Sushi Passion, Great Western Arcade, Birmingham, B2 5HU Tel: 0121 238 2933
“Kanpai!” “Na Zdrowie!” “Cheers!” Welcome to the cultural melting pot that is Sushi Passion.
This newly-opened restaurant in the city centre is promising to catapult Birmingham onto the sushi scene, thanks to a Polish chef with a zest for Japanese food.
Until now, Sushi Passion has been a well hidden treasure, taking the form of a seven-seat “restaurant” tucked between the stalls of Birmingham’s indoor market.
Held back by lofty high street rents, chef Adam Glamacinski (who has been specialising in sushi for the last 14 years) took an innovative route to serving the food he loves, developing a loyal following at the Bullring stall.
Now, taking on a second, more mainstream location, he has opened this 30-cover restaurant (under the same name) in the stunning Victorian venue of Great Western Arcade.
The snob in me was prepared for a hastily thrown together restaurant with a hint of market stall and a liberal layer of kitsch. I hate the snob in me and I’m glad she’s been proved wrong. This is one of the best looking restaurants in Birmingham.
There are no conveyer belts or plastic pots here.
Glowing lanterns hang from the wooden pagoda bar while the clean angles of the tables are softened with little touches from Japanese fans, duck egg blue crockery, bamboo blinds and a giant print of a Japanese fir forest (not to forget the ever-rare but all-important ambient lighting).
There are kitsch touches – a half-hidden life-size Kendo warrior among other quirks – but it all works. The place basks in charm.
I’m dining on a Thursday night with my sushi-loving companion Alex, who is never further than six feet from a tube of wasabi paste.
We’ve managed to sneak in late with a last-minute booking and kick off our shoes to take a seat at one of the low-lying zakatu tables.
The menu itself is a delight, set out in a colourful picture grid showing off each dish, from individual nigiri to elaborate platters.
Laid out like a comic strip, each box has its own spiky bubble giving its name, making it look like a fight scene from a Batman strip. “KAPOW!”
On the first page is “the best recommended option” consisting of miso soup, green tea and a sushi set.
It’s a good way of easing in newcomers and welcoming back sushi dabblers who don’t want to stray too far from the tried and tested stuff, and it makes us feel we’re in safe hands.
Venturing further off-road, the salmon mosaic (£15.50) looks like a set of intricately patterned square tiles. It’s food art and it’s stunning.
There’s also a rainbow set, a geisha set and a samurai set. I want them all.
And for larger parties, or hungry hippos, there are extensive sharing platters from £45 to £55, a gigantic dragon set for four at £81 and a phenomenal looking lobster roll (£28).
Adam, in his chef whites, appears at the table to take our order.
He sets straight my sketchy sushi knowledge without pause when I tell him I like the look of the sashimi, pointing to the nigiri. (Oh, the shame.)
As we mull over the sake he says a true sushi chef would tell us that having rice wine with sushi is like drinking potato juice with potato cakes.
So, serving us each a gigantic Sapporo beer (£6.50) he leads us in a clink and toast in Japanese, Polish and English before declaring “Your soup is arriving”, as a little train snakes around the bar counter, trucking two bowls of miso behind it.
That’s the best entrance I’ve seen a dinner make since Burns’ Night.
The salty miso soup is a strong start with chunky chestnut mushrooms packing a deep dose of umami.
There’s no offering of knives and forks, so we pick up our chopsticks and dig into the sharing starter of mixed sashimi (£13.50).
The tuna – so tender it almost dissolves in the mouth – beams, bright purple, next to slivers of rosy salmon and scarlet tips of prawn tails.
There are slices of muscly, white cuttlefish, tender octopus and salty pearls of coral salmon roe.
Halfway through comes the teriyaki set (£19.50), a large platter with one long teriyaki roll in centre stage, backed by maki, urumaki (with a spicy dusting on its outer layer) and nigiri.
At the centre of the roll is salmon in a coil of rice, topped with slender slices of avocado, a sprinkling of crispy onion and Japanese mayonnaise.
After mixing a liberal dollop of wasabi in with our soy, we dunk and devour.
Alex, my sushi tzar, is confident this is easily the best sushi restaurant in Birmingham.
But I’d take it further and say it’s among the best restaurants in the city. It ticks all boxes as a quick, casual and cheap lunch or an upmarket dining experience to impress.
And it’s set to get even better. Adam is now getting excited about a deal with a new outlet in Japan, allowing him to source fish including otoro, the fattiest cut of Kuro Maguro and Minami Maguro tuna with a marbled appearance like Kobe beef.
We leave having stuffed ourselves to the brim for £26 each. We’ve played it safe tonight but will be back to delve deeper (it transpires, within 24 hours Alex is back for a second go).
Despite the no sake with sushi rule, we would have liked to stay for a sake nightcap or maybe a plum wine and a green tea ice cream but we arrived late and, as we were warned on the phone, it’s now 10pm and the security guard is waiting to close the arcade.
I hope being situated here turns out to be a blessing rather than a curse for Sushi Passion.
Great Western Arcade is one of the most stunning but underrated parts of Birmingham and it’s fast becoming a culinary hub with Sushi Passion’s neighbours including vegetarian restaurant Bistro 1847, deli Anderson and Hill, The Whisky Shop, French chocolatier Chouchoute and award-winning Loki Wine.
But Sushi Passion’s Bullring eatery is forced to close at 5.30pm with the market and I hope the new restaurant doesn’t suffer from timing restrictions in the arcade, with the kitchen closing at 9pm Monday to Friday and 10pm on Saturdays.
The menu, the venue and the chef are vibrant, unusual and brave.
The whole venture oozes passion, swapping the standard clinical conveyor belt for a charming choo-choo, and the cold, faceless kitchen for a chef and owner who’ll rock up at your table to toast your meal.
Whatever language you do it in, go and raise a glass to this place – a fantastic addition to our world-class restaurant scene.