Saturday 10 March 2012

Yuzu - a great little Japanese restaurant in Manchester

When I went looking for Yuzu, I managed to walk past it once without seeing it. It is on the edge of Manchester's Chinatown, on the corner of Faulkner Street and Charlotte Street (believe me, not Google Maps....). Compared to the gaudy fronts of many of the other businesses in Chinatown, Yuzu's street presence is distinctly muted.
The muted appearance seems to me pretty much Yuzu's hallmark. Everything from decor, to service, to food is understated, precise and decorous.  There is a lot of bare, polished wood and plain walls, with the main decoration being empty sake bottles on the window sills and around the semi-open kitchen.  A bebop jazz soundtrack plays quietly in the background.

While the specials menu (pictured above) is short in the extreme, the main menu, while still far from long, offers enough to make me think several return visits are in order. The bulk of the menu consists of sashimi, tempura and udon noodle dishes, the first two coming in various "don" formats. Don is apparently short for donburi and refers to meat, fish or vegetables served on a bowl of rice.

There is no sushi on the menu, which I assume is a nod to the fact that to become a sushi chef in Japan requires a long apprenticeship.  Unlike other pseudo-Japanese restaurants in Manchester and elsewhere, they don't pretend to be able to do sushi, so there isn't any, although there is a number of dishes of sashimi served on the 'don' bowl of sushi rice, which if you want to think of it in this way, makes a rustic or DIY version of sushi.

I think the absence of sushi shows a very laudable focus and authenticity (and more than a hint of equally laudable pedantry), as I'm sure they could produce vastly superior sushi than that which is generally available in this country: their rice (very firmly described as only Japanese rice on the menu) is easily the equal of the best sushi rice I've had in this country.

Alongside the main menu, they do a bargain lunch offer, with a number of don dishes priced at just £5.95 (or £7.95 for the salmon versions) and one noodle dish, and including a bowl of home-made miso soup.


I started with some gyoza - home-made prawn dumplings. These were very impressive.  I've read some criticism of the 'pasta', but I thought it was just right. Though the real star was the fresh, vibrant filling, with beautifully fresh prawns, the like of which I've certainly not had elsewhere in Chinatown. Sourcing of ingredients is clearly done well here.
The interior of the gyoza
The gyoza were so good on their own, that it seemed almost disrespectful to dip them in the really quite fiery soy-chilli dipping sauce.  I settled on an eat half, dip half approach, and really couldn't work out which I preferred.

Organic Teriyaki Salmon Don
For main course, I chose the teriyaki organic salmon don from the lunch menu.  As I've already mentioned, the rice was really good, perfectly seasoned.  For those used to teriyaki meaning a heavy, thick, sweet glaze on meat or fish, here the teriyaki will come as a surprise, though I'm reliably informed that Yuzu's version is much more authentic.  It is a very delicate glaze, more of a seasoning than a flavouring, that allowed the salmon to stay centre stage.  This probably looks and sounds a very simple dish (rice, a bit of salmon and some spring onion), and indeed it is. But, as ever, in such simplicity there is nowhere to hide.  Very delicate, elegant and poised with great balance.
Miso soup doesn't ever really do much for me, and had it not been included, I wouldn't have ordered it.  But here again was a balanced, understated, savoury flavour, far removed from the stale dishwater that is sometimes passed off in pseudo-Japanese restaurants in this country.

Yuzu is not going to impress anyone who wants big, bold flavours, but I think its accomplished, authentic cooking must make it one of the best Japanese restaurants, certainly outside London.  It's very focussed, and, although I can't say this authoritatively, it felt more like I imagine Japanese home cooking than you normally find.

Desserts are peremptory - bought-in Cheshire ice creams. No doubt very nice, but I didn't bother.

With a bottle of Kirin Ichiban beer, my bill for the above came to just £14.05, which I think is really exceptional value.

Yuzu on Urbanspoon


IT services manchester said...

Wow , really good !

great place to dine said...

Went to this place with hubby, i had the ten don - prawns and veggie tempura on rice. the tempura batter was really light and crisp, which was delicious though the prawn portions were a bit modest. the rice would also have been nicer if it was warmer. i also had barley tea (free refill) which had an interesting flavour. the eatery is quite small, but has a nice homey feel and i would definitely like to go back there in future to try other things on the menu.

filipino girl said...

I should say, that food was small and simple menu but everything is good and the prices are very reasonable. It's nice to have somewhere that actually feels Japanese in the city- everywhere else I've tried seems to be run by Chinese/Korean people.