The single girl’s guide to sushi

The brief: “Can we eat somewhere fairly healthy and not too expensive, please? I am on a budget. Oh, and can we go dancing after? Thanks!”

This was the email (more or less) from the friend I had staying last weekend. In the last six months, she’s separated from her husband, lost several kilos and acquired her own house, all of which has left her looking fabulous, feeling skint, and in need of a good old-fashioned girls’ night out. Who you gonna call?

The plan had been to get to the Brasil Bar before 1 am (free entry), but we got waylaid by the so-cute-they-should-probably-be-illegal barmen at nearby cocktail bar NJOY. But before THAT we needed to eat. And sushi seemed like the obvious light-but-stomach-lining solution…

Now, the words “Leidseplein” and “all-you-can-eat” strike fear into the hearts of foodies, and for good reason. The first conjures up images of annoying bouncer-waiters loitering outside neon-lit establishments trying to entice tourists into their dodgy steakhouses. The second screams “quantity not quality!” and reminds you of hotel buffets on Brits-abroad Greek islands or student curry nights for a tenner. None of these things are good.

What had been good, however, were the reviews of Sumo: a chain (I know – it gets worse) of Japanese all-you-can-eat restaurants across the Netherlands. One of the Amsterdam branches is just off the Leidseplein, and on the Saturday night that we tripped across the square in our kitten heels, it was buzzing with more British bank holiday stag parties and hen dos than you could shake a superhero mankini at…

So far, so tacky. But I was more interested in the food. On arrival, we were whisked up to the second floor (Sumo is a huge, multi-storey institution of a venue) where the ordering system was explained to us: you choose five items per person per round, up to a total of five rounds each. You mark your selection on a long sheet of paper, hand it to your server, and wait for plate after plate of small dishes to arrive at your table. We managed only three out of five rounds (I might have put away a fourth had I not been conscious of the dancing requirement later), which meant that our dishes totalled no less than 30 between the two of us.

I’m not going to describe all 30 to you because I think we might both fall asleep in the process. But they included a lot of sushi: Nigiri, Maki, Gunkan and Temaki. From sushi, we moved onto salads (sashimi and cucumber, and teriyaki beef), two types of gyoza (prawn and pork dumplings respectively), shrimp skewers, shrimp tempura, teppanyaki courgettes and salmon, edamame beans… the list went on. Almost everything was uniformly fresh, well prepared and delicious. Our only complaint was of the mini loempias and pseudo samosas, which resembled something you’d find on a plate of borrelhapjes from a brown cafe: in other words, they tasted of deep-fat fryer and not a lot else. But given that the ratio of bad dishes to good was 2:28, and that the whole lot was only costing us €25 each, we weren’t going to complain.

The wine cost about €20, and was drinkable but nothing special. It came in glasses that had been rinsed but not dried, and was served by a waitress who wasn’t very happy with us because she’d misunderstood the fact that I’d asked for one bottle with two glasses, and not just two glasses. But no matter. The rest of the service was swift and efficient, but we were by no means rushed to eat up and get out.

More importantly, the food and the atmosphere gave us enough energy to dance till 4 am and wake up the next morning without too many hangover symptoms. Smugly satisfied (if a little tired), I felt I had fulfilled my brief to the letter…

all the info

Sumo (Asian)★★★★★€€

Kleine Garmanplantsoen 17, (Leidseplein)020 423 5131 / website

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