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Yuzu review

Lucy Tomlinson wishes that Chinatown’s new Japanese restaurant would stop being so polite

Written by . Published on August 31st 2010.

Yuzu review

The most beautiful, sublime, tears-of-joy inducing meal I ever had the privilege of consuming was at a kaiseke restaurant in Japan. The chefs were minor deities of food. Each tiny dish was conjured up from sealife I’ve never met before or since or spring vegetables bursting with taste, all themed around the cherry blossom season.

Should a restaurant adapt itself to my western needs on the presumption my hopelessly white tastebuds can never be re-educated? Or should it be striving for authenticity, even at the expense of possible customers?

This was when seasonal food in Britain was still about Cadbury’s crème eggs only being available for a couple of months. It is due to meals like this that Japanese cuisine is often afforded awe-inspired respect by gastronomes, thanks to a level of devotion and attention to detail that would make a member of OCD Anonymous think it’s all just a bit too neurotic and maybe everyone should just chill.

But the truth is that Japanese food can have its horror stories too. I’d rather not eat than eat a maki hand roll with ‘special’ mayonnaise. Even worse, I once ate a noodle sandwich from a street vendor in Tokyo. Just noodles in bread. Sorry, make that fried noodles in bread. Instant hara-kiri by carb.

For all that, Japanese cuisine is still seen as the last word in cosmopolitan glamour, and an ability to use chopsticks a mark of urban sophistication. In The Guardian’s ‘Blind Date’ feature, would-be lovers often comment on their date’s skill in handling chopsticks. A wicked way with the eating spears and the guy is a shoo-in. Ask for a knife and fork and he’s getting the bus home alone. Maybe it’s a dexterity thing.

I had this cutlery conundrum in mind when I visited Yuzu. This new Japanese restaurant, a sober cashmere pullover hiding among the brash neon party dresses of Chinatown, was recommended to Confidential by a reader as ‘just simple dishes which are cooked by mothers in Japan.’

However, our informant also mentioned that ‘Taste is very sensitive and very good for Japanese food lovers, but the British may need more strong taste.’ My musings on the old chopsticks chestnut was in part inspired by the idea of cross-cultural push and pull. Should a restaurant adapt itself to my western needs on the presumption my hopelessly white tastebuds can never be re-educated? Or should it be striving for authenticity, even at the expense of possible customers?

For instance, Yuzu currently doesn’t do sushi and probably for good reason – sushi is unfortunately sometimes dumbed-down in this country to a bit of John West’s finest clinging on to a bit of starchy rice for dear life, strapped on by a seaweed seatbelt if it’s lucky.

I imagine the chefs at Yuzu have such respect for the art they don’t want to end up with a half-hearted waste of time. Yet to attract a lunch crowd they might have to reconsider this position pretty quickly and find a sushi chef or source a local supplier (Yuzu is very keen on local suppliers). The menu is frankly just too limited right now.

Back to the food actually on offer at the time of review. While I waited, I had a plate of edamame beans, simple, flavoursome, and would have been, as the menu claimed ‘delicious with beer’, though sadly, as the license hadn’t come into effect, they had to be delicious with green tea instead. At 6pm on a Wednesday night, the place was empty except for myself.

When the gyoza arrived they were decent, with succulent nuggets of prawn inside dumplings which weren’t too greasy, as the pork ones can be. The tempura was light and crisp, though the sweet potato was a bit bland. I would have preferred to have more tempura and forgone the rice it was served with.

Next up, the tonkatsu was pork loin coated in panko (basically breadcrumbs with a larger grain than the standard fishfinger variant) deep-fried and sliced, quite similar to a pork schnitzel. I was a little bit disappointed it wasn’t served with shredded cabbage and the tonkatsu sauce was surprising to say the least – a viscous sweet sludge that might be what happens to Dr Pepper when it dies. Still, Nigella tells me that pork and pop is a match made in heaven, and it was, unlike the other polite and gentle offerings, rather uncouthly tasty.

Yuzu is the polar opposite to Red Chilli round the corner. The difference is best summed up by the fruits they have chosen to name themselves after. The citrussy yuzu is a kind of cross between lemon and grapefruit but with a more delicate taste than either – in Japan it is emblematic of the winter solstice, when it is traditional to take a bath in which several of the golden fruits are gently floated.

A red chilli is, well, a hot bastard. One restaurant is subtle, clean and restrained; the other is gutsy, loud and has about six billion variations on things to do with a pig’s insides.

So should someone who can’t or won’t wield chopsticks just give up and resign themselves to a life of Neanderthal fist-eating in Pizza Hut? Or possibly just ask nicely for a knife and fork? Authenticity may be the touchstone of food snobs, but commercial success is the Holy Grail of restaurateurs everywhere. I’m sure they would rather you ate out, even if it is with the wrong implements, than stayed at home.

And I hope, with a bit of tweaking, that Yuzu will find an audience outside of Japanese mothers and Guardian-reading blind daters. There’s still a long way to go if Yuzu is to be anything more than a curiosity. True, it’s reasonably priced - main courses with all the add-ons for £8.95 at dinner and for £5.95 at lunch - but does it have staying power in its present form? Probably not.

Rating: 13/20
Breakdown: 5.5/10 food
5/5 service
2.5/5 atmosphere
Address: Yuzu
39 Faulkner Street
M1 4EE
0161 236 4159

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

NortherngeezerAugust 31st 2010.

Meat 'n 2 veg anyone?

Leigh ScottAugust 31st 2010.

A minor detail but what was your score for the food?

ellpollolocoAugust 31st 2010.

give me the blandest thing on the menu..

EditorialAugust 31st 2010.

Minor detail of the food score now added. Thanks.

AnonymousAugust 31st 2010.

"real" sushi is not the everyday food, but a kind of special one. To be a "professional" sushi chef, it takes years of training. So, it may be serious to serve sushi in a restaurant. The chef here may respect these facts... maybe. But, I am not sure if such "politeness" may work (or to be understood) in Manchester...

gailqbAugust 31st 2010.

I know what you mean about the short menu not being what we are used to, but I liked the simplicity.

Jemma HughesAugust 31st 2010.

There aren't enough japanese restaurants in Manchester so its a step in the right direction...can anyone suggest any others?

AnonymousAugust 31st 2010.

Ive been there. Food is far better than Samsi and others. They seem to be very naive in running the restaurant business. Let's hope they survive.

AnonymousAugust 31st 2010.

Nothing should be compared with Kaiseki!

durrutiSeptember 1st 2010.

If simple food is cooked WELL it always beats bad food disguised by heavy flavouring. I'm sure this restaurant will get better and if they reach anything like the standards usually found in Japan, they will be brilliant.

NortherngeezerSeptember 1st 2010.

Yer not wrong Durruti, i defy anyone to beat my mums egg 'n chips, simple food, cooked well. In fact, i've never had chips like she makes, i think its the fact she has an old fashioned chip pan, black with age, and uses lard. Lets not get started on her frying pan eh..........non stick my arse!!!!.

AnonymousSeptember 11th 2010.

Like the reviewer I have lived and eaten in Japan (I am Japanese in fact and if I were to make a comparison to other so called Japanese food outlets in Manchester (this is as far as I know the only one run by Japanese people)this rates much higher in quality to those others. Granted they don't do sushi and I understand the reasons why. Yuzu's food is amazing, yes the place is empty for one reason alone, they can't compete with that neon but reputation will overtake this in the future. As for being too polite well sorry reviewer but that's what we are like so don't hold it against us. Please support this Japanese restaurant, they really are the best around in Manchester. So what if the place was empty?

NortherngeezerSeptember 11th 2010.

I'm with the last reviewer on this......use it or lose it.
I for one will be putting in an appearance within the next fortnight.

AnonymousSeptember 19th 2010.

I've eaten at Yuzu twice now and felt compelled to write this after reading the rather verbose review above (sorry Lucy...). I too, like many of the above, have lived for sometime in Japan. Without doubt Yuzu blows any of Manchester's other attempts at Japanese cuisine out of the water. It's authentic, yet understated. Run by lovely Japanese folk, it's very reasonably priced (I would say perhaps too reasonably priced). Try the prawn gyoza. Lucy does them an injustice by describing them as 'decent'. They are the best damn gyoza I've tasted in a long while....and for the lowly sum of £3 per portion (bargain). Granted the menu is limited at present, but when I was in last Saturday lunchtime (amidst a crowd of 15+ at almost 3pm - they are clearly gaining popularity), the owner assured us that they plan to extend this soon to include sashimi amongst other delights. If you are a fan of simple Japanese food, go and support Yuzu. You'll never want to step foot back in that nasty Samsi ever again.....

Arwin MahindrakarNovember 20th 2011.

I think this restaurant is great. It has a small perfectly executed menu with charmingly polite staff. The interior is homely and inviting. The prices are good and the food terrific. They have really tried to do something authentic and have succeeded.

Yui NagamiJuly 31st 2013.

I'm so glad we stuck to what we know and did NOT pretend that we could make 'sushi', which is highly degraded in this country (esp in MCR). Thanks Jay Rayner for understanding our made-from-scratch-every-morning cooked food and enjoying them.

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