It doesn’t matter what she says; he doesn’t wear her skin. The previous foursome date night, they all agreed that the next should be Asian; Carlo agreed to their local Japanese, Misuzu wasn’t so sure. Noah and Patty have never been; Carlo is keen to introduce them to the neighbourhood. He’s proud of their new home in this unchartered part of London; unchartered by Noah and Patty, that is. Their mock Tudor house is immense compared to the flat Noah and Patty own in Hampstead. Location, Location, Location. The estate agent hadn’t mentioned that Willesden Green really isn’t the location; only said that the area offers “better value for money” and the Jubilee line goes directly to Canary Wharf.
The Japanese had a good write up in TimeOut – “authentic neighbourhood Japanese sushi bar; great value for money, although Japanese culture can be lost in translation.” The owners are from Kyoto. Based in London since the ‘70s, they have a regular list of clientele who really understand fish. Misuzu glows with pride and commiseration; at last one of her own in an obscure neighbourhood. She has company.
Carlo had insisted on the Japanese; Misuzu was afraid that their friends won’t like it, won’t like the locality. Hampstead has many great eateries north and south of where Noah and Patty live. But… too far north and one enters another part of town; however … a little south and one enters the heart of town.
“Oh, they can come over this time, I’m tired of the trendy places they like to eat at,” Carlo retorts.
It was Patty who suggested going Japanese on their next date night. Misuzu acquiesced as she is so prone to. Frankly, Japanese cuisine is her go to, being part Japanese on her mum’s side. You couldn’t tell that she’s also part American, Irish-American; her mother’s features are stronger. This was a convenient genetic advantage; Misuzu never knew her father, has never lived in America.
“Perhaps, Ono San isn’t the right place for them,” she suggested to her husband.
“No, no, they’ll like Ono. It’s cozy and Mrs Ono is cute. They’ll like the set up with her serving them in her kimono.”
There’s a sudden rancid taste in Misuzu’s mouth but being expats, friends are hard to come by.
Ono san and his wife, Hiroko, greet them courteously at the entrance. Hiroko is minuscule tonight in her usual yukata. It hadn’t been easy to find a parking spot. Noah was concerned that they would scratch the Cayenne, worst still pick the lock and drive off with it. He had warned Patty not to leave anything visibly valuable in the back seat. They had even removed their daughter’s branded car seat. Patty being Catholic doesn’t like to leave things in temptation’s way.
“Come carina! She’s in her traditional costume,” Patty beams at Hiroko and takes three clumsy bows.
“Sylvie would look adorable in a little kimono like that, great for International Day at school,” Patty nudges Noah. She loves alternative dressing; it’s very in moda in Milan
It’s not like they haven’t had Japanese before. They adore Nobu; the location is central and the Cayenne doesn’t stick out in Knightsbridge. Patty could eat there every day, Noah had said. They just haven’t been to one this small and one run by real Japanese people; they like it though but the menu needed translating. Noah loves the idea of the subservient wife serving the guests in her kimono, he winked at Misuzu when he said that. Topping that, Ono san is bald like an authentic Japanese manga character; Patty is itching to caress his shiny head; wouldn’t that be a hoot? The sake list looks formidable. Japanese restaurants are so “not-the-same” in Milan, complains Patty.
The tables were all laid out Japanese style: wooden chopsticks in their paper sleeves sitting on ebony rests placed horizontally in front of the diner. Patty removes her chopsticks and pulls them apart. She likes these portable cutlery, so clever of the Japanese. Sylvie is learning to use chopsticks now; you can buy these tong-like ones in Habitat; great for learning to eat with sticks, she had chimed to Misuzu, so excited to find them that she had phoned Misuzu on the spot.
They read the menu silently. Patty wants to know what tobiko is, and the maguro, is it raw or flambéd? The ones at Nobu are flame-cooked on the top and she likes those. Noah explains that authentic Japanese restaurants serve everything raw. Misuzu keeps quiet. She ponders on the chirashi, although the grilled saba and the tempura both sound good. The yudofu would be wonderful; obaasan in Kyoto relishes this national dish. She’ll also order a selection of sashimi. Ono san’s expertise is in fugu. He apprenticed under a famous sashimi chef who taught him the intricacies of preparing pufferfish.
“This, this and this,” Patty points to the dishes on the menu with satisfied confidence.
“Hai, hai, hai,” Hiroko san confirms.
Hiroko’s small frame stiffens in discomfort. She hesitates before taking Misuzu’s order and mumbles something in Japanese that Misuzu didn’t catch. The pause hung in the air for a concrete moment. Carlo was mid-sentence in recounting the football.
“Chopsticks for eating, not for ordering and definitely not for pointing,” Hiroko whispers authoritatively, head lowered, no eye contact, simultaneously retrieving the pair from Patty and replacing them on their perches. She turns around quietly and leaves the table to compose herself before returning again to finish taking the rest of the orders.
Misuzu glowers internally but mentally does a victory pull. One up for the time she got accused for cutting the line at the Royal Ballet; all she did was slide silently next to Carlo who was queuing for tickets. It unnerved Carlo that she felt assaulted by the old British gentleman who tapped her on the shoulders indicating that there’s a line; she’d assumed he’s British. It’s not aggression that made him physical, only a language barrier because not all Asians understand the British protocol to queue up for everything, Carlo explained.