(Issue 174)
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It takes ten years to become a sushi chef. So we gave it a full hour, and courtesy of Otoro Sushi — which you can now get delivered to your door, desk or Netflix viewing area with Deliveroo — learnt all this. We'd go as far as to say it's worth a read.
Knife lessons
As a matter of honour, every sushi chef must have a knife and a sharpening stone. Evolving from an actual samurai sword — Otoro Sushi's Maciej Ruszkowski's 'Yanagi-ba' blade is made from ten layers of steel. The metal, chosen for its resilience, is both easy to sharpen and good at maintaining its razor edge. Keeping it clean and lethal looking is absolutely part of the job for Maciej. Though describing his tool as "an extension of me", that doesn't seem to be too much of an imposition.
The fish is the thing
Though sushi literally means the preparation and serving of cooked vinegared rice, the word has become synonymous with fish in much of the western world. And quality and freshness is king, queen and supreme emperor of the world for Maciej. "Never buy your fish from a supermarket. Ever. Looking just at salmon, it regularly takes a week for the fish to get from the water to the shelf." And if you have no idea which fishmonger to hit when you enter the Bullring indoor market (where you'll find eight-seated Otoro Sushi, by the way) Maciej's got very specific instructions."Go to Clive Ebanks, A J Barlows, or The Fish Shop. They'll tell you when your salmon was caught, whether or not it's sushi grade (you want it to be), and they'll prepare your fish for you — cleaning, descaling and boning."
Once you've got your half side of salmon, or indeed your different fish of choice, it's all about finding the optimum use for each cut. "A good sushi chef doesn't waste anything" asserts Maciej. "Though parts of the fillet — like the tail — are too tough and muscular for use in sushi or as sashimi [those small pieces of raw fish heaven], put them in a slow-cooker, with sake and soy. A couple of hours later, you'll have teriyaki. One of my most popular dishes."
The extras. And what to do with them.
Wasabi, seaweed, ginger and mooli. They find their way near most sushi-related happenings but we're not always clear to what extent we're supposed to be eating them. And when. Cue Maciej. "Wasabi was originally used to kill bacteria, before the prevalence of refrigeration. But latterly, particularly in Europe, it's all about flavour — so quantity is very much a personal thing." Mooli, or daikon radish (the white flower-like substance pictured) is largely about looks, but containing plenty of fibre, Maciej also explains the benefits to digestion if you do eat the root. On the subject of seaweed, the balance of colour it offers is the primary reason to expect it. While ginger is the palate cleanser to take whenever you're changing flavours — and that's acceptable practice even in Japan.
The etiquette bit
Adding soy sauce or wasabi to your sushi is however plain offensive. Not to us, we're with you. But to a sushi master who has crafted multiple, single, perfect bites — with optimum additions — it's just rude. A lot like a cheese board, there's also often a specific order in which sushi should be eaten, with the most delicate flavours coming first. But you won't find any judgment at Otoro Sushi. While Maciej has barrelfuls of respect for this Japanese art form, for him, the important thing is that the food he serves tastes exactly how you want it to. So just like our editor, bathe your sushi in soy sauce unimpinged. Then add a bit more on top. We won't tell.
Order Otoro Sushi on Deliveroo, Monday to Saturday, from 11.30am until 5pm.


A lot of people talk about Brexit. Other people make embellished, decorative enamel automatas about it. And when we say people, we mean John Grayson, who uses traditional metal forming and enamel decorating processes to create good looking, whimsical objects. As part of a major contemporary craft exhibition including talented makers from across the Midlands, view Le Brexiteuse at Made in The Middle, until April 29 at Parkside Gallery. As well as including 30 exhibitors, it's a forum to buy pieces which are more wallet-agreeable than you might expect. Entry is free.


To be more accurate, you'll actually find it — in over 100 varieties — at the Prince of Wales, Moseley. Where for two guaranteed-to-be-sunny-days, you'll also stumble upon a steel pan band, masterclasses, Caribbean and rum inspired street food vendors — like Spice It Up — who cook their food over actual oil drums. And rum. All the rum. Kraken rum, Barcelo rum and Rhum JM rum. Wild, wild rum served by frankly even wilder people. Entry to the festival — which sold out entirely last year — costs £20, including a cocktail, street food, tastings and tasters. Taking place June 17 and 18, as is customary, get your tickets here.


We may live in a world of sequels and remakes, but at least turning a cartoon into live-action inherently brings something fresh to the material. But do you need to, when the material is this well-loved? You may come to Beauty and the Beast and begin by playing a game of compare-and-contrast, but both the gusto of the cast and the invention of the effects mean it's impossible not to get swept up. Emma Watson as Belle is her usual posh self — which for some reason drives Americans wild — but the entire rest of the cast is terrific, in particular Luke Evans (High-Rise) as a darkened version of Gaston, and Dan Stevens somehow shines under mountains of CGI as the Beast. Holy moly is this going to be a big hit — but if you want a slice of how good Stevens can be, watch the The Guest. Times & trailer
Venue: Damascena, 5-7 Temple Row West, B2 5NY; website
Choice: Mixed meze (£6.95) Chooser: Zeynab, Manager

In terms of priorities, breathing's pretty far up there. But from the precise moment Damascena's mixed meze landed, until we dispatched with the final morsel of fattoush salad, we didn't fully inhale and exhale even once. At the forefront of this generous platter equation, the unbridled auberginey joy of baba ganoush, a Levantine dip. The house garlicky fava-bean fuul is a best-seller from the team's original Moseley cafe, and also won a place in our exclusively food-driven heart. And as we're talking Middle Eastern, you may have some questions about where lamb will be making an appearance in this happy tale. Get an order of Kibbeh Makliya (£3.50), being ground bulgar wheat, stuffed with lamb mince, pomegranate, walnuts and herbs. Together with the mixed meze, this is enough for two but we're completely pro over-ordering where this absolute asset to the city centre is concerned. You can't book but tables rotate quickly. Just don't forget to breathe. Menu
  • When it comes to arty sort of films on marine life, Jean Painlevé's the very biggest of deals. The first UK solo exhibition of his work opened last night at Ikon
  • Temple Street. Yep, that's the one with The Botanist on it. In wildly mediocre news, it's gaining a Las Iguanas. In much more grinny gander, Wahaca is coveting No. 13 for its first Brum site
  • The Night Owl and THSH are getting it together for a soul night in auspicious surroundings. The former is on tunes, while Town Hall is doing location. On April 15, tickets are £12
  • Andy Street, who's staked his West Mids mayoral candidacy on re-opening the Camp Hill train line (including Moseley station) will answer questions at The Prince of Wales. Go get answers
  • You know those things in life that you're very pleased exist? For us the Birmingham Art Map is one of them (download it here). And if you like it too, maybe even check out the team's Crowdfunder campaign
  • Downstairs gets a ten on the handsome stakes. And the Water Street hangout is open to the public this Saturday, as well as on March 25. Booking is required
"Don't dunk your nigiri in the soy sauce. Don't mix your wasabi in the soy sauce. If the rice is good, complement your sushi chef on the rice." - Anthony Bourdain
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WORDS: Katy Drohan, Andrew Lowry
IMAGERY: Tom Bird (Otoro Sushi)

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