Ikejime is a way for killing fish more humanely, principally because it affords a swift death and reduces the stress from conventional methods which let it slowly fade away, thereby degrading taste. Ikejime is fast, taking only a few minutes to stem blood flow at head and tail, then to push a needle down the spinal column to severe all nerves. The fish is then bled out in a bucket of icy water, which can take hours depending on size.
The more literal term is Spinal Cord Destruction (SCD) and some think it is a myth. Once you taste it however, you realise there is something to this age old Japanese method, the flesh is firmer and cleaner in taste as it is untainted by lactic acid production (from stress) and therefore the riga phase is also much gentler for ikejime fish. Since it is thoroughly bled, the flesh will look better and smell more fragrant (or at least of no fishiness). Selection and handling aside, ikejime is the reason why fish in Japan is so bafflingly good.
It is important to say that his daily catch is typically landed in the wee hours either in Cornwall or Algarve and can be delivered to the restaurant (and to other produce obsessed London chefs) in time for lunch. Ishii san will pay a premium (reportedly +50%) for ikejime fish.
Ishii san taught the technique to folks such as Kernowsashimi and 3 or so years on, ikejime is catching on with the Cornish fishing industry. An awakening of sorts, indirectly benefitting the wider restaurant trade in London and the rest of Britain.
Beyond a revolution in the treatment of local fish, Ishii san has framed Umu’s entire menu around using as much local produce as possible. For instance, as you come through the stealthy automatic door activated with a touch panel, you smell and see fresh wasabi being grated behind the counter. Umu uses wasabi grown in Hampshire, Britains’ first and only wasabi growers, as well as sourcing vegetables from a Japanese farmer, Nama Yasai farm in Sussex. A true practice of Kyoto cuisine fully attuned to local produce.
I visited on Saturday lunch, mid May 2016. The full kaiseiki can be had for £155, but I’m not so interested in the ceremony for this meal, as I had my mind set on specific things from the ALC. I glanced at the lunch menu which I think is very good valued, however since Ishii san was in the house during this visit, I did not hesitate. Sashimi will have to be Omakase. I entrust this plate to Ishii san.