LONDON — After years of criticism from environmentalists, two top Japanese restaurants in London are now advising diners to avoid selecting the endangered bluefin tuna — but they are keeping the fish on their menus.
Environmentalists have slammed the compromise, saying the two restaurants in central London owned by famous chef Nobu Matsuhisa should take the dish off their menus entirely.
The contradiction was discovered by environmental journalist Charles Clover, who has been researching the demise of fish stocks and the response from the restaurant industry.
Many restaurants in Britain have taken bluefin tuna off their menus after pressure from environmental groups.
But several high-end Japanese restaurants still serve it and the two Nobu establishments had, until recently, resisted the pressure to follow the prevailing trend. The restaurants are popular with A-list celebrities.
Clover, who has been preparing a film on the decline of the Atlantic bluefin tuna, said he first did some undercover testing on the tuna served at Nobu to ascertain whether it was bluefin. The restaurants don’t actually state what kind of tuna is served, only the cuts, including “toro” (belly).
DNA tests proved it was Atlantic bluefin and then he was able to secure an interview with one of Nobu’s partners, Richie Notar.
As a result of this meeting, Nobu agreed to put an asterisk next to dishes containing bluefin and a warning about its endangered status.
The asterisk is described as denoting, “Bluefin tuna is an environmentally threatened species, please ask your server for an alternative.”
The asterisk appears on several sushi and sashimi dishes at Nobu’s restaurant in Berkeley Street, Mayfair.
However, there are no asterisks next to the fish dishes on the menu at the other London restaurant. The menu only carries the note at the bottom about bluefin tuna’s threatened status.
Giles Bartlett of the environmentalist group World Wide Fund for Nature said he was “surprised” by Nobu’s rather contradictory move.
“We want Nobu to take bluefin off the menu and replace it with a sustainable alternative, such as albacore or big eye. We feel that such high-class establishments should be setting the best environmental precedent,” he said.
Environmentalists have for years urged the world to reduce its consumption of bluefin tuna due to dwindling stocks, which are not being replenished due to overfishing, particularly in the Mediterranean.
The bluefin from Europe is much prized by Japanese, who like its fatty quality.
Due to the popularity of Japanese cuisine in Europe, more people have become aware of the status of bluefin and have put pressure on restaurants to stop serving it. A few years ago, British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay bowed to environmental pressure and now many consumers opt for yellowfin tuna or more sustainable alternatives.
No one from Nobu in London was available for comment despite several requests.
Matsuhisa, who was born in Saitama Prefecture, has more than 24 restaurants in 20 countries. He opened his first outlet in the United States with the help of actor Robert de Niro.
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