The interior of YO! Sushi resembles a cross between an Ikea store and a hospital: it’s cavernous, bright, white, full of mirrors, and both the kitchen and air conditioning ducting are on public display. Most strikingly of all, the food – in colour-coded and lidded bowls – circultates on conveyor belts, so you can pick out a Prawn and Chive Maki instead of collecting a flat-pack sofa. It’s an undeniably amusing way to dine, and also provides plenty of conversation topics.
And the food itself is impressive, too. Though we really couldn’t claim to be anything approaching Sushi experts, we agreed that the food was uniformly fresh, exciting and varied. Small portions mean that nothing’s overwhelming or monotonous, and the exotic flavours and tastes of each dish are allowed to complement each other. Ginger and chilli form the backdrop to many of the dishes, so it’s interesting to see what each of the other ingredients brings to the combination. Particular favourites were the Spicy Seafood Udon (a hot, clean soup), the Prawn Tempura and the various hand rolls, but nothing was less than excellent. Miso Black Cod was perhaps the most exciting single mouthful of cod I’ve ever eaten, but, at £5, it’s a bloody expensive mouthful. The free and endless supply of delicate strips of pink ginger provided as palate cleansers made up for it, though – they’re incredibly moorish and impressively refreshing. The service is also good: the conveyor belt is the most unobtrusive waiter you’ll ever meet, and the actual staff are knowledgeable, helpful and attentive. They’re also clearly used to dealing with chopstick incompetents.
With all this in its favour, then, why is YO! Sushi still not a regular destination for the discerning diners of Oxford? Two years after it opened on George Street, something of a mysterious silence surronds it: lots of people have been; few people go frequently. I suspect it has something to do with Ikea. The absence of the Sweedish giant doesn’t provoke nearly the same passionate confusion as the lack of an H&M, and for a good reason. There simply isn’t the demand for sparkling efficiency and flat-pack plastic table lamps in Oxford – probably because they don’t sit too well with all the oak panelling and ancient stonework.
The same goes for YO! Sushi. It falls uncomfortably between two camps: it’s certainly a cut above the average high street offering in terms of quality and freshness, but it’s certainly not the same experience as Pierre Victoire or even Chez Gerard. However good it tastes, the food still arrives on a conveyor belt. And it’s not cheap, either. Unless you’re very restrained – and said conveyor belt makes this rather difficult – you’ll leave with a bill that wouldn’t embarrass one of Oxford’s finest eateries but still feel that you’ve been to a fast food chain, albeit a posh one.
Students of Oxford generally want one of two things: a cheap(ish) and cheerful high street chain, preferably with the addition of some kind of voucher, or an impressive and elegant dining experience. Through no fault of its own, YO! Sushi falls squarely between the two.
YO! Sushi is currently offering 25% off for students, and their ‘Blue Mondays’ promotion offers a range of dishes for £2.20 every Monday.