Yesterday evening, on a date night in my favorite restaurant in Dublin, I was told the sad news. After 7 years in their city centre location on Clarendon Street, Dublin 2: this branch of the famous sushi chain will be closing down in the beginning of February.
Last night, as I sat across from my boyfriend, coming to terms with the closure, I reminisced of my first experiences with sushi in that restaurant almost 7 years ago. It was 2010. After months of gazing through the large windows behind Brown Thomas, I finally managed to drag my parents to the sushi restaurant with the colourful conveyor belt inside. This was a time before hipsters had made sushi so cool and popular. The only reason we knew it existed was because Hilary Duff loved eating sushi and me and my sister wanted to be more like the Lizzie McGuire star (a far more innocent time). Sitted at the white tables, kneeling on our seats, my sister and I peered at the conveyor belt with its multi-coloured dishes as they glided past coolly just under our noses. When my sister first tentatively reached both hands to take her first dish off the belt, our lives changed forever.
Unlike other sushi restaurants in Dublin, YO! Sushi demystifies the Asian dining experience in a relaxed, cosmopolitan atmosphere. The pretentiousness of other sushi restaurants in Dublin (namely the Yamamoris, Sakura, Ichiban and even Capel Street’s Musashi) turns eating into a pompous affair. On a first introduction with sushi, how on earth are you meant to divinely know the difference between sashimi or futomaki, nigri or temaki? You can’t afford to make the wrong choice. YO! Sushi‘s colourful menu makes Japanese cuisine far more accessible as you can clearly see what it is you’re about to eat. Compared to other lunch-time stops in Dublin’s centre, YO! Sushi offers affordable food that you can eat at your own pace not rushed by the clearing of dishes or excitable staff wanting to turn tables. Over the years the restaurant provided a smooth transition for me and others into the world of seaweed, fish, katsu and tempura.
But sadly, as I discovered yesterday evening, the famous chain’s city centre building will be closing down in the beginning of February, as my source tells me, management are seeking to focus on its counterpart in Dundrum Shopping Centre. For as many times as I’ve eaten in YO! Sushi Clarendon, I’ve also eaten in it’s Dundrum location and found myself physically grimacing at this tragic news. For those who haven’t yet sat down at the sushi counter in one of Dublin’s biggest shopping centres, it’s an experience one can only endure once. On your busy shopping day, with heavy shopping bags and sore feet, with the food court just that little bit too far away, YO! Sushi is set in the middle of this consumer frenzy. Parading itself at the bottom of twelve escalators, you are lured by the hypnotizing conveyor belt and an open kitchen. When you finally concede to the nagging children or the doe-eyed girlfriend, you’re really not in for a treat. As you wait for your table in the busy semi circle that has staff running back and forth you’ll become aware of the noise of shoppers, which does not fade as you take your seat. Once you have sat down however, prepare yourself to become a spectacle. Try and bite down into your norimaki roll and look up to see a hundred blinking eyes staring back at you. And for those who consider ordering hot food: be warned. Unlike the freshly made stuff found in Clarendon Street, YO! Sushi Dundrum‘s hot food is cooked in another kitchen, four stories up on the top level of the shopping centre. Before the chicken katsu gets to your plate it has to be transported down to the bottom level, presented on a dish and then delivered to you by the always-busy staff. The result? A sloppy, uncrispy weak excuse for a katsu anything. Their facilities are so compromised for their central location that they can’t even serve tempura due to the fact that after being deep-fired the dish must be served immediately: a service that YO! Sushi Dundrum just cannot offer.
The lack of proper kitchen etiquette and the fact that they become a circus act for the thousands of passing shoppers in Dundrum all day, render the Dundrum staff moody.
It’s not only the fresh food quality in YO! Sushi Clarendon (made in a clean, visible kitchen), with calm off-peak hours and an excitingly busy lunch period that makes it the better option but the fact that the staff obviously love what they do. Since I began eating there in 2010, I’ve seen new staff come and old staff leave: I’ve watched newbies take up more and more responsibility, until they achieved managerial positions. The staff in YO! Sushi Clarendon never have a bad day, an always smiling bunch that seem to love what they do. After hearing the news last night I was heartbroken for all of them: the family conceived between waiting and kitchen staff will be no more.
In closing this restaurant the YO!Sushi management team ruin one of the funnest, easiest, most relaxed spots in Dublin city centre; demonstrating an economic-driven apathy for their wonderful Clarendon staff in the proccess. In my opinion they are incredibly wrong to endorse their Dundrum spectacle just because the turnover of shoppers brings in more business yet lacks quality. The food will never get any better and the ambiance will never be made any more comfortable with their insufferable location in the middle of the shopping centre.
And so, I address the restaurant chain management: why would you ruin my- and so many other diners- favorite sushi stop in Dublin? Why leave the lovely staff out on their own? And how dare you chose Dundrum’s quick turnover with badly cooked food over Clarendon’s quality Japanese experience?