Jonathan Schofield grapples with technology, plastic fish and creamy things

Sakura in Japanese must mean plastic fish on a wall, or cherry blossom, probably fake cherry blossom, something like that.

There are real fish at Sakura in Cheetham Hill too, although they are outdone by their artificial brethren. The whole place is a mass of fantastically flamboyant flourishes of gaudy decoration that induce a dizzying compulsion to caw like a crow in a cross wind. And all this for an all-you-can-eat menu price of £21.99 (early week).

The koi carp weren’t coy. Nothing is coy about this place

The restaurant loves technology, so your food is ordered via a tablet which takes the order straight to the kitchen. It’s very efficient, in a modern alienated kind of way, but lacks slickness on a first visit because the explanation of how to operate the system takes so long.

Weirdly, though, you don’t order your pudding the same way. That is done by trooping to a big counter to be greeted by creamy things, fruit and the most bizarre collection of ceramics in the city. You then troop back to your table or booth and the price is added up the old fashioned way, sans tablet.

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The whole place is a mass of flamboyant flourishes, gaudy decorations and fish

Let’s start with those puddings, because the creamy things and cakes are execrable. The Bavarian slice I had looked the part, but the filling tasted of artificial cream mixed with weed killer and the bile of a Brexiteer told that maybe the ‘will of the people’ was wrong. The Black Forest gateau needs to bugger off back there and hide itself amongst the trees.

The pick of the savoury dishes was a Gunkan piece of salmon tartare caviar which was as tasty as it was colourful, a moist mouthful of fun. The Temaki seaweed hand roll was entertaining too, so much so I ate it without taking a photo.

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Salmon caviar gunkan: a moist mouthful of fun
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More rolls than Neymar after a bad tackle

Add in decent, if odd, grilled eel rolls and a grilled rib eye roll and that's all that was really worth a mention. These rolls, and we had several: crab, avocado, chicken, amongst others, came encased in a slack, sticky rice and were coated in trails of sickly sauce which resembled Thousand Island dressing. A Japanese food purist would rush for their samurai sword and assault the plastic fish, or the chef.

The Teppanyaki lacked character, they were like Chamberlain at Munich, appeasers, but this time appetite appeasers. (By the way don’t complain about strained analogies in food reviews, food reviews are their natural domain.) The chicken, ribeye and fish dishes were all bland and curiously tasteless. Even the promised spicy prawns lacked spice.

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The spicy prawns lacked spice
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The creamy things and cakes are execrable

Yet, I liked Sakura. The energy of the place was entertaining, the multi-ethnic crowd busying itself about on a Monday evening was appealing. Local Cheetham Hillers seemed to have come in just to use the bar. The koi carp weren’t coy. Nothing is coy about this place, although it’s doubtful any real Japanese chefs have been anywhere near it. The fact the building's shed-like appearance from outside hints at its former use as a rag trade showroom for lurid end-of-line fashions seems wholly appropriate.

Still, if you like spectacle and plastic fish Sakura might be worth a visit.

Sakura Japanese Restaurant, 175 Cheetham Hill Road, Manchester M8 8LG. Tel: 0161 834 9988

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Chicken poppets, pumpkin cake and garlic mushrooms... it's Japanese alright.

The scores:

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. 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.

  • Food 5/10

    (there’s just too much variance to individually list each dish)

  • Service 3/5


  • Ambience 3/5

    Entertainment everywhere, but don’t go for an intimate meal