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Kyotoya, Japanese Restaurant, Reviewed

Rakhi Sinha makes mouths water in the Confidential office with jealousy

Published on October 10th 2011.


Kyotoya, Japanese Restaurant, Reviewed

I’M almost reluctant to spread the word about this fantastic, little restaurant.

Tearing away the crispy exterior revealed white, succulent flesh which had been flavoured with bands of leek. It was superb.

It's the eternal quandary of the traveller. The compulsion to tell everyone about that remote ‘undiscovered’ beach, but at the same time not wanting others to spoil its beauty. But the owner is lovely and the food incredible, so I feel obliged to share my Japanese utopia in South Manchester.

Kyotoya is set on Copson Street in Withington, just around the corner from the quirky Lebanese restaurant Aladdin, another Manchester Confidential favourite.

With its bright red and blue façade, it doesn’t look out of place amongst the low-end supermarkets and takeaways. But look closely and you’ll see the cute little lanterns and traditional ‘noren’ curtains which adorn many Japanese eateries to show they’re open for business. This makes the place immediately warm and likeable, even before tasting the food.

Inside, the restaurant is sparse in decor except for the bar/open kitchen area which is brightened by colourful wallpaper and lanterns. With wooden tables, laminated menus carrying images of Kyoto temples, and Japanese pop on in the background, it’s more like an izakaya - a traditional Japanese pub - than a fancy restaurant.

The menu at Kyotoya is extensive with plenty of choice for meat-eaters, pescatarians and vegetarians alike. They also recently got a licence to serve booze and have Japanese beers Kirin, Asahi and Sapporo (£3.50) and traditional sake rice wine (from £3.50.

I visited with my friend. Like any self-respecting Australian, she’s an Asian food aficionado, and since I lived in Japan, we both know what we want from a good Japanese dinner. Most lovers of Japanese food would agree that the likes of chain restaurants and supermarket sushi just don’t cut the wasabi. Kyotoya on the other hand most certainly does, and at ridiculously reasonable prices.

Combine this with the lovely owner, who comes from Kyoto (hence the name), and you’re on to a winner. He’s a former chef from Samsi in town and now runs this place with his wife and son. It’s a family affair and indeed, you feel like an extended member. Friends of mine affectionately call him uncle and over the course of our meal, he takes the time to chat to his loyal following. He asks one customer about their new house and addresses the children of a family by their first names. He’s eager to please and nothing’s too much trouble.

When I ask him if we can swap some sushi for sashimi on the 8-piece mixed platter (£6) he says: “Okay, but for you special.” Remember the review was undertaken anonymously so there wasn’t any reviewer favouritism.

Dining at some city centre Japanese restaurants can be daylight snobbery but this place is so charming that even the erratic service (it took a while for our order to be taken) can be forgiven. After all there are only three staff and in addition to freshly preparing each dish for diners, they also do takeaway deliveries within a three-mile radius.

As well as the sushi and sashimi, we had some chicken gyoza (dumplings - £3.50) to start. They’d been grilled slightly so were crispy on the bottom and the spicy, garlicky mixture inside was flavour intense. They’re the best I’ve had outside Japan.

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Whilst my Aussie friend was supping on her miso soup she told me about the time she’d had a hankering for Japanese food and was delighted to stumble across a Yo! Sushi. But after just one miso and three dishes, she was £18 lighter and still had a rumble in her belly. She wasn’t impressed. “This is another level,” she exclaimed happily.

The miso was rich with generous chunks of tofu and subtle wakame seaweed. Unlike the chain restaurant’s limp, watery version, this boiled down to a much better broth. We’ll be both back to bathe our tastebuds in the lovely thing.

I enjoy tofu but sometimes it’s tough trying to convince people to try it. It wobbles like badly made jelly and has a bland image, but I’m sure the classic agedashi tofu dish (£3.50) we had would convert the sceptics. The curd is lightly battered and quickly deep fried, creating a warm crispy shell around silken tofu. It’s served in a sweet dashi, mirin and soy sauce which sings when combined with the delicate flavour of the tofu. It was soy, soy good.

My fellow diner was adamant that no Japanese meal is complete without tempura, despite it actually making its way over East from Portugal. I’m never one to say no to food so we chose a mixed platter (£6) to share. Tempura gone wrong is soggy, bready and sits uncomfortably in the stomach.

Our friendly chef is no novice and each item was delicately battered, crispy, grease-free and yummy. The prawns were tender and the flavour of the veg could still be tasted through the batter. The only issue was the awkwardness of trying to use blunt wooden chopsticks to cut and share one piece of squid between two.

Like all the dishes at Kyotoya, price is no indication of quality. You almost feel guilty that you’re paying so little for excellent food when you know most Japanese restaurants in British city centres make an absolute killing. This was especially the case of final dish of the evening - the pièce de résistance.

A whole seabass. For 12 quid. When it came out it was like when you’re in a restaurant and the staff turn out the lights and bring a candle-lit, birthday cake. Everyone was looking our way and wondering who was going to be the recipient. I was glad to have created such food envy. There was an audible silence as the owner proudly set it down on the table, before stepping back to admire it and the look on our faces.

“Next time we’ll get that too,” the father on the table behind said.

The fish was lightly battered and dressed in a spicy, sweet and sour sauce. Tearing away the crispy exterior revealed white, succulent flesh which had been flavoured with bands of leek. It was superb.

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By this point we were full to bursting but it was so delicious we couldn’t stop picking at it with our chopsticks. Perhaps it’s a good thing that Kyotoya don’t do deserts because we had no room for anything else.

When the owner came by to ask if everything was okay, I asked how he’d made the seabass, but he wouldn’t tell me: “It’s my secret,” he said smiling and shaking his head.

And Kyotoya was mine but I’ve just shared it with you.

Nippon down, you won’t be disappointed.

A meal for two with beer cost £37.40. The puns cost nothing.

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ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise.

Kyotoya
28 Copson Street, Withington, Manchester, M20 3HB, 0161 445 2555

Rating: 16/20
Food: 8.5/10
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 3.5/5

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away.

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

AnonymousOctober 11th 2011.

> They’re the best I’ve had outside Japan.
It's brave to say that.
If I may ask, which restaurants have you have been to??

AnonymousOctober 11th 2011.

The owner was so friendly that you don't know his name?

and mancon can we please proof read before publishing.

Jonathan SchofieldOctober 11th 2011.

Anon. We do try. Sometimes we rush. Spotted one typo. What else have you seen? The name is a fair cop,

EmOctober 11th 2011.

Is there a pic of the sea bass?

I have been to this place a couple of times and it is outstanding. The set menus they do are lovely and even better value than ordering off the main menu. It is a little gem.

AnonymousOctober 11th 2011.

Looks brilliant, how busy does this place get and can you reserve or just turn up??

Karen BrooksOctober 11th 2011.

All that hype about how incredible the sea-bass looked and no picture??

Jonathan SchofieldOctober 11th 2011.

Oh Karen all right I'll put up the picture even though it is a little blurred.

MikeOctober 11th 2011.

It's ace. They do both take away and delivery too.

Nicola YaffeOctober 11th 2011.

We go here on ou lunchtime as a treat, lovely review and well deserved.

AnonymousOctober 11th 2011.

Can anyone recommend a great chinese in or around Chinatown (excuse the oxy-moron)?

Gillynumber1October 11th 2011.

I love this place, been a few times now and the food is always fantastic, the Gyoza (?) dumplings especially! Its great they now have an alcohol license, though without a bathroom in the place, I don't know if its an all-night kind of place?

EmOctober 11th 2011.

Yeah, you have to walk behind the counter virtually through the kitchen to get to a dingy little toilet. Stick to wine and not beer is my tip!

1 Response: Reply To This...
Gillynumber1October 11th 2011.

Oh brill there is a loo!

the Whalley RangerOctober 11th 2011.

Wow, sounds cool, must try.

AnonymousOctober 11th 2011.

This sounds great and exactly what i thought Manchester was missing. Thanks for this one Manc confidential!

Prince_HarmingOctober 11th 2011.

I live pretty much round the corner and I've eaten from here since it opened. It's always a real treat and the food is stunning at any price, never mind how little they actually charge.

I've eaten sushi from Australasia in town and Kyotoya in the same week and with no exaggeration, my local wins hands down. Bigger portions, stronger flavours, more generous seasoning and less than half the price.

I've been telling friends about this place for months but I'm glad they're now getting some recognition :D

AnonymousOctober 12th 2011.

Nice review, will try this place at the first opportunity. It is exactly what Manchester is missing.

RudyOctober 12th 2011.

got to say, spot on review.. this place is great.
The food is by far the best japanese I've had in manchester and the chap who runs the place really was very friendly. good spot..

AnonymousOctober 12th 2011.

Great Review. I went to Kyotoya last night. The sushi, especially, is outstandingly good value. But it was rammed, damn you Mcr Confidential... I suppose i'll have to book to ensure that i can get my fix in future.

Rupert FlynnOctober 12th 2011.

Great review Rakhi - I couldn't agree more about the very high quality, the value and the personal touch from the owners. All of the people I've recommended it to have come back with glowing praise. Eating is believing!

AnonymousOctober 14th 2011.

After reading this fab review I was literally salivating and dying to go there! I just called to book a table - the answer phone message says the restaurant is closed for refurb until next Friday night. I'm sure they couldn't have picked a worse time to shut up shop!

AnonymousNovember 14th 2011.

Had to add my review as I finally got to go on Friday, we found the place really friendly and really good value for money. The sashimi was really big and fresh, amazing gyoza and we were stuffed after spending only £25 for two. Highly recommend it.

Arwin MahindrakarNovember 20th 2011.

I liked it. The agedasi tofu, gyoza and yaki soba were great. Very friendly staff.

AnonymousJune 18th 2012.

My husband n I was there yesterday, had sushi, tofu, miso soup, mixed tempura, and duck n pork fried rice. Prices were reasonable, but food was just ok, nothing as spectacular as the review portrays. Tempura batter was too thick n abit soggy at the bottom. Fried rice too oily. Miso soup is just normal. Hubby said salmon sushi was very good, although I didn't try it as I'm pregnant. They were very responsible n told me I shouldnt eat it since they noticed I'm pregnant, n changed 2pcs of salmon sushi to sweet beancurd n egg sushi so I could eat it. Also, the family was speaking in mandarin so I doubt they are from Kyoto. I've been to Japan n to many proper Japanese restaurants around the world (jap food is my fav n im malaysian) that's run by Japanese instead of chinese or Malaysians n i can tell the difference. Overall I would say not bad for the price, n I would go back to try the seabass n sushi after delivery.

DavidDecember 14th 2012.

Best Gyuoza outside Japan?!?! They're out of the freezer.

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Best sushi in Manchester by a country mile. Simply perfect

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