Tuesday 7th March, 2017 – Sakura, Northampton
A teppanyaki restaurant is not what you expect to find on a city centre road junction in the middle of Northampton, nowhere near to anything even vaguely hip (and to be fair you’d have a lot of trouble finding anything vaguely hip anywhere near Northampton, a town I find grimly depressing in most of its aspects). But a teppanyaki restaurant is what there is in the shape of Sakura, sitting in what looks more like an abandoned supermarket plot than a restaurant. We parked up and were alerted to the need to log the car registration number on “the tablet in the restaurant,” and duly did so, emerging into a large room with some sofas and coffee tables by the window, the main business of feeding people clearly done further into the building. I did note that there was a room to the right with a sign asking diners to remove their shoes, and a very low table surrounding by mats. I assume this is where the diners who know what they are about end up seated. We on the other hand were ushered to the sofas and asked if we’d like a drink. The wine list, which does not appear anywhere on the restaurant’s website, is adequate though nothing to get at all excited about with most bottles well under £20.00 – that should tell you what you need to know – but they do also have sake on offer. As it was a week night we opted not to go down that route.
We were on a Groupon (at around £60 for four for a four-course menu) and thus limited to what we could have, the menu being set out for us by one of the two rather nervy young servers.
We would all start with miso soup, which came with a scattering of tofu, and a lot of spring onion slices, and was pretty good actually. I’d have liked it to be slightly hotter but on a cold night, in what seems to be a cold building, where the front door will not stay closed no matter what you do, it was passable enough and although I’m pretty sure it was packet-made rather than fresh, it was a pleasant start to the meal.
After the soup we had a choice of three starters, chicken gyoza, vegetable gyoza or beef rolls, which were basically three slices of beef, each rolled round an asparagus spear. I’m not sure what the logic of this was, as the three items were not priced the same, they weren’t the cheapest or most expensive items on the list, and I can only assume they were the quickest to get out, given the speed with which they showed up.
Lynne and I both had the beef. The meat itself was tender enough, though I really wish they’d snapped the woody ends of the asparagus before serving it. I thought everyone knew that, but maybe I’m wrong. The salad served with the beef rolls was crispy, and the dressing very tart, with a nice citrussy tang, and the sauce for dipping the rolls into was very soy-heavy but none the worse for it. I have to admit that the gyoza looked anaemic and I was glad I hadn’t ordered them.
Next the chef arrived with a tray of fish, meat and vegetables, and introduced himself to us. He then seasoned the griddle in front of us, spread a small amount of oil on it, and produced a great gout of flame, before he set about producing the fried rice.
When he’d done spooning, seasoning and pushing it backwards and forwards he scooped up a bowful of it, patted it down and threw it to S. one of our two dining companions, who caught it beautifully, not a grain spilled.
He repeated the trick with L. and she too caught the bowl, no trouble at all. Lynne and I didn’t get the rice treatment because we’d opted for steamed rice, which arrived in a much more pedestrian manner, delivered by one of the waitresses.
The rice sorted, he began cooking the meat (hibachi steak), the fish (hibachi salmon) and the seafood (calamari), all the while scattering seasoning over each one, and in the case of the steak adding mushrooms to it, something that made me very happy.
He finally added a portion of vegetables, mostly fresh beansprouts, and cooked those as well. My steak was cooked as I’d asked, rare, and the vegetables were just right with an al dente crunch to the beansprouts. The salmon was cooked just right too and Lynne and I shared it and the steak. S. was very happy with the texture of her calamari, which can of course be disastrous in the wrong hands, so all in all the food was fine.
The one culinary disappointment was that the menu listed various sauces to be served with the teppanyaki dishes but all they could produce was a squirt of terriyaki sauce on each plate. We also shared a portion of pickled ginger which went brilliantly with the vegetables.
Dessert was ice cream, just a scoop each. I’ve no idea what flavour – the waitress certainly didn’t know, but I think it was strawberry. I think if I’d paid full price I might have been a bit peeved at that aspect of it, and also at the sheer speed they seemed to be trying to get us through at – however, I tend to eat slowly and talk a lot at dinner so they weren’t perhaps as successful there as they might have liked. They did move us back to the sofas again pretty sharpish, but we were happy enough to finish our drinks there instead of at the table.
Would I go again? Yes. Would I pay full price? Probably, but I’d want to have more range of the menu in that case. I’m assuming I’d get that if they were taking £60 for food for two and not four…