30 years of Moshi Moshi: the City restaurant that brought sushi to the UK

On the first floor of London’s Liverpool Street Station sits a restaurant that helped to change the face of London’s dining offering. Moshi Moshi has pushed boundaries ever since it opened, as the UK’s first conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, way back in 1994.

At this time, British food was still struggling to shrug off the stereotype that its dishes and restaurants were bland. Meanwhile, owner Caroline Bennett longed for the sort of food and flavours she’d fallen in love with in Japan. Unable to find what she wanted, she took matters into her own hands and decided to create it herself. 

Not only did she launch a sushi restaurant at a time when most people didn’t even know what sushi was, but she did it while still working her day job in finance, too.

The restaurant quickly garnered a loyal following and three decades on, it’s now celebrating its milestone 30th birthday this summer. Its longevity is testament to its authenticity and quality. Over the years, it’s undeniably helped pave the way for improving Britain’s food scene and shaping modern palettes.

We spoke to Caroline ahead of the birthday celebrations to hear about the restaurant’s beginnings, the controversial removal of Bluefin Tuna from the menu in the Nineties, and the change in food trends over the decades… crab stick, anyone?

What made you open a sushi restaurant in The City of London in 1994, when most people hadn’t heard of sushi?

I craved the raw freshness of sushi, the salty and umami foods and flavours Japan does so well. Having previously lived in Japan for three years, I felt starved of it.

I first fell in love with Japanese food when a one month trip to Japan before uni in the Eighties turned into staying there for three years. Honestly, I found it really helped cut through a foggy brain after a night out drinking!

Also, as a teenager I’d worked in a restaurant in my hometown in Sussex. It was singularly the best job I’ve ever had. I simply adored working for John Kenward, the chef owner, who awoke my sensory tastes to sweetbreads and John Dory, a far cry from the fish-in-a-bag and Angel Delight we had at home. I saw how hard he worked so I knew it wouldn’t be easy. 

What led you to believe the restaurant would be a success? 

From 1991, I worked in finance in The City and lunch options were limited. There was mostly high-end restaurants to take clients out to, which were geared up for high spends and corporate accounts. But, there wasn’t really anywhere to go if you wanted to have lunch with your colleagues.

At that time, there were about 100,000 Japanese people working in finance within The Square Mile, so I knew there would be the appetite for it. I worked out that if just 5% of those 100,000 people came to Moshi Moshi just once a week, I’d be full – and that certainly transpired.


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Did you ever think you’d make it to 30 years?

I don’t remember thinking much about the future of the restaurant before it opened, my only goal was to get it up and running in order to satiate my cravings for sushi. I do remember my bank manager, Keith from NatWest’s Whitechapel branch, cheerily reminding me that only 1 in 20 restaurants get beyond their second year. Naivety worked in my favour, I wasn’t daunted.

I didn’t think I’d get this far, especially during the dark days of Covid. At that time, I surveyed the team for their thoughts – after all, 27 years is already a good innings. But, every single one of them wanted to continue. Their fervour got me through that time, and I wouldn’t conceive of running a restaurant without the happy faces of the team.

Impressively, some of your team have been with you since the very start. How have you managed that?

Our head chef, My Hong, has been here since the beginning when he joined as a maki chef, while second chef Dionisio has been here since 1999, as has assistant manager Emily, and Sami, the restaurant manager. 

I’m not sure how we’ve managed it, but we’ve always been competitive. Unlike most restaurants, we’re closed on the weekends as we’re in The City, and lunch is our busiest time, plus we also pay at least the London living wage…

Moshi Moshi conveyor belt sushi
Dionisio in action

You controversially took Bluefin Tuna off the menu in 1997, what made you do this and what was the effect? 

When I opened I wanted the restaurant to be as authentic as possible. But, we started struggling with supply issues when trying to get hold of Bluefin Tuna and I’m embarrassed to say, I had to be brought up to speed by Greenpeace that it had become an endangered species due to overfishing. It really shouldn’t have been on any menu. So, having been educated, I took it off.

Bluefin is a sushi staple so that decision lost me customers. But it was the right thing to do – we have to diversify what we eat. These days the issue we come up against is that it’s virtually impossible to source non-farmed fish. 

How does it feel to be bringing Bluefin Tuna back to the menu 27 years later? 

Bluefin Tuna led me on – what I have to admit, has been an incredibly frustrating – journey of trying to get fish from ethical sources. It made me aware that we aren’t properly connected to the ocean. It is how I came to understand that 70% of our oceans are overfished. 

To have it back on our menu 27 years later is just amazing. But to have it coming from British waters is even better. In the Nineties it was flown from Japan and Australia, and now it will come from Devon.

How have food trends and eating habits changed over the years?

When we first opened crab stick rolls were popular. These still don’t have a hint of crab in them – it’s just white fish compressed with crab flavouring. Everyone loved crab stick roll, it was absolutely the top favourite. 

Then there was ‘chicken of the sea’, which is basically any tuna that’s not Bluefin Tuna. We had tuna from a can (wild Skipjack tuna) served with mayonnaise and red onion and wrapped in a roll. 

Now fresh tuna and salmon sashimi are in high demand, but in the early days these were borderline in popularity. We’ve certainly seen growth path in what people want to eat. 

There are raucous stories of the Square Mile from the 90s. What was it like when you first opened?

In those days, trading was open cry trading (where people shouted or signalled communications) so we had the red coats and the yellow coats from the trading floor. They’d be in distinct groups – on one end of the conveyor we’d have the red guys and at the other, the yellow. 

They’d compete with how many plates they could eat and stack vertically and the number of bottles they’d line up horizontally. In those days, you could drink pretty freely at lunch. Now, it’s been banned.

There was a sense of bravado and neither group wanted to be outdone by one another. It was fun!

Caroline Bennett on a boat
Caroline and chef Hong on The Lady Hamilton, Cornwall

From running the restaurant, you’ve become a real advocate for small scale fishing – can you tell us about it?

I struggled more-and-more to find non-farmed fish for the restaurant, so in 2016 I eventually started a business myself. Sole of Discretion now sells quality, ethical and low-impact fish to restaurants and direct to people’s houses.

If you go to a supermarket, or even a fishmonger, and ask ‘where and how was this caught?’ most couldn’t tell you as traceability is lost at port. There are a few other companies doing it now, but we were one of the first to put traceable information on every single pack. This includes the name of the boat and Skipper, as well as the catch method, so people can understand exactly how and where their fish is caught. 

We don’t ever buy fish from boats that are bigger than 10 metres. We also process everything by hand to extract the most value from the fish, which also means nothing is wasted. 

It’s the absolute opposite of industrial scale fishing. British consumers have no idea how damaging it is because there’s so much that’s hidden from them. 

What lesser known fish can we expect to see on Moshi Moshi’s menu then?

Populations of the European eel have also been in decline for many years, so we replaced our popular unagi eel dish with kabayaki dog fish, which is common in Cornwall’s waters.

We also source whole prawns, which are both better quality and more sustainably farmed, instead of the usual pre-prepared tails that come in plastic trays. This meant thinking of what to do with the prawn heads, to prevent them going in the bin. So, the team came up with the idea of ‘prawn head crispies’. It’s a very popular snack on the menu. 

About the author

Emma Henderson

Emma Henderson

Emma Henderson is a freelance writer and editor and has been a journalist for 10 years, where for most of that time she worked at The Independent. She specialises in food and drink, covering everything from plastic free tea to sustainable fishing. She was the Editor of IndyEats, The Independent's digital food magazine. She writes widely about sustainability, ethics and greenwashing in food and beyond.


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