Though I can pinpoint any of Oxford’s kebab boutiques by a sniff at 10 paces, my experience of our city’s gastronomic wonders is essentially limited to a burger I ate out of the bin outside Purple Turtle one time. It tasted of ketchup and despair. When a young lady of my acquaintance suggested we go out for sushi, I therefore glanced up from my corned-beef-and-marmite sandwich with suspicion. “Isn’t that, like, dead fish and stuff?” I asked dubiously.
I do not have a sophisticated palate. My housemates commonly look on in
despair as I whip up a fragrantly spiced risotto then slather it in Tesco’s own-brand brown sauce. In effect, my nicotine-fried tastebuds only respond to three flavours: salty, ketchup and really salty. My date reassured me that
although ketchup might be in short supply, sushi was nothing more than salty
Nonetheless I took precautionary measures, wolfing down a healthy platter
of beans on toast to line my stomach for the hoity-toity culinary ordeal ahead. Repressing a beany burp, I strode grimly down George Street like a man on death row who has just learnt his last meal is going to consist of lukewarm lumps of octopus. To my amazement, the restaurant was called Yo! Sushi, with no apparent sense of irony. The cringingly cheery exclamation mark was
almost as cheesy as the punctuation belonging to emo poseurs Panic! At The Disco or rebellious punk popster P!nk. You’d never get away with marketing restaurants called Radical! Baked Potatoes or Whaddup Homie! Salad Bar.
My understanding of the sushi-eating process was based solely on that scene in Johnny English where he gets his tie stuck in the conveyor belt. I therefore sat very still with my hands by my sides, lest a tender part of my anatomy become entrapped in the vicious cogs and gears that presumably lurked below
the benevolently shiny counter. In general, I find that sitting very still with my hands by my sides is the best way to approach all social occasions.
Eventually, though, I had to bite the sushimi-flavoured bullet. I closed my
eyes and thought of Chicken Cottage, and reached for the chopsticks. With the encouragement of my date, I tentatively lifted a squid tentacle toward my mouth. Then I dropped it. This happened seventeen more times. The quivering appendage ended up on the floor, nestling in the turnups of my trousers, congealing in the hair of a passing waiter. “They do provide cutlery, you know,” my date said quietly as I retrieved the soy-soaked feeler from the lap of a pensioner sitting seven tables away.
Those salty morsels which did make it to my mouth (albeit via a circuitous tour of the restaurant’s floor, walls and ceiling) were undeniably delicious. I was expecting glorified minature tuna mayo sandwiches – what I got was a riotous and mercifully salty platter of seafood. But sushi is food for proper grownups and I am not a proper grown-up. Shamefaced, I reached for the kiddie spoon. At least no-one had given me a brightly-colouredplacemat to crudely deface with red crayon. Yet.