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Jonathan Schofield finds Fugu full of flair, flavour and other things which don’t necessarily alliterate

Written by . Published on April 27th 2008.


Alex Mah, the proprietor of Fugu, knows what he wants. Bumping into him on the stairs between bar and restaurant, he was charm personified. Clearly proud of his five week old venture, he told me how he wanted to deliver attractive, high quality Japanese food in beautiful surroundings. At the end of it I felt like applauding. It’s amazing how few places understand that the first rule for any food and drink venue is for the boss to be around, chatting to customers, being enthusiastic, leading by example.

And for the cynical of heart out there, he had no idea I was reviewing Fugu: he was just doing what came naturally, not trying to secure a favourable Confidential article.

All of these looked spectacular. The mix of colour on the plates is spot on: the dishes are design features in their own right. Reds, yellows and oranges mix with darker shades in a manner which cleverly reflects the surroundings.

Mah is building a good business here. This is a one off venture in the former Clock Tower pub in Didsbury. A lot of money has been chucked in with mostly tip-top results. There’s a vague concern over the downstairs bar which sits on the fence between clever and kitsch, frequently tumbling into the latter, but the upstairs restaurant is lovely, a splendid space in which to dine, filled out with bold colours that combine comfort and luxury.

The only thing missing is the wall between the restaurant and the kitchen. This takes kitchen accessibility to extremes. I felt like nipping in to help with slicing the gobo on occasion. Here’s a tip, if you’re on a date request not to sit at the tables closest to the long worksurface, unless you fancy troilism with chefs and their hefty cleavers.

Food then. Best dishes we had were these, the Mino Age, deep fried tiger prawns rolled in grated sweet potato served with a sweet Togarashi chilli relish (£8), the Gyu Kushiyaki, grilled skewered fillet steak in Yakiniku sauce (£8.80), the Ramu Niku Teppan, sautéed lamb loin in sweet Nambanzuke sauce with shredded gobo (£14) and the Buta Niku Yaki, grilled pork chops served with Ohitashi in a sweet, spicy cracked black pepper sauce (£14). For good clean family fun, repeat that paragraph and see who can say it the quickest.

All of these looked spectacular. The mix of colour on the plates is spot on at Fugu: the dishes are design features in their own right. Reds, yellows and oranges mix with darker shades in a manner which cleverly reflects the surroundings.

The prawns were stacked as dramatically as corn stooks in a Van Gogh painting – see picture, above right. They were crunchy and cracking, with a delicate flavour strengthened by the peppery condiment they appeared with – was there orange as well as pepper in that? The skewered fillet steak (pictured below) was less startling but still enticing, with a biting little sauce adding just the right edge. And then there was the sliced gobo with the lamb.

Gobo is my new favourite food word. The vegetable is from the burdock family. Strips are taken from a root that can grow up to four feet in length and the taste is unusual, imagine sweet, pungent earth as part of your diet and you’re getting there. A delicacy in Japan, Gobo is used as a medicine in China – it does have a certain herbal remedy quality to it. At Fugu it added distinctiveness to an excellent lamb dish. The pork chops could have been dull but the sauce and the spinach carried them beyond the mundane and the dish looked great again.

We had sides of Nazu Min Hakata, aubergines, courgettes and cherry tomatoes (pictured above, £4.50) and Ninniku Fried Rice, garlic rice (£2.80). The garlic rice with big chunks of garlic sliced into the brown rice was delicious: something which could easily be replicated at home. And will be.

An excellent dessert of Aisukuriimu Tempura, deep fried vanilla ice cream (£6), rounded things off in a suitably curious way. Nice little crunch on that as we broke through the batter to the ice chill beneath.

Fugu is a fine addition to Didsbury. It excels in presentation and service and provides really good food. Next time we’ll have the sushi which looked worthy of investigation – you can get ‘party platters’ of 12,18 or 24 pieces for £19.80, £26.80, £32.80.

The transformation of the place comes as a surprise, especially if you had the misfortune to stumble into it when it was the scruffy Clock Tower pub – or even worse Squires.

Rowdiness remains a worry for Fugu. Can it attract customers willing to pay £80-£90 for a meal for two with wine, when the odious Hogshead lies across the road? As we left Fugu, a balmy Saturday evening was turning crazy with a horde of Stella fuelled supermen screaming at each other: “are you fucking up for it, I’m fucking up for it, I MEAN are you fucking up for it?” Sadly they didn’t seem to be talking about razing the Hogshead to the ground - the whole chain.

There is just one irritating detail about the restaurant: its name. As the web blurb tells us: ‘fugu is the Japanese word for blowfish. Because blowfish is lethally poisonous only specially licensed chefs are allowed to prepare and sell it’. This means that Fugu doesn’t have fugu on the menu, like a fish and chip shop without fish and chips.

The press blurb also describes that the origin of the word fugu is ‘fuku which means ‘to blow’ or ‘happiness’’. Er….right.

Now why does that remind me of spam mail?

Rating: 16.5/20
Breakdown: 7.5/10 Food
5/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: Fugu Restaurant & Bar
700 Wilmslow Road Didsbury
M20 2DN
0161 4349868

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12 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousApril 27th 2008.

Enjoyed the food here very much in general. Decent surroundings but we taken up a very steep, poorly decorated steps to get to the restaurant-am assuming there is a lift for those with wheelchairs/pushchairs. Despite there being a lot of staff and the restaurant not being full, the service was below average. Make sure you know what you ordered because from our experience they substituted items without letting us know twice(for example we ordered a sashimi seafood platter in which they susbstituted omelette for one of the choices-they rectified this when we pointed it out).

AnonymousApril 27th 2008.

I've not eaten here yet but have enjoyed their cocktails in the bar. Its a gorgeous space. Will definitely try the restaurant soon.

JohnApril 27th 2008.

Fugu as a restaurant has now closed...although it's advertising that it will become a bar/club...probably for the underage patrons which visited the bar! Shame as it could have worked if they put a little more effort in.

AnonymousApril 27th 2008.

I have just walked past Gastros and its closed !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SharonApril 27th 2008.

Like the restaurant, loved these lines in the review. 'As we left Fugu, a balmy Saturday evening was turning crazy with a horde of Stella fuelled supermen screaming at each other: “are you ****ing up for it, I’m ****ing up for it, I MEAN are you ****ing up for it?”

KatApril 27th 2008.

I want to head there for dinner but their website doesnt work, their phone number doesnt work and I headed there today at lunchtime and they werent open. Has it closed down??

beautifuldinkerApril 27th 2008.

Fugu Rocks!a stylish addition to dids, great when you want a change of pace and atmos from the dirty boozers. Great service, great drinksRestaurant amazing, brilliant decor, attentive professional service, AMAZING AUTHENTIC FOODget yourself down there and try it - we love it!

RichardApril 27th 2008.

Would be a good idea in Hale but not in Kidsbury!

AnonymousApril 27th 2008.

Hrm i've not tried the food but wasn't impressed with the bar really. A glass of crap white wine and a pint of above room temperature beer came to over £7 Maybe should have gone for a cocktail

AnonymousApril 27th 2008.

Hmmm...the amount of food you get for a main meal equates to less than a starter size in most restaurants (unlike the bill which was huge!!)The quality was so so, nothing to rave about. And the bar's a bit like being in Ashton...

Miss JSMApril 27th 2008.

Ate here this week (27/4/08) and was extremely impressed! Not often a restaurant in Manchester gets it so right on every level.Cannot recommend highly enough. In addition to great food, the Pomegranite Mochitos are divine.

JohnApril 27th 2008.

I ate at Fugu shortly after the restaurant was opened. The service, or at least attendance was fantastic, but as a party of 8, we were waiting an unbelievable amount of time for the food, although the room was only a third full. All of the staff are very helpful and the food is great...BUT, forget the Hogshead and like across the road, having had a couple of uncomfortable moments with other patrons making comments to females within our party and general yobish behaviour, Fugu needs to step up and deal with their own issues, if they expect to keep the customers they seek returning. Having had a kid of at most 17 asking me if I've "got a f**kin' problem!" or a gang of similar lads asking a friends wife some lewd questions, while we were getting a drink in the bar after eating, few of us are keen to return.

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