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Words: Chris Zacharia
‘There’s no tuna tonight’ our waiter Helder declares proudly. ‘It’s mating season, and we respect the fact that the tuna stocks must replenish’
Temakinho, an upbeat Brazilian-Japanese fusion restaurant in Soho, is the first restaurant in the world to become a designated ‘Friends of the Sea’ member.
Clearly, it’s for a good reason: since much of the menu involves tuna, Temakinho’s decision to temporarily stop serving it is a big one.
Not that this limits Temakinho in any way. A colourful riot of jungle print wallpaper, great plumes of feathers and tiling like the green scales of an alligator, dining in Temakinho is like having a picnic in the middle of the Copacabana.
It helps that the staff are as forthright as the decor. Helder, our waiter, wears a shirt covered in palm fronds and a big, encouraging smile. Patiently, he talks us through the menu, proud of what Temakinho offer.
‘Many people would never think of mixing Brazilian food with Japanese food’ Helder explains. ‘’But Sao Paulo has the biggest community of Japanese outside of Japan’
Temakinho serve a mixture of sushi, maki rolls, ceviche and tiradito, paired with exotic caipirinhas and pisco sours. Tucking into sushi in such a bright and loud environment feels refreshing: so many sushi restaurants are hushed and meditative. Temakinho delivers on the samba vibe.
Many of Temakinho’s dishes are recognisably Asian but with a bold Latin American twist. Camarão bananinho brings tempura king prawns with a thick, syrupy banana dip. Take a deep-fried, copper-coloured shrimp and scoop the thick banana with the tip. It shouldn’t work, but it does: a crunchy, savoury mouthful with a fruity finish. It’s a refreshing take on a familiar dish, bringing out a whole new flavour combination.
The rest of the starters fare well. Maresia brings two little haystacks filled with scallops and sculpted with nori seaweed and kataifi pasta, creating an intense mouthful of contrasting textures. Betinho de Bacalhao brings six plum-sized cod dumplings, deep fried to a golden yellow on the outside and pleasingly sinuous within. But whereas the banana dip worked wonders with the shrimp, here an apple and nutmeg sauce overpowers the cod. A less pulpy accompaniment, perhaps something on the citrus scale, would work much better.
Next come tiradito, sashimi-esque slices of salmon served with a gorgeously tangy orange paste. Temakinho’s exoticism has out tastebuds dancing once again: salmon and orange! The gentle savouriness of the salmon is coaxed out by the tangy orange. A real hit.
The final two dishes of our starters are nice enough without making us sit up and clap. Tartare is a raw fish cake, essentially a stack of yellowtail chunks flavoured with fresh lime juice, ginger and potent chunks of sea salt. Carefully we deconstruct the tower, enjoying the mild flavour, occasionally riveted by detonations of the salt crystals.
Meanwhile on the other end of our groaning table is Temakinho’s ceviche mixto, a knickerbocker glory of raw fish served in an ice cream sundae glass. Each mouthful of seafood and fish is lip-smackingly savoury, with a nice sour uppercut from the lemon, but somehow it doesn’t quite hit those swooning heights of which we all know ceviche is capable.
Finally, an enormous tray arrives, bearing the eponymous maki rolls. Four rows of rolls, marshalled in straight lines and adorned with quiffs of sauce like dancers at a parade, each promising a different flavour sensation. Immediately we dive in for the Siri Completo, stuffed with soft shell crab. The softness of the rice provides the perfect disguise for the satisfying crunch of the soft shell crab, enlivened and lubricated by a much-needed spicy mayonnaise and sweet and sour sauce. For a few blissful moments we’re stunned.
The rest of the rolls fare similarly well. We hop from one row to the next, savouring the different flavour combinations: salmon tartare with flying fish roe and avocado, breaded prawns and spicy mayonnaise, sesame seeds and scallops. The only hot roll, the crocante – crunchy spring roll pastry filled with flaky salmon, cream cheese and surimi – makes for a nice contrast, the pastry shells as thin as petals, shattering convincingly at the gentlest pressure.
Although the range of makis and rolls is impressive, they are all variations on a theme: ask the waiter for a couple of recommendations, spice it up with some wildcards and get cracking. Authenticity, so often the holy charter of sushi, is cheerfully jettisoned by Temakinho. From the porcelain monkeys hugging at the light bulb cables to the appearance of ‘Salmao Mexicano’ in the list of rolls (with jalapenos and tortilla chips), it’s clear that Temakinho value experimentation, taste and just plain fun over historical accuracy and fidelity.
Finally, when Helder goes off to refill our drinks, he reemerges with ‘a surprise’: Temakinho’s Fusion Sour, a blend of sake and cachaca, the signature spirits of Japan and Brazil respectively. It’s frothy, aggressive, the flavours unhinged and yet somehow compatible, creating a savoury tang which really hits the spot. Like Temakinho itself, it’s a union of two very different cultures that leaves you smiling.
10 Old Compton St
Tel: 020 3893 0365