Sunken sushi service By Deborah Singmaster Photographs by Nat Rea
When the conveyor belts started turning at Yo! Sushi in Poland Street, Soho, owner Simon Woodroffe already had plans for a second bar and restaurant in the basement. Now, two years later, he has opened Yo! Below with a cool design by architect Simon Conder. The contrast between the two Japanese-inspired Yos could not be greater. Above Yo! whisks food along on a conveyor belt at mouth level, its nether half sinks guests below floor level and, in place of travelling sushi, provides beer on tap at each table - no pause between rounds, drink till you drop.
Limited floor-to-ceiling height was the main constraint at Yo! Below and Conder, working with a very hands-on client in Woodroffe, has come up with an ingenious solution. A raised timber floor - reminiscent of tatami-covered Japanese floors - covers approximately two-thirds of the space. Tables with surrounding leg space are sunk into this raised floor platform in the form of illuminated 'pits' where guests can squeeze intimately together, seated on pancake-shaped cushions, and help themselves to beer from a 'tap' at one end of the table. The taps have been adapted from standard pub technology and include a digital counter which records the amount of beer consumed. By illuminating a red light attached to the front of the tap, guests can attract the attention of a waiter and order food. The red discs glow eerily at night time in the dimmed ambient lighting.
The pits are highly serviced, with beer fed in at one end and smoke-laden air, sucked through a circular recess in the centre of each table, extracted through the other end. The raised floor, as well as providing casual seating, usefully conceals a mass of services.
The other novel feature at Yo! Below is the two-tier bar. Front-row drinkers sit at the main counter while a second row can stand behind, using a suspended upper-level counter raised above the heads of the seated drinkers. Staff working behind the bar have to step onto a raised platform to serve people at the upper-level counter.
A limited range of materials has kept the project within the tight budget of £175,000 and achieved a cool Japanese simplicity - oak, white plaster, an epoxy-resin floor finish on the exposed part of the existing floor (which becomes a dance floor later in the evening) and galvanised metal floor covering behind the bar. An I-beam serves as the base to the minimal reception counter facing the entrance.
Simon Conder vouches for Yo! Below's 'stunning sound system' and reports that one of the staff is an opera singer who occasionally grabs one of the staff microphones and treats the house to an aria or two.