Babylon Surøl & Sushi opened earlier this year in the backyard of restaurant Happolati and Café Tekehtopa – or should I say reopened? Bar Babylon has existed for many years, but first and foremost as a pub. Even now, with the addition of a sushi restaurant, you get a sense that the sour beer (surøl) part of the concept is the most prominent. If you love sushi, but don’t like sour beer, you’re stuck with a rather limited selection of alternative beverages. I happen to like sour beer quite a bit, but I am not sure I could drink it through a full meal. You can order sushi à la carte, but the main reason to visit Babylon Surøl & Sushi, in my opinion, is the omakase menu. Head chef Marcin Jasiura prepares a very exclusive menu for only four people at the bar counter, with three seatings every night, Wednesday through Saturday. 18 carefully prepared and individually served pieces of sushi – made from the freshest catch that the chef has available each day. The price: NOK 750 per person. To my knowledge, that’s the cheapest sushi omakase menu in Norway – certainly at this level of quality.
We Need to Talk About the Price Tag …
In fact, the meal was so cheap when we dined here back in April (NOK 600 per person) that I couldn’t understand how the price tag could possibly defend the time chef Jasiura has spent on preparations, the hours he devotes to his limited amounts of guest every night, and the cost of the produce. After all, we were served king crab, langoustine, scallops, Danish eel, Kalix løyrom (vendace roe) and a variety of more or less rare fish. If you compare the price to Sabi Omakase in Stavanger (NOK 1395 per person), which owner Njål Solland has admitted does not cover their costs, it doesn’t make much sense. No wonder then, that the price already went up to NOK 750 just a few months later. For all I know, it may increase even further, so my advice is to get your seats booked here sooner rather than later.
The Unreasonable Comparison to Sabi Omakase and Hoze
It’s difficult not to compare Babylon Surøl & Sushi to Sabi Omakase in Stavanger, but it’s also slightly unfair. The latter got its first Michelin star this year, won the Nordic Prize, and got bumped to 12th place on White Guide’s Nordic Top 30 list and even placed second in Norway after Maaemo. Be that as it may, Sabi Omakase is one of the very few comparisons you can make without leaving the country. The other would be the newly opened Omakase by Alex Cabiao (also owned by Sabi Sushi), and then the next, as far as I can tell, is in Sweden: restaurant Hoze in Gothenburg.
Both Roger of Sabi Omakase and José of Hoze has a more clean and elegant setup than Marcin has at Babylon. Their bar counters are designed with an omakase concept in mind. Chef Jasiura, on the other hand, is sort of tucked away in one corner of Bar Babylon. As guests booked for the omakase menu, you sit rather tightly together on four bar stools near the entrance. His style of preparation is rougher and less refined. The tattooed arms are obviously well-trained in the Japanese art, but they don’t have the ritual-like, dancing movements of Roger Asakil Joya. Marcin talks more, and he’s not as focused on the task at hand, but his passion is evident. His knowledge is vast and he has, as we were about to learn, a lot of good flavor combinations lined up. The chef excused his lack of proper wasabi root this week. He simply hadn’t been able to get hold of the scarce resource. A fair explanation.
The Proof is in the Pudding
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. That idiom could not have been more true this night. Delicate snow crab was helped just slightly by arctic salt, a squeeze of yuzu and some shiso leaves. Raw pieces of langoustine came next, with an acidic and sweet shoyu sauce. A great match.
Unlike Roger, but similar to José, Marcin then went on to arrange and pre-cut all the slices of fish for the nigiri part of the meal. I guess that comes down to personal preferences of each chef. The big highlight for me, personally, was the Danish eel. Torched, and glazed with a sweet soy sauce. An incredible texture, and extremely satisfying with the sweetness against the salt and umami flavor. If I should rate it compared to Roger’s eel, it would have been a tie. I could have skipped the last two servings of fish roe, but the tamago (omelet) was a nice finish. Not too far from Roger’s version, but not as good as the one José makes (it all comes down to the temperature, texture, and mouthfeel).
Marcin Jasiura is a good sushi chef. I like his style, even though it is different. His current playground is odd, though. There seemed to be no time to serve other guests when he was busy with the omakase menu. What would he have done if the restaurant actually had any other guests this night? Something tells me the current business concept is not too viable in the long term. I hope I am wrong.
What’s your best omakase sushi experience? Please share your story in a comment.