Going Out: Hanko Sushi Vantaa

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This was my second sushi experience during our weekend in the Helsinki greater metropolitan area last July. This was also my second sushi experience with this particular Finnish restaurant chain, Hanko Sushi. I use the term “restaurant” loosely because I would classify this more as fast-food sushi, really. Except for the not so fast part. But wait, let’s start at the beginning.

So the day before, I’d taken the bus out to Espoo to visit a friend and have an awesome lunch at LN-Sushi Art. Wanting to sleep in late and knowing that we were leaving that afternoon, I stayed close to our hotel and just walked over to the Jumbo shopping center. They had a coffee place and sushi bar listed, along with a few other shops I needed to stop in for various small items, so convenience won out. I’m fairly willing to bet that almost all the customer traffic this particular Hanko sees is from people who don’t have the time or energy to look for something better. Few are probably repeats.

I wandered by a little after 12PM on Sunday, which is when they were supposed to open. The girl was just pulling the sliding door back and getting the register started, which I suppose was a clue to how many visitors they actually expected to have. Then again, Finland is kind of funny about working on Sundays — it has only become common in the past decade and hours for many places are still really short. I took a seat at the bar and asked for a menu while they got the place ready for lunch. Not a single other customer stopped by the entire time I was there, it should be noted. This was in late July, when the lower shopping level was bustling and most people were back from their midsummer holidays. I also saw a healthy number of tourists milling about. Not many people ventured up that way.

Your basic out-of-the-box sushi bar decor. Lots of wood and minimalist furniture. Signage in black, red and white. Clean but unmemorable. Not a single Asian person in sight, which is usually a warning bell (the place from yesterday is run by people of Asian descent, if I remember right). The girl at the counter (a high school student at her first summer job, it seemed) didn’t seem particularly enthused about having a customer and it took a bit of pointing to explain my order, since she didn’t seem to have the actual names for the nigiri pieces I was asking for memorized. Which were all basic things, since the menu pretty much stuck to the most common ingredients available in bulk in Finland.

My order was unagi (grilled eel), tara (cod), hotate (scallops) and a double of ikura (salmon roe). Considering that the people in the back were probably just unwrapping defrosted pieces of fish and placing them on rice formed in plastic molds (I doubt a place like this has an actual chef in the back), it seemed to take a while.

When it arrived, the food was neatly presented enough, but not particularly exciting. The unagi tasted like the pre-packaged stuff, soft and overly sauced, without the crispy sweet texture that a freshly grilled piece has. The cod and scallop were similarly mediocre — edible, but not memorable. The salmon roe was a disappointment, since it was composed of the tiny eggs common in Finnish grocery stores, rather than the big fat ones that you get at proper restaurants. I didn’t have much complaint about the rice, since I don’t mind if the sugar/vinegar balance is a bit towards the sweet side. My tolerance for variation in rice is much higher than for the actual toppings, I guess.

Which leaves the bill. As often happens in these cases, a general feeling of dissatisfaction develops into the certainty that one most certainly did not get what they paid for. The prices were about the same as a typical sushi bar — definitely the same as the one I had been at the day before. And yet, I felt like they were higher, subjectively, since the food was so meh. I mentioned that I’d been to another Hanko before — in Turku — and the food there was actually a bit better, though there are other reasons that we typically don’t go to that one unless we are desperate. Different post, that. Point being, I’m willing to say that perhaps it is just this particular one that is the way it is.

Verdict? Go to the Fazer cafe instead. It’s a few shops down and has tons of tasty baked goods. If you’re really craving sushi, go to Stockmann grocery downstairs and pick up a variety pack of frozen sushi toppings. You’ll get pretty much the same goods for a much better price and no petulant high schoolers looking put-upon to be behind the cashier.

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