Japanese food comes to Hertford with Oishii by Elle
PUBLISHED: 11:22 03 August 2017
Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne explores the world of Japanese food at a Hertford restaurant eager to help non-aficionados
According to those in the know, Japanese cuisine is one of the fastest growing sectors in the food industry, with increasing numbers of restaurants appearing in London and other UK cities. So it’s no surprise to find the trend spreading to Hertfordshire, where Oishii by Elle, handily placed in a quirky building in the centre of Hertford, is busy making a name for itself after opening last year. The Elle is not the lifestyle magazine, but for the owner, Elle Thianthong, already well known for Elle’s Thai Kitchen takeaway, also in the county town. She is also the owner of the Khunnai Thai restaurant in Stanstead Abbotts and is planning a Vietnamese venture in Hertford soon.
Oishii means tasty, which is fair enough, but Japanese cuisine has a bit of an image problem. Mention it to almost anybody and the reaction is ‘raw fish’. Then there is the language. Some of the really trendy restaurants list their dishes in Japanese only, leaving it to the customers to sort it out. Oishii takes care of both these areas with one of the most informative menus I have seen for some time. There is certainly raw fish and I had some, but it is presented in great variety and there’s lots more to explore too. Each dish is given its Japanese name with translation underneath and key items are pictured so customers have an idea of what to expect. Once you get the hang of it, the likes of hosomaki, nigiri, the Gin Dara chef’s special, maki, temaki and the rest start to make sense.
The menu is also illustrated with photographs of some of the main dishes, a reminder that there is an art to Japanese food and its appearance on the plate is as important to its exponents as the taste. The pictures are cross-referenced to the dishes and captioned in Japanese and English. Nigiri sake for example is salmon on rice, the Gin Dara is revealed as grilled black cod marinated with sweet or spicy miso. The photographs are clearly professionally taken and a temptation to try the dishes featured.
In true Asian fashion, the menu is large, listing 101 items from starters to side dishes, chef’s specials, soups and noodles, Oishii cooked rolls, donburi items on rice, and more. There are eight desserts on a separate list. Unlike many of our fellow diners, our starters were relatively straightforward, bearing in mind our status as beginners at this cuisine. My scallop asparagus Kariyaki (£9.95), the Japanese word referring to a brand of teriyaki sauce, was reassuringly familiar but lifted above the ordinary by the accompanying soy, sake, garlic and butter dressing. Another feature of the menu is that it tells you how many items make up certain dishes, so I knew I could expect seven pieces, enough to share. My companion, even less adventurous than me, opted for crispy deep fried squid with homemade chilli sauce (£6.95), an old favourite though given an exotic touch here by its Japanese name, Ika No Piri Kara-Age.
For a main course, inspired by my own curiosity and by those around me happily digging in to various colourful and well presented house specials, I chose one of the headline creations, the Oishii Sashimi (12 pieces, £15.95), listed as seared salmon and seabass with Japanese spicy and ponzu (citrus) dressing and wakame, or sea vegetable, salad. The fish, as our waitress informed me guardedly, was indeed raw. It was also light and refreshing and, as fans of Japanese food will not be surprised to hear, quite delicious and a treat on a summer’s evening. My other half, still erring on the side of caution though she did share some of my fish, elected for chicken teriyaki (£12.95), grilled chicken thighs with teriyaki sauce and stir-fry vegetables, which turned out to be not as ordinary as it sounds and was pronounced excellent and very filling.
For pudding, we discovered something else new in the shape of a shared Mochi ice cream (£5.95), consisting of little balls of the dessert in question, each wrapped in a layer of sticky rice and served with sauce and cream. Like much of our food on our visit, it was an unusual twist on a routine-sounding theme and enough to make us want to return and try some of the other offerings. Other desserts available included red berry cheesecake, banana tempura ice cream (deep-fried banana served with ice cream and sauce) and seasonal fruit with meringue, cream and sauce.
Service throughout on a busy evening was friendly and efficient, with plenty of foodie advice available for those that needed it. Useful for some of us, but the general impression was of people who have already discovered Japanese cuisine happily indulging in their passion and finding Oishii much to their liking.
The cost of this meal for two was £78.65, including two glasses of wine. This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
Book a table
Oishii by Elle
Green Dragon Vaults, The Wash, Hertford SG14 1PT
01992 500995. oishiihertford.com
Three more Japanese restaurants in Herts
4 Faircross House, 116 The Parade, High Street, Watford WD17 1BD
01923 255 222
More a café-plus-takeaway than a restaurant but with an interesting menu including authentic Japanese soups, sashimi, nigiri and rolled sushi, seafood, vegetable dishes and curries.
31 Shenley Road, Borehamwood WD6 1AE
020 3489 6800
Billed as a traditional sushi bar, this restaurant, which also does takeaway, has gained a big reputation among aficionados for its food, with a wide range of dishes, fresh fish and moderate prices.
Market Place, Hatfield AL10 0LJ
Hailed as ‘a hidden sushi gem in the heart of Hatfield’, Here Japan is rated 4.5 out of five on TripAdvisor and ranked third of 80 restaurants in the town.