Vicky Hodgkisson enjoys a splash of culinary colour in the 2D Japanese restaurant
Decor really is the USP of Waku Waku. I’ve heard many sell it as the ‘whip-out-your-phone 2D Restaurant’ or the ‘Cartoon Sushi Place’. The aesthetic is overwhelmingly impressive as you walk in. What was once most likely a tired building has now been transformed into your childhood comic dream. Personally, I felt like the staff may burst into a rendition of Take On Me at any point, and I certainly wouldn’t have been mad at that.
When I say everything was black and white, I mean everything was black and white. I had to keep checking my hands to check I wasn’t tripping. The tables and chairs were white with outlines of jet-black pen, the curtains were paper cut outs and perfectly animated covering the window panes. Even the plant leaves… even they were cartoon cut outs, leading me to believe that perhaps everything was just an illusion. Although the black pen on bright white surfaces hadn’t been all that forgiving in some places, it was immensely impressive.
The clue really is in the name here, Waku Waku means the state of feeling restless with anticipation or joy
Not only did we enjoy drawings of megaphones, fireplaces and mirrors but owner Chris Lui’s interpretation of ‘The Kiss’ by Gustav Klimt, ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Johannes Vermeer and ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch were scattered across the walls in delightful cartoon picture frames. Forget the Rijksmuseum or the MoMA, go to Waku Waku for a unique art experience.
The first thing you will undoubtedly notice is how extensive the menu is. I don’t know how you could ever decide and be 100% confident in your decision as there are so many delicious sounding dishes to choose from.
We started with a cocktail, some of which contained… milk? Is this normal or am I behind the times of an unusual phenomenon? As you may have guessed, I didn’t pick that, but went for a floral version of a Mojito. Not only did it come out looking like it had been transported from rural Japan mid-April, but it tasted delicious. The tequila cocktail also came out and was a fruity delight.
Onto the food. The Katsu Shrimp was brought out quickly (thank god - I was starving). The pieces were actually huge, I was beginning to think the UK exclusively served miniature prawns, but Waku Waku has proved me wrong. The crunch you want from any Katsu dish was ASMR worthy, the only thing that let it down was the sauce. It tasted like mayonnaise but could have done with being a spicy or a curry mayo to add a bit of zing.
Next, I was implored to try the seaweed salad, which could have been a bowl of jelly worms for all I knew. It was so vibrant and flavourful (definitely not jelly worm flavoured), more salty and sea-ish. They had a fresh crunch to them and the perfect accompaniment to all the sushi we had ordered.
We had initially decided upon an assortment of sushi, it was a mixture of pretty much every seafood you could think of atop sushi rice. Prawn, crab stick, octopus, eel - to name a few. Our server, however, told us some of the other dishes were tastier and better value for money. I absolutely admired his honesty, decided to take his advice and ordered Tuna Sashimi, Salmon Nigiri and the Soft Shell Crab Sushi Roll.
Sashimi is what I like to call ‘Naked Sushi’, it’s raw fish on its own, so really the texture and flavour has to be on point - which it was. The tuna melted beautifully and the pieces were generous (we loved getting our money's worth during a cost-of-living crisis). The tuna came presented on what looked like a tiny raft with some shiso leaves for decoration - another lovely touch.
For the Salmon Nigiri there were two pieces of salmon draped clumsily over rice. However, the salmon tasted fresh and was especially moreish with a dunking of soy sauce and a pinch of wasabi. Again, the salmon came on another little wooden slate with some petals as garnish.
Next, we excitedly ordered the Soft Shell Crab and Avocado Roll. If there’s crab on the menu, I’m ordering it. The avocado was creamy, which was a welcome texture to the rest of the roll. There was most definitely more shell than there was crab, and although I enjoyed the slight crunch of the shell, it was definitely missing the meat. As a crab lover and admirer, I was disappointed at the meat to shell ratio.
Onto the final main - now, ever since TikTok emerged back in 2016, I have been watching videos of omurice being stirred and folded and flipped. Still to this day I have no idea how it’s done. I just had to order one as all home attempts on my end had been an epic fail. To my delight, it was cooked to perfection - the outside was silky smooth and when I cut into it and the Omelette fell open to reveal the soft creamy egg inside, I felt like I’d ticked off a huge bucket list moment.
Sadly, the rice let Team Omurice down, it was very stodgy and flavourless, meaning once the excitement over the egg had worn off, the dish was quite underwhelming.
For dessert, I had every intention of trying the little egg waffles that were on the display counter, each had little smiley faces imprinted on them - I’m a sucker for any food that looks cute. But to our delight as we were browsing the rest of the sweet options a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ emerged from the kitchen and a giant cake was paraded out and given to our server. Bless him for working on his birthday and for being so helpful and cheery. The chefs brought everyone in the restaurant out a slice of cake and we all cheered and joined in the singing, which was very wholesome and a lovely way to round off the meal.
I do have to give Wongs Bakery a shout out for the cake, the sugar may have increased my blood pressure by tenfold, but it was worth it.
The clue really is in the name here, Waku Waku means the state of feeling restless with anticipation or joy. Chris and the team have really nailed that, especially by bringing such a unique concept to Manchester for us to experience.
The menu was vast with many more dishes that I’d be keen to try - especially lattes with face foam art, egg waffles with faces seared on… sushi with faces on if they have it? And although I left feeling slightly disorientated, it’s not an experience I’ll be forgetting in a hurry.
Waku Waku, 154 Portland St, Manchester M1 4QU
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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?
Prawn Katsu 7.5, Seaweed Salad 8, Tuna Sashimi 8.5, Salmon Nigiri 7.5, Crab Sushi Rolls 7, Omnurice 6.5, Wongs Cake 7.5