Harley Young visits the cosy Japanese restaurant just off the waterfront
Amongst Liverpool’s plethora of new restaurants and foodie hotspots there’s a number of old favourites that are still giving joy to the people of the city.
One of them is Etsu, a contemporary Japanese restaurant that’s been serving sushi, meat and fish-based dishes for 16 years.
Located on The Strand, just a short meandering walk from the iconic waterfront, Etsu is surrounded by aparthotels, near one of the city’s major car parks, and is just a stone’s throw away from James Street station - a prime location with high footfall you’d imagine, but the scaffolding on the adjoining building (and rather confused Google Maps coordinates) can make this restaurant a difficult find. Seek it out though and you’ll realise it’s another one of Liverpool’s hidden(ish) gems.
It’s clear to see how this restaurant has stood the test of time for the last 16 years
Inside the restaurant, it’s tastefully decorated and welcoming. Booths and tables are spotlit, most of the furniture is made with light wood and there’s some handmade origami cranes that make up a pretty, colourful wall hanging.
The menu is comprehensive, split into kozara (sharing plates), ozara (large plates), sushi and sides. Each section is then further divided into meat, fish and vegetable dishes.
To drink, we each chose a bottle of Asahi zero and Ramune, which we were thoroughly entertained by. Ramune, a carbonated Japanese soft drink that requires you to pop the little marble in to release the fizz, comes in a variety of flavours - we chose yuzu and strawberry. The Asahi zero was crisp and tasty, too.
Lowri and I decided to share some tori gyoza, takoyaki and a portion of the spider roll sushi to start.
The takoyaki was pleasantly presented on a banana leaf, topped with bonito flakes and a tablespoon worth of pickled ginger on the side. We made the mistake of biting into these little balls of octopus too early, setting the ‘hot food in mouth’ dance going.
We were better prepared for our second piece of takoyaki, not getting caught out by the lava contents and giving it a thorough blow before attempting a bite. This time, we could appreciate the flavour and enjoy the combination of flavours - the sweet sauce and crisp outer coating of the batter shell melding well with the slight rubberiness of the octopus.
The spider roll was far prettier than its name would suggest - the crispy, crunchy crab legs poking out the top of a tightly rolled nori and rice parcel, dressed with spicy spicy (so nice they named it twice-y) mayo and tobiko. A flower sat atop the dish for added visual appeal.
Delving in, we noticed a combination of textures and flavours. The sauce hadn’t caused the soft shell crab to go soggy like it sometimes can do in sushi rolls, but instead it added a nice umami flavour. The rolls themselves were perfectly sized, with plenty of bite to savour - not too big for your gob, basically. Again, it would have been nice to have a few more pieces per portion, but the flavour and quality made up for it.
The chicken and vegetable (tori) gyoza arrived beautifully cooked, slightly crispy on the underside with an aesthetically-pleasing pleat sealing the deal. Served in a portion of four dumplings, the only change we could wish for was that there were more of them.
We then spent the next ten minutes discussing how a bottomless gyoza bar would make a killing and coming up with names for our non-existent restaurant.
For her main dish, Lowri chose the Gyu YakiNiku; a sirloin steak pan fried in a Japanese soy, garlic and sesame sauce. The steak was plump and juicy, as all good steaks should be, served alongside a small stack of vegetable discs - carrot, courgette and aubergine with a piece of asparagus on top. It looked cute visually, but didn’t add an awful lot to the dish. Never mind though, the succulent steak does just the job of providing enough excitement and flavour to get your chops around.
Rice is served separately at £2.50, which makes the overall dish a bit costly, but I suppose that’s the price you pay for good steak.
I opted for a classic; chicken katsu curry. The curry sauce focused more on flavour and textures rather than hitting hard with spice like some of the less-traditional chain restaurants often get carried away with. The chicken fried in panko breadcrumbs was slightly chewy but this didn’t distract from the overall meal.
Rice came paired with this one and there was plenty of it, as well as a portion of diced peppers on the side to brighten up the dish.
After we’d polished off our mains, the dessert menu was swiftly brought over. Another comprehensive list with plenty to choose from including apple-filled gyozas, yuzu ice cream and a chocolate brownie.
Lowri chose the mochi ice cream; three different flavours of Japanese mochi filled with ice cream and lightly dusted with cornstarch to stop them from sticking together. Not that this would have been an issue, I'd just eat two at once.
If you’ve never had mochi, try it. It’s one of those ‘love it or hate it’ desserts thanks to the unique, spongy, squishy texture. Personally, I love it. Lowri was also a fan, particularly fond of the strawberry flavour.
I, on the other hand, decided on a slice of matcha pound cake, served with vanilla ice cream. Two huge slabs of the bright green cake sat hulking on the plate alongside some decidedly more dainty fruit and a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a sprig of mint sticking out the middle.
Visually, it was perfect, but the sponge was a little too dry on the outside for my liking. Being the sweet-toothed gal I am, I persevered and found that the centre of the matcha pound cake was much more moist and enjoyable. Mixed in with some ice cream it was a real treat.
The overall experience at Etsu was delightful. The staff are attentive, friendly and welcoming, and ready to give recommendations should you need them. Food doesn’t take long to arrive and when it does you can tell that care has been put into both the preparation and presentation.
The atmosphere was buzzy for early evening on a Tuesday and everything was well paced. Despite the restaurant getting busier towards the end of our meal, we didn’t feel rushed or brushed aside. It’s clear to see how this restaurant has stood the test of time for the last 16 years.
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, and ALWAYS paid for by Confidentials.com and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.
If you want to see the receipt as proof this magazine paid for the meal then a copy will be available upon request. Or maybe ask the restaurant.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their type. What we mean by this is a restaurant which aspires to be fine dining is measured against other fine dining restaurants, a mid-range restaurant against other mid-range restaurants, a pizzeria against other pizzerias, a teashop against other teashops, a KFC against the contents of your bin. You get the message.
Given the above, this is how we score: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: sigh and shake your head, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: nothing's that good is it?
Takoyaki 7, Gyoza 7.5, Gyu YakiNiku (steak) and rice 8, chicken katsu curry 6.5, spider roll 7.5, mochi 7, matcha pound cake 6