Jonathan Schofield says stick to the food type advertised in the restaurant name
Blue Whale is the shiniest supermarket in Chinatown. It sits in a revamped sixties building and is very spick and span. It is a fascinating place with exotica galore, fresh, tinned, packaged and alive.
People were gobbling it down with great relish across so many dishes including the one delightfully called the OMG! Roll
With the latter Blue Whale shares some characteristics with the Vivarium at Manchester Museum. The Vivarium is that hidden away part of the museum that takes fifteen visits to find but has living beasties rather than stuffed ones. At the museum there are frogs, snakes and lizards lazing around looking carefree in their climate-controlled glass houses.
At Blue Whale there are live crabs, lobsters and crayfish wiggling about on top of one another in glass tanks. The difference between the two locations is you’re not allowed to take away a Manchester Museum frog and eat it. Shame really, those bright yellow and black ones look delicious.
On the Charlotte Street side of Blue Whale, and accessed from the supermarket, is AKA Sushi. This is also a spick and span place, open kitchen to the left and clean lines emphasised in timber. The staff are lovely, youthful and smiling.
The music is the classic soundtrack of so many Oriental restaurants, plaintive, soporific ballads. One of the songs began with ‘Nothing can stop emotions’ which it was hard to disagree with. Except death of course, that can stop emotions.
I went twice at lunchtime because I felt I’d chosen badly the first time and possibly missed the main point of the restaurant. After all the place is called AKA Sushi and I hadn’t chosen sushi. Instead, I’d chosen crispy soft-shell crab (£7.95), normally one of my favourites, and a roast duck bento box (£13.99).
The only really good thing in all of this was the duck. The crispy soft-shell crab was as crispy as a wet flannel. Aside from a lack of crunch dousing the poor crustacean in sickly kewpie mayo and takoyaki sauce made things worse, turning the whole plate sludgy and sickeningly sweet. The fish flakes added nothing much either. I couldn’t finish half of the dish.
The roast duck in the bento was excellent, properly crispy, rich in flavours with great skin and fat. The seaweed salad with a big sesame kick was another bright spot. The rice was ok, the salad was sorry and had more of that bloody mayo while the fries were useless empty vessels. I am really not keen on fries in bento boxes either.
On the second visit I had the sushi set, 16 pieces, (£21.99) of salmon and tuna. This was more like it. The presentation was attractive, the flavours simple, sharp and effective. I loved the sashimi of both the salmon and the tuna with their refreshing and uplifting pure flesh. The nigiri were good too, the rice stickily correct. The salmon and tuna maki rolls were ok. The seaweed salad enhanced rather than detracted. All in all, satisfying.
A sake mojito (£6) was a sense-sharpener, lots of mint and lime, as refreshing and uplifting as the sashimi. The green machine ‘positive juice’ (£4) wasn’t a negative with apple, cucumber, pineapple and was described to me by my dining companion as 'relentlessly upbeat'.
I found the experience at AKA Sushi a curious one. The atmosphere is happy. It's nice being there. And I mean just that, nice. But that soft-shell crab, my, that was awful.
Maybe I'm missing the fashion in this stye of Oriental casual dining. Looking round the restaurant at other plates of food so much of it seem coated with the mayo takoyaki and fish flake combo. People were gobbling it down with great relish across so many dishes including the one delightfully called the OMG! Roll. What was I missing?
If you visit AKA Sushi maybe try some of that stuff yourself or play it safe and keep with the sushi as advertised in the restaurant’s moniker. Don't attempt to eat those frogs in Manchester Museum though, I'm told they're poisonous.
AKA Sushi, Unit 1, St James Tower, 7 Charlotte St, Manchester M1 4DZ
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials 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.
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.
Soft-shell crab 3, bento box 5.5 sushi set piece plate 7.5