ISLAMABAD: Setting out to find sushi in the capital is a fun, yet short-lived adventure. The delicacy required in its preparation and the need for high quality ingredients in a landlocked city means that sushi is a high-end dish that most restaurants can’t afford to offer.
Sushi is popular mainly among the more gastronomically adventurous, as are the restaurants that offer it. Two of these eateries are Serena Hotel’s Wild Rice restaurant and Sakura at the Marriott.
Walking into Wild Rice is an experience all on its own. Wooden accents and Southeast Asian art grace the deep red walls, and the space is scattered with comfortable seats and filled with the murmur of conversation. The restaurant features a range of cuisines, from Indonesian and Thai to Vietnamese, but it is best known for its sushi.
The sushi menu ranges from nigiri to sashimi to maki rolls. Sashimi, which is Wild Rice’s speciality, is served without rice, and is a Japanese delicacy consisting of thinly sliced raw fish. Sashimi is not technically sushi, which must be served with rice. Nigiri is sliced raw fish placed on pillows of rice, and maki rolls – for the uninitiated – are bite-sized sushi rolls with added flavourings.
Wild Rice’s most popular sushi options are Spicy Tuna Maki and Hosso Maki Rolls. The Spicy Tuna Maki are small rolls, accompanied as all sushi dishes are with soy sauce and wasabi, fanned out in the likeness of a seashell. The rolls are filled with tuna, Japanese mayonnaise and assorted spices, surrounded by soft, chewy sushi rice and sprinkled with spring onion. The rolls are slightly tangy, but the spices don’t overpower the rest of the ingredients.
The Hosso Maki Rolls, made up of salmon and avocado, are lighter and fresh, more suited to a lunchtime snack. The avocado lends creaminess to the rolls, a nice contrast to the chewy rice.
But before there was Wild Rice, there was Sakura. Marriott’s oriental restaurant was the first Japanese restaurant in Islamabad. Sakura serves only Japanese cuisine, with a wide assortment of sushi options as well as dishes like Teppenyaki, a Japanese dish of meat cooked with salt, butter and soy sauce.
The sushi menu boasts various platters that include sashimi, nigiri and maki rolls. Some of the best selling menu items are the 16 piece Sakura platter, California Rolls and Spicy Tuna Uramaki Rolls.
Uramaki, or ‘inside out’ rolls are sushi rolls, rolled so that the rice is on the outside. The Spicy Tuna Rolls consist of tuna, chili mayonnaise and spring onion, served with soy sauce and wasabi. The dish comes with a starter of salmon and cucumber shavings and is followed by Japanese green tea.
The rolls are almost too large to eat in one bite, which doesn’t make for the most attractive eating experience, but the quality of ingredients more than makes up for that. The rolls are fresh and light, with a slight heat to them. The rice is chewy, but not too much, adding texture to the rolls.
For those that aren’t too comfortable with the idea of eating raw fish, Sakura also has cooked sushi and vegetarian options, such as the cooked Spicy Tempura Maki. According to Shehzad Nazir, who works at Sakura, the Spicy Tempura Maki and the Aubergine canapés, along with the Spicy Tuna Uramaki are some of the restaurant’s most popular items.
Student and sushi aficionado Shermeen Sohail said that while she enjoys both Sakura and Wild Rice, it is Wild Rice’s Hosso Maki Rolls and expansive regional menu that have won her over.
“I’ve tried all the maki rolls at Sakura, but the Hosso Maki at Wild Rice is out of this world,” she said. “The sashimi is better at Sakura, but my experience at Wild Rice has been better because you can get several cuisines there along with amazing sushi.”