Shiro Sushi and Raymond Ma


Some chefs are big, oversized personalities who fill rooms and kitchens alike with the force of their charisma and chutzpah. Other, no less talented and able, figures are quieter, and prefer to let their cuisine supply the fireworks, rather than their presence. Chef Raymond Ma, who is the international head chef of the world-renowned Aqua group, is far from the shouty and dramatic character you might imagine. Instead, he’s friendly, polite, refreshingly down-to-earth and keen to discuss his latest and greatest innovation for the restaurant group: crystal sushi.

We meet in the Broadgate Circle home of Shiro Sushi, and Ma is as accessible and intelligent as you would expect a chef of his calibre to be, with his insights undercut by a wry sense of humour. He’s worked as a chef for twenty years now – not that you’d know it from his youthful appearance – and combines the weight of experience with an enthusiasm for the craft that has clearly remained undimmed.

He’s introduced some of his specialities onto the Shiro Sushi menu in the form of so-called “Crystal Sushi”, which combines the very finest ingredients, such as yellowtail, hamachi and saba with the colourful, playful addition of yuzu and ponzu jelly. Eaten with a cup of sake, it’s one of the most luxuriant – and fun – sushi treats that I’ve ever tried in London.

According to Ma, the idea behind it arose from a staff competition. “Once, I was taking a special order in the restaurant, and I was thinking about how much my son liked jelly, and if I could do something with that. So then I wanted to combine the jelly with the sushi, and so I wanted to combine all these different items, including yellowtail and hamachi, and then create something that would be really special.”

It’s aesthetically pleasing as well as delicious, but for Ma, it wasn’t a case of designing something merely to be Instagram-ready. “I wanted it to be about taste first and foremost, and it had to use the best ingredients. I tried many, many times to get the combination right. You’ve got a wide range of things, like yuzu and ponzu, and every piece of sushi takes about twenty minutes to put together. It takes a long time to make it special!”

His favourite one of the sushi – his signature Crystal, if you will – is the fatty hamachi, combined with ponzu and minced daikon; it’s a riot of innovation and flavour, prepared to perfection. When I sit down for dinner after our chat, it’s a truly sublime, melt-in-mouth experience, but then everything on the comprehensive menu is a riot of flavour and innovation, whether it’s one of the freshest tomato salads that I can ever remember eating, perfect prawn and ginger gyoza, and a zesty spicy tuna maki.

The wine list has been selected with great care to go with all these dishes, too, and the Sancerrre that we order is a crisp delight that cuts through the fattiness with precision zeal. It all makes for a wonderful experience.

Ma began his career as a young man in Hong Kong, where he still lives and works, and which he describes as “the city of a thousand chefs.” Despite recent political upheavals, he says “it’s better than ever as a place to work. We have the synthesis of Japanese and Chinese influences and ingredients, and we’re incredibly lucky in that.” Ma is not a regular visitor to London – when we meet, it’s only the third time that he’s ever been there – but he speaks positively about many of the strengths of British produce.

“Here, you can get a range of lighter fish, such as sea bass, and fresh tuna, which is great, although there are some things, like shrimp, which are much better in Hong Kong, and they have to be imported here.” Yet his favourite thing about the city’s culinary heritage is slightly surprising. “I really love going to Italian restaurants here, because the fresh fish is so amazing, and the appetisers are so beautifully presented, with the light sauces.”

He cites Jiro Ono, the world’s most famous sushi chef, as his greatest inspiration, and talks approvingly of the 2011 film Jiro Dreams of Sushi, saying that “that’s the guy who showed me how to make the best sushi I possibly could – I idolise him.” And Ma might be rightly proud of many of the dishes on his menu, but it always comes back to sushi for him, crystal or otherwise, saying that “it’s a privilege to work with highly talented chefs, who take their craft seriously, and I learn as much from them as they do from me.”

The meal that we have showcases the very finest cooking and presentation; after the sushi and maki, we try delectable Wagyu bavette, grilled seabream in ginger miso that nods – without imitating– to Nobu’s famous black cod, and, to end the meal on a sweet high, a selection of perfectly presented mochi. All this comes at very reasonable prices for the City – if you wanted to have a simple, nourishing and filling meal, you could have  a bowl of ramen and a beer and have change from £30, although it would be an enormous shame to miss out on the bottle of Chianti that proves an excellent, deeply satisfying accompaniment to the main meal.

A visit to Shiro Sushi, then, is a pleasure under any circumstances, but the chance to chat with Raymond Ma – a wise, witty host whose calm, civilised mien belies the culinary fireworks his genius summons up – makes it a true privilege. At the end of our chat, Ma says, reflectively, “I like London. I’ll have to come here again soon.” For the sake of all of us, let’s hope he follows through on that promise.

Shiro Sushi, 100 Liverpool Street, Broadgate Circle, London, EC2M 2QS. For more information, including details of ‘Ramen Tuesdays’, and for bookings, please visit

Photos by Ben Carpenter