On a small screen two inconceivably vast, almost naked men line each other up. They stomp their vast weight from foot to foot and then charge. Muscle and fat collide in a confusion of frantic slapping and grabbing. Grappling for a purchase, muscles tighten, body fat ripples, while feet shuffle until one contender outmaneuvers the other barging his massive form out of a tight circular arena, over the rope and into the front rows of a politely captivated crowd. This stylized battle makes compelling viewing and as bout follows bout I wonder why Sumo wrestling has not found its way into the main-stream elsewhere in the world. After all Sushi, the native food from Japan, has become so ubiquitous and globally mass-produced it can be found everywhere from supermarket shelves to conveyor belts at airports. With Japan representing the letter J in our alphabetical quest we were hoping to find more than a vacuum-packed dome of garish edibles and a squeezey fish of soy sauce as we headed west to Ealing Common and Kiraku.
You know you have come a long out of London when the underground no longer is. And Located at the outer reaches of the District and Piccadilly line at Ealing Common, Kiraku is a journey from central London. But as the first dishes arrived at our table my attention was easily pulled away from the two fat men grappling with each other on the TV and the journey was already looking worthwhile. Moist and plump pods of warm endemae, dusted with sea salt didn’t last long, washed down with steaming cups of green tea and deep lacquer beakers of cloudy miso soup. A smoky sweet combination of the Nasu Dengaku (grilled aubergine with miso paste) was sticky and unctuous, while warm octopus dumplings hidden beneath dried flakes of bennito tuna and a sticky teriyaki sauce were light and unusual. A generous fillet of mackerel was perfectly grilled, its metallic skin caremalized and curling at the edges while more makerel fillet arrived poached in a ginger and misso broth, the subtle soup a perfect paring to rich oily flavours of the fish. A plate of Koebi No Karaage (deep fried shrimp) were doused in lemon juice and devoured whole in our fingers before a tower of neatly stacked mixed Tempura was dismantled with Jenga-like efficiency. A delicately seared filet of salmon was served with rose pink slices of home-pickled ginger, along with deep bowls of fat udon noodles swimming in a translucent broth, their texture so subtle and comforting they are now be my death-bed food.
A dragon roll of whole eel slivered quietly onto the table; caramelized golden skin decorated with finely shredded spring onion followed by a rainbow roll of six different varieties of sashimi adorned with exquisite avocado fans and translucent orange pearls of salmon eggs. The Kiraku special roll rightfully took pride of place, crispy salmon skin, avocado, salmon row and flying fish roe providing a feast for the eyes. Only for it to be upstaged by a tuna carpachio marinated with citrus, soy, garlic and sesame oil. Sashimi of scallop, beach clam, tuna, salmon and mackerel were perfectly prepared by quiet and industrious chefs before arriving in circular boxes of steamed rice with generous lumps of stroke-inducing wasabi and freshly pickled ginger to cleanse the palette.
With empty plates my attention turned quickly back towards the two fat men on the telly, but I am in no doubt there is more to the mystical sport of sumo than my uneducated description. I know very little about Sumo wrestling, in fact I know very little about the subtleties and traditions of Japanese culture. But with a visit to Kiraku I have learned, through eating, a little more about a country that could not be any more foreign to my own. In total opposition to the glut of lazy and mass-produced Japanese offerings available in our capital, Kiraku provides a small window into Japanese culture within M25, and for anyone with an interest in the culinary culture from this fascinating country it is well worth making the trip.
8 Station Parade, Uxbridge Road, Ealing Common, London, W5 3LD
Telephone: 020 8992 2848