itsu Brighton – Review
68-70 North Street
Like many Brightonians, I maintain a healthy skepticism about fast food chains. In a city with such a thriving independent food scene they have to work extra hard to impress. itsu, however, has intrigued me since it opened last month. Pre-packed lunches rarely excite but the reportedly high protein, low fat, Asian-style food lining the refrigerators at itsu certainly looks colourful and appealing. London friends are already converts, so I was glad to pop in this week and find out whether it could live up to expectations.
The bulk of the offerings are sushi platters, (made from, I’m assured, sustainably farmed fish), rice salads and noodle soups. I try the Detox miso soup, which isn’t as tasteless as its name might suggest. I suspect the name may be misleading in other ways too – it’s not clear how the soup can support detoxing. It certainly feels light and healthy enough though, consisting of a savoury, green-tinged miso broth with a hint of citrus, submerging a healthy amount of elastic glass noodles and vegetables that maintain a surprising crunch. Floating in the soup are two vegetable gyoza dumplings, which add satisfying body and alternative texture but not much in the way of taste. The pot is a reasonable size for the £2.99 price. It’s not substantial enough to be a filling lunch on its own, but makes a nice hot addition to a light meal with one of the chilli houmous, salmon or tuna salad snack pots on the side to add extra protein.
To accompany my soup I opt for chargrilled chicken on a bed of sticky rice with teriyaki dressing. The chicken is lacking smoky, charred flavour, but it is lean, moist and actually tastes of chicken, which is remarkable enough in a readymade salad and probably an indication of the higher welfare standards the animals are bred to. You also get more than you would in the equivalent supermarket salad, meaning that it feels like the extra 70p spend is justified. The rice is a great consistency, sticky without being clawing and flecked with sesame seeds, ginger and crunchy spring onions and peas. It’s flavoursome enough in its own right to avoid being just a vehicle for the accompanying teriyaki dressing. This is served in a separate pot so that you can add it to taste. Accustomed to pre-packed salads with measly amounts of bland oily dressings, I pour over the entire lot, which proves to be over-zealous. It’s unexpectedly heavyweight: viscous, sticky, and incredibly sweet; it knocks off health points but adds buckets of taste.
I accompany my meal with a green ‘seven veg’ smoothie and it does all look a bit worthy. Clocking this and seemingly concerned about the ‘healthiness’ of my choices the manager tops my tray up with some additional sweet treats, including a fat-free frozen yoghurt topped with candy-sweet strawberries. It’s noticeably made from real probiotic, natural yoghurt.
Compared to its sister company Pret I think itsu offers better value. Opt for one of the larger sushi platters with a drink and a dessert and you’re edging towards the £15 mark, but if you fancy a soup or rice/protein salad combo then it’s now one of the better grab and go options available for the same price on North Street. There is certainly enough variety to pique my curiosity; I need to try the salmon salads and sample what may be the largest selection of readymade sushi in Brighton.
itsu also offers a range of hot noodle and rice dishes, which I unfortunately didn’t have time to try. Pointing out the hot itsu pots to me, the manager animatedly described to me how the company feels that in these it has found its Big Mac – a hint at the global domination itsu is aiming for. And you may have noticed itsu–branded products making an appearance in supermarkets already. Following in the footsteps of Wagamama, which successfully spawned a range of cookbooks and chopstick sets, you can now season the food you make at home with their itsu teriyaki or potsu hot sauce, snack on itsu edamame beans, or leaf through your itsu cookery book, spurred on by the sickeningly aspirational ‘eat beautiful’ slogan. It seems people are being persuaded to buy into ‘the brand’, as much as the food itself, through the kind of marketing that I suspect is trying to turn itsu into a ‘lifestyle choice’, when really it’s just a place to buy lunch. If you’re on North Street and need a quick bite it’s an excellent option. I’ll definitely be in again to buy lunch, but I won’t be buying into the brand. I am from Brighton after all.