IT WAS Yo! Sushi's executive chef, Chris Sell, who realised that the mini sushi created for the company's outside catering arm was perfect for designer kids who accompany their parents to the restaurant's two outlets - the 100-seat Poland Street unit in Soho and the 60-seat branch at Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge.
But Yo!'s kids menu is more than just a fad for well-heeled children. Sell and head chef Nacer Arab are concerned that children are getting little education about food and nutrition. By interesting them in sushi, a low-fat, low-cholesterol food, the chefs hope to weaken the grip of fast-food giants on children's imaginations.
The sushi rolls on offer look very much like the adult dish, only smaller. However, unlike the adult menu, every piece of kids' sushi is hand-made, so as to achieve the correct size and flavour. Hot green paste - Japanese horseradish - is not used, nor is strong-flavoured seafood such as cuttlefish, Arctic clams and sweet shrimps.
Confounding preconceptions, the chefs have found that the more traditional the sushi, the more children like it. Numerous tastings have shown that while raw fish is very popular with the youngsters, it is the minor ingredients such as sesame seeds that do not go down well.
Sushi actually means sandwich, and Sell has used traditional sandwich flavours as inspiration for some of the kids' sushi dishes. Surprisingly, flavours such as Cheddar cheese and pickle maki, developed for the kids' menu, have proved to be more of a success with adults.
Prawn and avocado cocktail, a maki roll with a Marie Rose dipping sauce, has also proved a hit with adults, both at the 300-400 cover a night Poland Street eaterie and at the Knightsbridge restaurant, currently serving 150 daily covers at lunch - its busiest time. A number of hot dishes, though, are made just for kids. These include chicken breast teriyaki - made with thigh meat for adults - and salmon teriyaki.
Plates of kids' sushi cost either £1 or £1.50 a plate at Poland Street, £1.50 or £2 a plate at Harvey Nichols: average kids' spend per head is running at £6. Given the labour intensive preparation, it is not the most profitable aspect of the menu but as Arab says, "these are the customers of the future". n
Yo! Sushi, 52 Poland Street, London W1,
Tel: 0171-287 0443
Yo! Sushi, Harvey Nichols, 109-125 Knightsbridge, London SW1, Tel: 0171-235 5000.