with him to find out about the unique ‘tail to scale’ and dry-aged techniques at his new venture, Yashin Ocean House.  

How does the head to tail concept work at Yashin Ocean House?

We really use the head to the tail of the fish. We make the bones edible; we use the scales; we use the fish skin and even the stomach. For example we use the skin as a garnish; the bones we marinate in sea water with sake and kombu then we dry them again and fry them to make one of our starters. The stomach we marinate with salt for more than a week, sometimes more than a month and make a sauce to marinate raw fish; it’s a very famous sauce in Japan.

Many of our preparations come from traditional Japanese cuisine. Around 600 years ago they didn’t have electricity and no fridges or freezers so they used salt, sea water and drying techniques to preserve food. 

Yasuhiro Mineno
Yasuhiro Mineno

Until 150 years ago Japanese didn’t eat animal meat so we used every part of the fish because we didn’t have anything else to eat in the winter when there were no vegetables.

Do your British customers find some of these dishes a bit challenging for their palettes?

Our sauce using bonito stomachs is very fishy and to be honest with you 70-80% of non-Japanese people don’t like it. However when we started working in the UK about 15 years ago not many people were eating raw fish but now everyone loves it so we hope that soon it will be the same. Many people talk about the unusual ingredients on our menus like stomachs and blood but we see it as a challenge to keep doing it otherwise the market is not going to be educated.

You also have Japanese cocktails on the menu; could you take us through the concept behind those?

Our cocktails are based on sake and soju; sake is obviously similar to wine and soju is more of a spirit. Some people drink it with ice or straight but normally we drink it with tonic or water – it’s like whiskey. We don’t usually make cocktails with sake or soju in Japan but here we think it’s a good way to introduce people to the drinks. We also do sparkling sake as well and we do a form of sake drink which is like sangria with lots of cut fruit in it but again it’s not traditional in Japan.

Where did you first meet Shinya and when and how did you decide to open your first venture, Yashin Sushi Bar?

Miso Soup
Miso soup

We first met when we were working at Yumi restaurant which is closed now but was open for 25 years and was one of the longest-running traditional Japanese restaurants in London. It was 2009 when we decided to open Yashin Sushi Bar. At Yumi we noticed that everybody used soy sauce but we didn’t want to do it that way because all the customer tastes is soy sauce. Each fish has a different texture and flavour so our idea was that for each fish we use a different sauce.

Yumi was a very traditional restaurant and Nobu, where I worked afterwards, was just Nobu, you couldn’t change the menu or try new things. If I wanted to serve fish bones to customers I couldn’t do it either at Yumi or Nobu. We wanted a challenge; we wanted to do something new and Japanese cuisine in the UK was still quite stereotyped as just sushi and sashimi.

And similarly with Yashin Ocean House?

Yashin Sushi Bar was mainly doing sushi, we had a few hot dishes but for me only a sushi restaurant wasn’t enough. We had lots of ideas but this is our first journey so we couldn’t do lots at the beginning so we just focussed on sushi. At Ocean House we wanted to do more hot dishes and do more modern things. Ocean House has got lots of modern cuisine because of our sous chef, Daniele Codini. He brought lots of different techniques from The Fat Duck which is very interesting for us to mix with our cuisine.

Yashin Ocean House and Yashin Sushi Bar
Yashin Ocean House and Yashin Sushi Bar

How does the quality of UK seafood compare to Japanese?

Some of the seafood is really good, for example in London everywhere you can get good farmed salmon, even in the supermarkets and small shops but in Japan it’s very difficult to get good quality salmon. The only problem is that fish suppliers and fishermen don’t know how to kill and prepare the fish. When caught, fish get very stressed so a better way is to kill them without stress using a method called Ikijime.

We cut the spinal cord as soon as possible then keep the fish for at least 24 hours in ice and sea water to prevent the blood coagulating which is the cause of bad ‘fishy’ smells. In the UK or Europe, the fish dies naturally after being caught. During this period, the fish struggles and resists for a while and basically cooks its own meat. Sometimes the temperature goes up 60 to 80 degrees, in tuna for example. After this period we can't call it raw fish. It is technically low temperature cooked fish.

Are any British suppliers beginning to use this method?

I only know one supplier, which is doing it with turbot.

Yashin Ocean House and Yashin Sushi Bar
Yashin Ocean House and Yashin Sushi Bar

Why is no one doing this yet in the UK and will it change do you think in the future?

Just because no one has taught them. I think it depends on chefs; if chefs want to stick to good quality we’re going to have to speak to fishermen but if the chef doesn’t care about fish quality, it’s going to stay the same, so it’s our responsibility to speak to fishermen. Also our concept is not only head to tail but also dry-aged. Still lots of people believe that fresh fish is best but it’s not; exactly the same as fresh meat is not as good as dry-aged meat.

The protein of fish is protein at the beginning but after three to five days it starts to become glutamic acid which gives much more flavour. It also depends on the killing method – If you use the correct killing method it leads to a much better flavour after the three to five days, so the meat is going to be more mature with more flavour.

I don’t understand why people say fresh fish is the best because they don’t eat fresh meat, they eat dry-aged mature meat and it’s completely the same for fish as well.

Are you planning on any other openings soon?

Yashin Ocean House and Yashin Sushi Bar
Yashin Ocean House and Yashin Sushi Bar

We’ve talked about it because Japanese cuisine isn’t just sushi and dry-aged fish; we’ve got lots of other ideas as well but it depends on the people because it’s very difficult to get the right people and there’s no point hiring someone who doesn’t know how to do it.

It’s very difficult to get people from Japan but if we start training non-Japanese people it takes 10-15 years to train them properly, so it’s very difficult. Watch Yasuhiro Mineno's knife skills below: 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th August 2014

Yasuhiro Mineno, Yashin Ocean House and Yashin Sushi Bar, London