Rice and easy does it

The ultra high-tech YO! Sushi opens its doors to raw fish fans today. Emma O’Kelly samples the delights offered by its robots and conveyor belts – If you’ve never had the fortune to eat at the Japanese equivalent of a Happy Eater, then now’s your chance.

The ultra high-tech YO! Sushi opens its doors to raw fish fans today. Emma O’Kelly samples the delights offered by its robots and conveyor belts

If you’ve never had the fortune to eat at the Japanese equivalent of a Happy Eater, then now’s your chance. YO! Sushi has just opened in London’s Soho, and is a welcome fast-food joint with a technological touch. And the emphasis is certainly on fast – plates of sushi, carefully crafted by robotic sushi machines, whizz round on a conveyor belt while robotic drinks trolleys glide among the 120 potential diners, serving up sake, beer and tea. You can eat in about ten minutes, the only wait you have being when you pay your final bill at the till.

The atmosphere may be speedy, but it is certainly fun; amid the robotic bustle, sumo wrestling and the news are broadcast live from Japan on big TV screens, with music from the likes of The Vapours’ Turning Japanese and Aneka’s Japanese Boy.

All this may sound distinctly non-European, but the brainchild behind the restaurant, designer Simon Woodroffe, is emphatic that this is not a Japanese restaurant , rather a “European one with a Japanese feel in a multimedia setting”. He explains: “I got the basic idea from a friend of mine who was a pop star in Japan a couple of years ago. There are 2500 conveyor belt sushi bars in Japan, but they are different from YO! Sushi.”

And Woodroffe estimates that only 10 to 12 staff are needed on any one shift. Most of the catering is done by the sushi robots, which he describes as being “like giant Rizzla rolling machines”, wrapping the fish around blocks of rice. Currently serving salmon, prawn, egg and seaweed with prices ranging from 1 to 2.50 per plate, the menu is set to change every week, with fruit sushi in the pipeline for the summer. And if you have 30 to burn and more than 15 minutes to spare, gourmet dishes can be prepared by the real human hand.

Woodroffe has spent more than two years on this project. His aim was to create somewhere as fast as McDonald’s while breaking away from the Hard Rock Café style venue: “Big hamburger joints are the last of the dinosaurs,” he predicts. “You eat in there and come away feeling really heavy. I wanted to avoid that at Yo! Sushi.” There’s no danger of heaviness in the size of the portions, and, design-wise, minimal is certainly the key word – bare white walls and wooden tables in true canteen style. The only flamboyant touches are multi-coloured moving lights and the TV screens, which will also show a multimedia spectacle incorporating the YO! logo, designed by consultancy 4i.

The sushi bar is part one in Woodroffe’s grand scheme of things. There is YO! Below – a party or event room available for hire, and Woodroffe has plans for a Muji-style YO! Hello shop and a hotel called – you guessed it – Yotel.

Let’s hope Woodroffe has got his Feng Shui right and that YO! Sushi becomes the place where hip and happy eaters hang out.

Yo! Sushi, 52/53 Poland Street, London W1. Open 11am – 11pm daily. Reservations not accepted.

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