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Oriental Fire, Altrincham, review

Wan Phing Lim turns Japanese after Korean schizophrenia

Published on April 20th 2009.

Oriental Fire, Altrincham, review

On the corner of Ashley Road and Oxford Road in Altrincham lies a family-run Japanese and Korean restaurant converted from a terrace house. The owner, a Korean who moved from New Samsi three years ago to open this place, showed us true Eastern hospitality as he greeted us at the door and brought us to our tables.

The place is light, clean and spacious. Posters promoting Korean tourism and framed miniature traditional costumes decorate the walls. Because the restaurant is advertised as Japanese and Korean, we decided to go for a mix of both.

We started with the Chef's Choice combination sushi (£18.90), an 18-piece platter of sushi, sashimi and nori served in a huge “boat from Japan”, as the owner's wife said. This turned out to be the literal truth. The salmon and tuna sashimi were fresh, the sushi rice soft and sticky with the right amount of vinegar.

Then the disappointments began. The seafood kimchi-jun (£5.70) pancake stuffed with kimchi and prawns was a frightening orange colour, almost like the kimchi dye had stained the dish. Despite the unpleasant colour, the batter was crispy and fluffy, the prawns plenty and good-sized. The pancake was also sour because of the poor quality kimchi, which hadn’t been prepared well. A good indicator of a Korean restaurant's quality is always the kimchi (traditional preserved foods) and I was disappointed with its supermarket quality.

For mains, the 200g beef bulgogi sizzler (£12.60) cooked with leek and onions was tender and well-marinated although burnt bitter at the bottom of the sizzling dish. They did remind me of the smelly and noisy sizzling steak found in Chinese restaurants. It was served with a cabbage salad that tasted strongly of sesame oil, and I ordered a bowl of rice (£1.90) separately because a non-carb meal was not possible with all that meat.

The bulgogi and vegetable jungol (£10.50) was a tasty soup noodle with slices of sweet, flavourful marinated beef with leek, onion, lettuce and mushrooms. The silky and smooth flat noodles filled us up quickly. The soup had the right amount of salt and pepper, except that the invisible ingredient that is monosodium glutamate kicked in 30 minutes after we left the restaurant, leaving us gasping for water. The presentation was also less than pleasing to the eye. It came in a huge pot 'that looked like its cover had been deliberately ripped off to give it the ancient stone bowl look,' as my friend described.

Luckily, the combination seafood and vegetable tempura (£6.20) saved the day, which we decided to order halfway through the meal after eyeing next door's food. The green beans, squids, prawns and sweet potatoes coated with light fluffy batter put our Korean mains to shame.

For drinks, we had a pot of brown rice tea (£1.50 per person), a Korean favourite which had a very distinct and refreshing taste. We also tried the Seol Joong Mae plum wine (£9.50) which tasted of amaretto-soaked cherries. Expensive for a 360ml bottle but nonetheless a sweet complement to our mains.

We finished off with the deliciously creamy green tea ice cream (£3.50) which had just the right amount of green tea to taste. We were ready to wrap up our meal on a high until we saw the azuki dorayaki (£3.50), a sweet red bean sponge cakes. I was horrified to find two Tesco-like syrup pancakes put together with a small amount of red bean paste in between. The clever little 'sponge cake' was covered with whipped cream, with a lonely strawberry sitting at the side. We were left very confused as to what this dorayaki was supposed to be because it didn't fit the description of a sponge cake. Subsequent research revealed that dorayaki may look like that, minus the whipped cream and strawberry, and is a favourite of Japanese cartoon character Doraemon.

After our rollercoaster ups and downs with the inconsistent dishes, I conclude that the food suffers from an identity crisis. The owners are Korean, we met them, but still we're left wondering why their food is not very Korean. The Japanese dishes were fantastic, apart from Doraemon's dorayaki which I found merely amusing, but their native dishes were meek in comparison.

The lesson to be learnt is to never try and please everyone by toning down a feisty cuisine like Korean. Considering Altrincham was a trek for us in search of an authentic meal, we left wishing they were not so self-conscious about being 'too Korean' and had brought on the full flavour and fire instead.

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

Jeremy JApril 20th 2009.

Good review, I was disappointed in this place as well.

emma graceApril 20th 2009.

Of all the images they could have chosen, there's a big fried egg on the A board...funny

AnonymousApril 20th 2009.

pity about the photography though

Pam BApril 20th 2009.

If you want excellant Korean food go to Seoul Kimchi on Upper Brook St. Why does this search not flag them up? Put Seoul Kimchi Review in a google search and you'll get a full write up with pictures.Don't waste money elsewhere!

Little dApril 20th 2009.

My partner and I went here a few months ago. There were only two tables being used with it being a Tuesday night and so the service was impecable. We had the sushi boat - an excellent novelty - and the seafood and vegetable tempura too and thoroughly enjoyed both. The udon noodle soup we had was excellent too. We both prefered this place to New Samsi, which I found to be a bit stuffy, though i will say i've yet to find a better sushi place than either of these in Manchester

GordoApril 20th 2009.

Wan Phing, terrific work, you can write on our team anytime.

AnonymousApril 20th 2009.

So, the Chef at Samsi was (is) in fact not Japanese?

AnonymousApril 20th 2009.

emma grace, the egg thing "Tamago" is an important piece for REAL sushi places. It is made of not only egg but chef's original "dashi". The Tamago also reveals how rice is well prepared (again chef's skill). But these do not seem to be the case for this place.

user99466February 2nd 2011.

This restaurant is one of my favourites. The food is exquisite - the sushi is so fresh. I frequent this restaurant on a regular basis and I am never disappointed! 10/10

Jenny CunninghamJune 19th 2012.

I found this review rather stupid. Google it and you will find lots of excellent reviews. So obviously this reviewer obviously had another agenda to bash this restaurant. Also please do contact me if you find kimchi jun in another colour! I've yet to find it in a non red/orange colour and after visiting Korea for a year I'm sure the expectation of the kimchi jun in another colour is the stupid expectation. Seeing as it's made of kimchi surely it has to be in a orange/kimchi dye colour...

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