Imagine yourself on a beach in Ipanema, Rio. The sun is shining as you watch the surfers riding the waves that roll up and down the shore. You feel the sand between your toes, you suddenly realise that you're hungry. Whatever you decide to eat, it had better live up to this scenery – so only the best will do. That's where Brazilian/Japanese fusion sushi spot Yoobi comes into its own
"Brazilian sushi is all about big flavours."
"What's unique about our temaki is the flavours. Brazilian sushi is all about big flavours, Japanese sushi is about subtlety. At Yoobi we have spicy sauces, citrus bursting out of the temakis and we tend to experiment with ideas from different regions – we have a Spanish tuna tartare with a Mexican Guacamole. We have sunkissed tomatoes with basil and cream cheese – that's the Brazilian angle, big flavours and creativity."
That's Nicolas , one of the team of two brothers behind Yoobi. You might be wondering what a temaki is, so let's get that out of the way first. It's Yoobi's speciality – a Brazilian-style hand roll with sushi, sauce and rice, wrapped up in a seaweed cone. Crash course: Brazil is home to the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan, and the mingling of their cultures has produced a new take on sushi, the martial art Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and (among others) ex-Barcelona footballer Deco and supermodel Adriana Lima.
"In each bite you get a lot more of the ingredients, so you have a bigger explosion of flavours."
Nicolas tried his first temaki on a Rio beach, and it was love at first bite – but what was it that was so alluring about it? "The flavour is really important, with temakis. In each bite you get a lot more of the ingredients, a lot more of the sauce, a lot more of the fish, so you have a bigger explosion of flavours."
It's not just about offering bigger, bolder flavours – it's about offering a new, less formal way to enjoy sushi – but without compromising on quality or flavour. "In Japan, you're never going to have temaki in a restaurant. It's seen as a very informal form of sushi. In Japan, if you don't want to cook a proper meal on any given day you'll just cook a batch of rice, you get whatever leftovers you have in the fridge, and then everybody kind of just makes their own temaki."
"Brazilians took the temaki and they put it at the centre of their sushi."
So it's sort of a "build your own burrito" take on sushi. It's no surprise that Brazilians have adopted and developed it, being so famously fond of a party. Nick agrees, "What the Brazilians did, is they took the temaki and they put it at the centre of their sushi."
Nick and his brother – Laurent – moved to London, and spotted a temaki-shaped gap in the sushi market. "What we saw was that a lot of the sushi, especially quick and accessible sushi, was sitting in a refrigerator all day and it wasn't fresh. With sushi, you're talking about high quality, raw ingredients – so freshness is crucial. If I make your burger at 6am and you're going to pick it up from the fridge at 2pm, you're not going to have the same quality as if it was coming right off the grill."
"Conceptually, the London sushi scene needed something new."
It's hard to argue with that analogy – the freshest possible ingredients should be a must. And with fresher ingredients, came a fresh approach. Conceptually, the London sushi scene needed something new. "There was nowhere to get really good quality sushi in an informal, relaxed setting. "If you wanted a quick bite, you had Wasabi or Itsu. Then if you wanted good sushi you'd have to go to Nobu or Roka – those kind of players – but there was nothing in between."
So what you're getting at Yoobi is the same approach and attention to detail that you'd expect from a pricey, formal sushi restaurant – but the same creativity and flair that you would get at a bonafide beachside taqueria. "That's kind of the uniqueness of what we do, the creativity and the big Brazilian flavours, but then we also have the freshness from the beginning to the end."
"We never start making any of the sushi until the customer places their order."
So how do you ensure that freshness and quality when you're selling hundreds of hand rolls at each location, every day? "All of the fish comes in fresh every single morning. We prepare that, and we send it to our restaurant – but we never start making any of the sushi until the customer places their order."
Right on cue, we hear the ping of the Deliveroo tablet as the first orders come through. As the chefs get to work, it's a far cry from the typical portrayal of a manic restaurant kitchen. There's a very serene atmosphere, and Nick wants it to stay that way. "It isn't a high pressure environment. With sushi there's a lot of prep, but once you have that done it's pretty smooth. In the classic kitchen the meat's coming off the grill, the spinach is coming out of the water – it all needs to come together. Whereas with sushi chefs it's more of a serene experience, most of the time they've got their heads down making the sushi."
"It feels like we could float away on the smell, Looney Tunes style."
The absence of noise somehow seems to magnify the fresh smell of herbs emanating from the workstations. It feels like we could float away on the smell, Looney Tunes style. "We use a lot of basil, mint, chives and coriander. When they're chopping the herbs in such large quantities the smell is super rich. Take the mint we use – we'll finely dice like 2-3 kilos which is a large amount. When someone is there for an hour chopping mint, the smell is a lot more intense than you would expect."
Talking about food is hungry work, so we ask what the guys think is the best way to enjoy Yoobi. Nick's choice is for entertaining, where he thinks Yoobi really come into its own. "If I have some friends coming over – sushi is the easiest option. If you're going to do burgers, you need to wait for the guests to arrive so that they can make their selection – whereas with sushi you can order a big spread in advance, stuff that you like, and that you think your guests will like. Then they arrive and the food's ready."
Laurent chimes in with a recommendation of his own. "For lunch or dinner, to share with friends – go for the makis, they're really good for sharing. If you're going to the park then you have a lot of different flavours that you can mix and match."
A sunny sushi session with your friends in the park seems like an apt metaphor to showcase the Yoobi philosophy. It's all about quality, fun and flavour with no pretentious ceremony. If you fancy something fresh, fun and vibrant to make your day then look no further than this brilliant Brazilian fusion spot.