Simon Richardson has a lot on his plate at this new Japanese all-you-can-eat restaurant
“All you can eat”; four very small words that, when put together, are far greater than the sum of their parts. Or at least, they are if you’re a fifteen-stone runner who’s often been referred to as a human dustbin.
I’ve been around the curry buffet block, I’ve suckled at Sukhothai’s delicious teat and if you ever want to know what my favourite restaurant is, it begins with “F” and involves being harassed with meat to such a point that you have to beg the servers to stop.
My favourite policy is the stipulation that if you take one bite of something then leave it and order something else, you’ll be charged the a la carte price for that item on top of your bill.
But Blue Sakura is a new one on me, sent from the Netherlands to provide limitless sushi, Japanese curries and noodles, and grilled Asian food to the fine folk of Leeds (£29.95 / £34.95 weekends). And I’m pretty sure that sushi is digested in a separate part of the stomach to all other food. So I do my warm-up lunges outside the restaurant, set my belt to “loose” and have at it.
The interior has a definite “work Christmas party” feel to it, with seating in rows. The cherry blossom trees are fake and the bar has a bemusing lack of Kirin. We are immediately attended to and fussed over in a way that the Japanese are famous for. The service is exceptional – almost telepathic. At one point during the meal, I make a languid mouth-full gesture to my wife for some pickled ginger and I’m immediately set upon by a waiter who I swear was sixty feet away and had his back to me.
The Japanese like rules. This isn’t a shambolic free-for-all, full of the flailing limbs of Sunday lunch maniacs fighting over the last scrap of brown food that’s been left out for six hours and groped by three-hundred children. Oh no. This is a restaurant that really knows how to do “all you can eat.”
We are presented with a tablet on which we are supposed to tap in our orders. You can choose five things each in one go, with the orders sent to the kitchen, cooked there and then, and then whizzed back. You can do this SIX times. I realise that this is not the most literal meaning of all, but when you think that means 30 items - each of which may contain up to six individual piece - well, I’m yet to meet the absolute hero who can see that off and then waddle to the counter to complain.
My absolute favourite policy is the stipulation that if you take one bite of something then leave it and order something else, you’ll be charged the a la carte price for that item on top of your bill. In one fell swoop, they’ve combatted cost issues and stuck a large, fishy finger up at all the selfish, wasteful sponges.
So, how to review a restaurant where you ate twenty two different things? Let’s try and break it down into subsections – as necessary with the enormous menu.
All the sushi is perfectly rolled and presented, from the simpler sashimi (tuna, salmon, octopus and a rather striking surf clam) to some stunning uramaki (inside-out rolls). The black dragon roll involves a smooth avocado paste and some beautifully tender smoked eel that has me conjuring up my inner Hitcher.
Of the rice-based offerings though, the temaki stands out; the rice inside sticky and delicate, while the fish is plentiful and flavoured with a light, spicy mayo.
On the hot side of things, gyoza dumplings are delightfully crispy, while the chicken katsu is fruity and complex, with thin bite-sized strips of chicken. Blue Sakura's one weakness is their deep-frying; the tempura prawns are oozing with fat and grease, and the spring rolls are disappointingly empty and flavourless. This is a minor setback in a menu full of excellence though.
The noodles help regain the momentum. The Udon is so fat and juicy that I can’t resist poking it out of my mouth and waving my head around like the embarrassing westerner that I am, while the Singapore vermicelli is the exact opposite – paper thin, coated with a sweet sauce and topped with fat, juicy prawns.
We didn’t even get to the curries, kung po or teppanayaki sections, save one beef bao, which was perhaps a little soggy, not matching the superb Little Bao Boy. But to be fair, they have a lot more on their plates (as do we).
There’s just time to mention an excellent bottle of dry, nutty sake that complements the sushi and its accompaniments superbly. I can barely breathe, and I haven’t even managed to cover everything we tried.
Suffice to say, it’s been an absolute whirlwind of a visit and I’m immediately planning my subsequent three visits - in order to properly cover everything. I haven’t quite got my eating tactics right yet, but I will. And then, Blue Sakura, I’m coming for you. You’d better believe it.
Blue Sakura, 2-3 Merrion Way, Leeds LS2 8BT.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Miso soup 6, Cucumber Maki 7, Nigiri 7, Sashimi 8, Hand rolls 9, gyoza 8, udon 8, vermicelli 7, inside-out rolls 8, tempura prawns 5, mussels 7, spring rolls 4, bao 6, katsu 8, sake 8
Faultless, almost scary
Packed together like happy chopsticks