Kulu Kulu Sushi
In South Kensington, an area where you are absolutely spoilt for choice for a casual lunch, Kulu Kulu Sushi is one of our favourites.
Soho, Covent Garden, South Kensington
Plates of sushi pass temptingly in front of diners at Kulu Kulu Sushi.
It doesn't look anything special from the street - in fact you could pass by without giving it a second glance - but it serves good, reasonably priced sushi in a casual and absolutely unpretentious environment (you don't go for the atmosphere or décor...). If you're new to sushi, don't buy a box of the universally awful supermarket sushi. Go to Kulu Kulu Sushi instead!
The fun thing is that Kulu Kulu Sushi is a kaiten sushi
- that is, the sushi travels along a conveyor belt loop past the diners, who sit at a horseshoe-shaped counter while the sushi chefs slice and form the sushi in a central preparation area, right under the eyes of the diners. This means that you don't need to order, or indeed know anything at all about sushi or Japanese food. You simply reach for whatever you like the look of from the conveyor belt.
The 'price list' (prices correct as of May 2011)
Everything is presented on small plates, which are colour-coded according to price (the plates and corresponding prices are prominently displayed on the wall). When you've finished, you simply stack your empty plates, and the staff calculate how much you owe.
The staff are friendly, but their duties are pretty much limited to clearing the counter and taking your payment. Don't expect attentive service - if you want a drink (other than green tea, see below) you'll have to ask
! This may bother some people, but for a quick, casual lunch it suited us fine to be left alone.
Preparing salmon for sashimi and sushi. The chefs work in view of the diners, in the central preparation area.
At the time of writing, the sushi starts at just £1.50. But watch out, the bill can quickly mount up. Unless you're very good at limiting yourself to the cheaper options, you're looking at around £10 -£15 per head at least
. More if you indulge in a bottle of Japanese Kirin
beer, or a traditional glass of sake
(Japanese rice wine).
The counter can seat a maximum of about 20 customers at a time. It is
rather cramped and communal, but that's all part of the fun. Stash your bags on the handy shelf under the counter, take a pair of chopsticks from the wooden box, and grab whatever takes your fancy from the parade of plates passing in front of you. Shōyu
(soy sauce) is freely available - put a little in one of the small dishes, and mix in a dash of green wasabi
paste from the boxes on the counter if you like things hot
. Then dip your sushi and enjoy! You may also like the gari
(pickled ginger), freely available from the boxes on the counter. Most people eat this in careful moderation, but my husband can get through half a box or more in a single sitting.
Salmon sashimi, with grated white radish and cucumber.
The sushi tends to steer away from what a lot of non-Asians perceive to be the more 'scary' stuff (although the salmon sashimi
[raw slices] are good, and there are several other authentic options, such as octopus, squid and raw shrimp), and rather caters for more mainstream Western tastes with Californian rolls, shrimp tempura, tofu, avocado, egg and a rather delicious tuna mayonnaise mixture, among other things. Miso soup is available on request, as is anything on the menu that you don't see on the conveyor belt. All in all, it's pretty accessible, even for those with somewhat conservative tastes. I particularly like the eda mame
boiled soya beans (pop the beans out of the shells before you eat them!) and the nasu miso
, aubergine cooked in miso paste. The waitress seems happy to give brief explanations if you're not sure.
Spinach roll and sesame sauce, and boiled edamame soya beans in their shells.
As for drinks, most people have green tea - free and as much as you can drink. Serve yourself using one of the kitschy geisha print mugs and the tea bags and hot water dispenser in the corner.
Your proximity to your fellow dinners means that you may have no choice but to eavesdrop on their conversations. While we were there a rather stylish lady was spilling the beans about a complicated and very upmarket romantic entanglement. Fascinating!
Crab and avocado California rolls, and a temaki sushi - a cone of nori seaweed containing sashimi, tempura shrimp and avocado.
Kulu Kulu Sushi is child friendly in that the staff are happy to see kids, and kids find the conveyor belt system entertaining and fun. My son, who loves sushi and whose eyes tend to be bigger than his stomach, couldn't finish his final plate, and the waitress was happy to package it up for us to take home.
However, smaller children may have trouble sitting on the stools (there are no high chairs available), and little hands may well struggle with the chopsticks - there didn't appear to be any alternative cutlery available. Beware as well that children, or at least my
children, can have the unerring habit of selecting the most expensive plates!
Fried sweet glazed salmon, and a dish of tofu.
Due to the small number of seats available at the counter, Kulu Kulu has a '45 minute policy' (i.e. you are requested to keep your seat no longer than 45 minutes). This is anyway not a restaurant where you linger after eating, if only because the stools are not especially comfortable...
Regarding the serious question of desert, Kulu Kulu's offerings are limited to small mochi
cakes (rather unappetising in their plastic wrappers) or slices of melon and pineapple. Skip these and head across the road to Le Pain Quotidien for tasty cakes, or grab an ice cream at the hole-in-the-wall stand on the corner. Paul
, opposite South Kensington Tube station, is also an excellent - but pricey - choice for scrumptious up-market cakes and pastries.
For the freshest sushi, visit at lunch time or mid evening when there are plenty of customers and a quick turnover of the food. It's often quite busy at these times, and you may have to wait for a little while before you can get a seat, but the queue usually moves pretty quickly, and it's worth the wait!
Kulu Kulu Sushi's Covent Garden branch in Shelton Street (details below) looks, if anything, even more unremarkable from the street than the South Kensington branch does, but we can vouch that the sushi is just as good, and the atmosphere similarly causal and laid back. A good choice in pricey Covent Garden (where the quality of the food doesn't always match the high prices).
There is also a branch of Kulu Kulu in Brewer Street in Soho (see details below).
Credit Cards accepted for bills of £10 and over only.
Kulu Kulu Sushi has three branches:
Kulu Kulu Sushi South Kensington
39 Thurloe Place, South Kensington, London, SW7 2HP
Telephone: 020 7589 2225
Nearest tube: South Kensington
Opening times: Open for Lunch & Dinner. Closed on Sundays & Bank holidays
Child friendliness rating: 3/5
No disabled toilets
Date last visited: 18th May 2011
(The review above is for Kulu Kulu Sushi's South Kensington branch.)
Kulu Kulu Sushi Soho
76 Brewer Street, Piccadilly Circus, London, W1F 9TX
Telephone: 020 7734 7316
Nearest tube: Piccadilly Circus
Kulu Kulu Sushi Covent Garden
51-53 Shelton Street, London, WC2H 9HE
Telephone: 020 7240 5687
Nearest tube: Covent Garden