We had the pleasure of meeting up with one of the owners of the hit new sushi restaurants, Sushi & Salad, to discuss more about the restaurant, their roots, and how it came to be one of the most exciting things to happen to the Cambridgeshire food scene in years.
Sushi & Salad is an independent restaurant which is going to be the first focus of our new initiative with Be Social Cambridge to dive deeper into some of our favourite local businesses across the Cambridgeshire area.
Sushi & Salad has only been open a short while, starting out during the global pandemic of 2020 and opening in early 2021, yet it has still managed to make it through the other end and has continued to go from strength to strength ever since.
Ely has been in dire need of a sushi restaurant for years with a huge gap in the market. The closest sushi restaurants before Sushi & Salad opened were either in central Cambridge and Mildenhall. No wonder people like myself have been going wild for it.
We sat down with restaurant owner William to have a chat (and some sushi) about the past and how it led to him and his partner Juliana opening up a marvellous place like Sushi & Salad in our community.William and Juliana were unsure what to open to start with but knew they were keen to open up a restaurant here. Ideas were discussed, such as a tea room, but with Ely already filled to the brim with tea rooms they eventually settled on a sushi restaurant after Juliana casually mentioned that she was well versed in making it.
With Juliana being originally from Brazil and William from Manchester, you would never have guessed that a sushi restaurant would be their natural destination. But with Brazil being home to the biggest community of Japanese people outside of Japan (with a whopping 1.5 million people) sushi is plentiful in the country and Juliana is not only an experienced restauranteur, but also has a good knowledge of sushi in all its forms.
William explained that their standards are incredibly high, with food always made fresh to order. I experienced this myself on previous visits, with staff explaining to me that my order will be over half an hour as it is made from scratch every time. This might explain some of why the food at Sushi & Salad has been described as the best sushi in Cambridgeshire.
There is more to it than that though, with fresh fish being ordered from Billingsgate fish market in London twice a week. William will go down personally to make sure that not only is the quality meeting their high standard, but is also fresh for the customer. The fresh fruit and veg is also ordered locally and delivered regularly to the shop.
Sushi is very easy to get wrong and can be an incredibly fickle food to prepare, so attention to details like this are paramount. This is why William and Juliana go that extra mile to make sure that every ingredient is vouched for. Indeed, just hearing them talk about the ingredients shows you the nature of their passion, as William waxed lyrical about the attention and care that Juliana puts into selecting ingredients and checking produce.
As we all know, food is not everything when dining out. Your surroundings and the atmosphere can make all the difference with your experience. Sushi & Salad is superbly decorated, giving their small intimate restaurant character – William explained that they wanted to capture that particular type of japanese style that was born out of the sort of 1950s immigrants to America, who took a dash of americana and mixed it with authentic Japanese style. William explained that many elements of the decor came across from Japan, and jokingly said that the only thing which isn’t authentic is the clock behind the bar, which was purchased locally at Thing Me Bobs.
Having travelled the breadth of Japan myself from Itsukushima to Tokyo, I can appreciate how well they had done accurately replicating some of the restaurants in Japan, particularly some of the less urbanised ones you see around the country.
Everything from the wall paper to the furnishings to the tableware was visually stunning and uniquely authentic. It is the little details which set this place apart from others. Even the cakes they had on display at the bar were locally made. There is a selection of Japanese beer available for that smooth crisp taste which seems to compliment sushi so well. Absolutely no detail is spared.
Sushi & Salad is more than just sushi, of course. With a selection of other traditional Japanese dishes, such as chicken teri aki and katsu curry. All delicious dishes in their own right and were excellently presented.
“The first bite is with the eye” and what a visual feast their food is.
The restaurant has a good aura about it, with its beautifully crafted food and traditional interior decorating but also with the staff working there.Every time my wife and I have visited we have found the staff to not only be engaging, prompt, and good communicators but also very happy. Even behind their masks it is clear that the staff really wanted to be there and were valued as people. There was good banter between the waitresses and William while we were there which added a contagious atmosphere which flows through the restaurant. This is not always the case at other places, even with small independent restaurants at times, which goes to show how well the business environment is run.
The staff ratios to customers was strong, meaning that everything was running smoothly. During a period where restaurants and other businesses are struggling to retain staff, there is absolutely no problem with that here.
The restaurant is quite small, which they have really managed to turn to an advantage. The place has a great warmth to it with a cosy intimate identity. The space they do have is used really well, with people sat in with children and buggies while we were dining. Most of all, you don’t feel squeezed in and have ample space to feel comfortable. Being 6’4 myself, this is something I am always acutely aware of.
There is also an option during the warmer days to sit outside in the alleyway. This is one of my favourite things to do, as in Ely, everything is historic and beautiful. Sitting outside with a Japanese beer and some sushi in the past has honestly made me feel like I was on a city break. This was a life saver after the pandemic as at this point had not had a holiday in nearly two years. Very few places can offer an experience like this, even in Ely.
We discussed the idea of Sushi & Salad expanding or moving to a larger place but William explained that they have no intention of changing a thing. When you put this much effort into something and get it exactly how you would like, why would you? I recommend phoning ahead for bookings. It is not often they have to turn people away but it is something which may happen from time to time. They offer a takeaway service too, which is perfect for people outside of Ely who want to make a day of it. Phone up, come and collect, then walk around the historic beauty of the city eating fine food which is also very practical to eat on the go.
It was great getting to know the team at Sushi & Salad and learning about a successful small independent restaurant and the hard work and effort which goes into making something like this work. I wish William and Juliana all the best and highly recommend you come and visit to support a unique business at the heart of the local community.
Thanks for reading.