'I remember the second time I took Agatha out. I wanted to go to Dairy Queen, and she wanted to go to Burger King. In the end we settled for wieners and clams at Johnny Hermaphrodite’s.' - Jarod Kintz
Compromise; the corner-stone of every successful relationship. Over the years the Ewing and I have been making efforts to perfect this mysterious art; I now accept that she’s going to be late for everything, and will break at least one important piece of kitchenware a week (but she does do most of the washing up), while she accepts that if I'm home alone then it's very unlikely the bathroom’s going to get cleaned, but I'll cook a fancy dinner (and leave her more washing up to break as a bonus).
Another important part of our compromising is deciding how to spend any spare time. An almost mythical concept when you consider work, family and all those terribly boring appointments that seem to slowly clog up adult life. But, if we do get that rare free weekend, then the days are usually divided – one for me and one for her - to plan exactly what we like.
The Ewing’s itineraries often involve visiting our allotment or a long, muddy walk around the Chilterns. Activities she normally precludes me from participating in - my reluctant presence strangely seems to bring her more upset than joy. My days, almost exclusively, involve seeking out and eating food, which is luckily one of the Ewing’s great interests, too.
This covenant was illustrated perfectly a couple of weekends ago, when we found ourselves in the seldom seen position of having two whole days with nothing scribbled in on the calendar. On the Saturday the Ewing chose to get rain-lashed on an all-afternoon yomp around Hughenden Manor. While I elected to spend Sunday enjoying a far more relaxing, fish-based lunch.
As the sushi gaff in walking distance from our house has an exclamation mark in it, I persuaded her, after an exciting morning watching snowboard cross from Sotchi, to jump in the car and head to Ealing Common; a thriving Japanese enclave with a relative embarrassment of good places to eat.
Our destination was, Kiraku, a bright and friendly little restaurant that was already quickly filling up we when arrived just before 1pm, that's located almost directly opposite Ealing Common tube station. You can also find sushi stalwart Atatri-ya (formally Sushi Hiro) just a couple of doors down.
At lunch they offer a wide selection of set-lunch menus - sushi, sashimi, fried, grilled, mixed sets - noodles and donmono (rice-bowl dishes). While the al la carte menu is based on izakaya-style dining including zensai (traditional appetisers), agemono (deep-fried), yakimono (grilled & pan-fried), kushiyaki (skewers), noodles, sushi and sashimi dishes.
We started with a Kirin (they have Asahi on draught, and bottled Sapporo, too) and cups of green tea. The hardcore may also be tempted by their sake and Shochu menu.
My sushi set (16.50) was served in a beautiful black and red lacquered bento box, looking rather like a plane meal on steroids. Unlike most plane meals however, this was edible; and also delicious.
I started with the miso soup; normally I find miso a distraction - bobbing with slimy lumps of tofu and brackish strands of seaweed - something to grimace and gulp down before better things to come. But on this occasion I really appreciated the bowl of warming umami broth.
The star of the show was the fish; a nice selection of half a dozen nigiri and three salmon maki rolls. The hamachi was a beautiful pearlescent white, with flesh that really did deserve the overused epithet 'melt in the mouth'. The surf clam, with it's vivid red edging, was also very good, with just enough springy resistance to make eating it elegantly not an impossibility (although, I'm still not sure I quite pulled it off...).
The rest of the selection, tuna, bass, salmon nigiri and maki were very solid. I particularly enjoyed the akami tuna; while it may not be as buttery as the fatty belly, I always think I might even prefer the slightly metallic note of the leaner fish.
The Ewing chose the grilled salmon collar bento, an equally beautiful box of goodies. The selection of tsukemono was good; bean sprouts, Chinese cabbage and carrots and a little tray full of moreish little cucumber morsels which sadly the Ewing enjoyed just as much as me, thus thwarting my plans to nip in and nab some of hers.
Although she was initially disappointed they were out of the grilled mackerel, the grilled salmon collar was a pretty fine substitution. As the name suggests this cut comes from behind the fish's gills; and while it may sound a little gruesome, it's a beautifully rich (and cheap, if you can get hold of it) piece of fish - with a similar fat content to the belly - that is perfect for grilling simply. Just a heap of crisp, white radish, that resembled a melting snowball, and a lemon wedge were all that were needed for company.
The meal finished with several tops ups of green tea and a plate of fruit. Being offered fruit as a desert when I was a child always felt more akin to a punishment than a treat, but here the sweet chunks of orange, strawberry and pineapple made the perfect palate reviver.
In fact, the only thing that disappointed me about our lunch at Kiraku was the proximity to our home. Although zipping down the Western Avenue rarely takes much more than half an hour, were it any closer I’d be lunching there far more frequently. It’s perfect for solo diners too, as you can grab a spot of the bar and check out all the wizardry going on with raw fish and sharp knives.
On our way back we stopped into Natural Natural, a small Japanese corner store just up the road from Kiraku. As well as its display of fruit and veg, including yams, nashi pears, giant spring onions and shisho leaves, they stock an interesting range of freshly cooked Japanese sweet and savoury snacks and sushi.
From the selection I chose the next day’s lunch; a skewer of okonomiyaki (a kind of Japanese pancake) as well as fried karaage chicken, pumpkin korroke, a tuna onigiri and a set of California rolls. There's also salted fish collars, miso mackerel fillets, takoyaki, squid soba noodles and very nice looking sashimi sets. They even sell fresh Japanese clams complete with a slotted ladle and plastic bags to serve yourself.
While she had also appreciated the fruit at Kiraku, the sweet-toothed Ewing couldn’t resist her favourite, the custard stuffed doroki, while I chose the, not quite so traditional, mascarpone and strawberry version. Very nice when enjoyed later, alongside a cup of good old builder’s tea and another dose of the Winter Olympics.