FOR THOSE of you, who like Gordo, haven’t heard of Sakana, join the club. Gordo had no idea about the place until after it opened last month.
(Even if Confidential did break the story in September - Ed.)
Sashimi scallops were fat slices racked up with slices of lemon. A great raw ingredient here was spoiled by the lemon. It MUST be served naked. Let us sort out what we bring to the party.
It’s on Peter Street which is gentrifying at pace, opposite the worst shaped empty bar/restaurant space in the city, the former Bar38 and then Purity. Which, in their time, were a modern parody of every bad bar in every Western you’ve ever seen. Only more violent.
The building that Sakana occupies, the former Chicago Rocks, currently looks like a great big cream biscuit tin with giant Sakana branded underpants stuck on top. For the first eight weeks or so Gordo imagined it was just a fly poster on steroids and that a new North Korean car would be launching there shortly.
It turns out Sakana is a tilt at Australasia, the hyper-successful Spinningfields Asian fusion restaurant by master marketeers Living Ventures. You won’t find those boys opening a gaff in the dark. Perhaps Sakana is so good that word of mouth will set the place on fire from the off.
Well, not from the look of the numbers dining there this week when Gordo and Confidential editor Jonathan Schofield arrived for lunch. Exactly two weeks after the ‘VIP Celeb’ (groan) launch and there's not a body in the restaurant. Literally.
The inside is a square containing a lot of blond wood with a smart bar out front. The staff are smiling, welcoming, and in good humour, empty or not. The artwork on the wall is shocking. But what does Gordo know? You, dear readers, may well like it.
What you probably won't approve of is the massive upselling of the wine, so outrageous it made Gordo fall in love with young lady trying her luck.
Schofield: “Ooh, I’d like a Chardonnay please, you know the list, you choose.”
Waitress: “No problem, we have two. I prefer the second, it’s my favourite.”
Gordo’s ears pricked up, the second wine was a Penfold Bin 311 Chardonnay. Last time he checked, it was on the Berry Bros & Rudd list at £24 quid wholesale. Gordo figured this would be racked up on a wine list to £70 or so. It wasn’t, it was £110. We took a far more sensible Albarino instead, at £33 till £8 more than it should be.
Now Gordo loves Salespeople, he was once trolled by some sandwich salesmen who blogged and tweeted under the name Average Gobble. Following a long Citizen Smith rant, the female Gobbler fired one final poisoned arrow at Gordo and accused him and his team of being 'high pressure salesmen'. Now, if you believe the average hard-bitten restaurant owner is susceptible to ‘high pressure selling’, let alone the marketing animals that run Living Ventures, San Carlo or Black Dog, then you really are a numbskull.
So, far from taking offence, Gordo loved this attempt at a mega upsell. If you, dear reader, fall for it, then you deserve the tanning. Though this pricing structure is disrespectful to the diners, most of whom will know this is a rip-off. Also, no vintages, another 'tell'.
The food is served in the same style as Australasia and Ciccheti; lots of small plates. So, what about the main act?
We asked for nibbles and were given seaweed crisps, bit like big Quavers on acid. Gordo can’t remember what they were called, and it seems they weren’t charged, but they were spectaculary good. A taste of the sea in all the right ways.
The kitchen is open, with Japanese-style seats all around and looking in. The menu is more Japanese than its cohorts. Sashimi Loch Duart salmon (£6.00, main image) was bland and tasteless. It was, however, fresh. The problem was one of temperature, too chilled. Sashimi scallops (£10) were fat slices racked up with slices of lemon. A great raw ingredient here was spoiled by the lemon. It MUST be served naked. Let us sort out what we bring to the party.
Pickled nigiri mackerel (£3.00) was a little darling. Great sticky rice and fish with an attitude; a big nicely sour mouthful melting into the rice. Hosomaki vegetable (£4.00) was ordinary.
Tempura soft shell crab (£12.50) worked well, the batter light, crunchy, with the crab giving out fat, buttery, crabby flavours that only eating brown and white meat together can achieve.
Smoked Okonomiyaki Duck (£10.00) sits, or wobbles, on a pancake which is the absolute sibling to the soft, fluffy English pancakes of Shrove Tuesday. What wobbles on top is not to Gordo’s taste. Horrible actually. A greasy mess. Wrong. Please try it, you may well disagree, for this is a matter of taste. As Gordo doesn't understand it, he isn't scoring it for this review.
The Teppanyaki halibut with champagne yuzu and miso pomegranate (£19.00) was steep moneywise, but equally steep on flavour. The first mouthful of the meaty fish and deep brown saucing delivers a fast-hitting, face-lifting rush of umami. Massive dish this, must be tried. What to drink with this saucing is a difficult question. Stout would be good, battery acid may be able to stand up to it.
Robata scallops with Thai spices (£15.00) also sat on a green puree that bizarrely tasted of beef dripping. After some discussion, it may be due to aggressively undercooked garlic. This spoiled, once again, the wonderful scallops. Robata beef tataki (£11.00) was a generous portion of well-sourced beef, intelligently spiced, cooked rare. Beware of the innocuous green splodges on the side. Hot. Very hot. But good for Gordo.
Japanese rice (£3.00) is really very good. It also points again at a far more Japanese than Asian fusion cuisine, it's difficult to deliver.
Lastly, the desserts. There are five listed. Gordo had the mollases tart with apple miso ice cream (£6.00). Arguably the best pudding in the entire North West this year. It tasted, in Gordo’s wild imagination, like kissing a Khaleesi.
Schofield's ginger brûlée (£6.00) was another stunner. It’s a deconstructed affair that would have achieved the same mark as the tart, but the brûlée was slightly off from a texture angle, but tasted gorgeous.
This meal shows great promise. Gordo is told another 'main' restaurant will open upstairs shortly, but The Fat One doesn't have a clue what upstairs will be about. Like he says, haven't grasped the concept of marketing this lot.
There's some serious money behind Sakana, so Gordo hopes they drop the attitude (along with the wine prices) and engage with customers and commentators. From there it will get better and better. Because, for all the faults, Gordo would happily go back.
It’s a Gordo Go
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commerical relationship.
Sakana Pan Asian, 23 Peter Street, Manchester M2 5QR.
0161 884 1292
Food: 7/10 (seaweed crackers 8; mackerel 8; veg rolls 5; sashimi scallops 6/8 without lemon; crab 8; smoked duck (not scored); robata scallops 6; halibut 7; molasses 9; brulee 7)
Gordo recommends: Puddings. “Oh god, this is magical” was uttered twice by a fat food critic. Those seaweed crisps are a bit of alright as well.
PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing, 14-15 worth a trip, 16-17 very good, 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away