Claire Woodier won’t let the location rain on this restaurant’s parade
I’m sure this is a test. I’m off to Shoku, a new Peruvian/Japanese place in MediaCity. It’s an expedition to get there. People forget that MediaCity is essentially on the docks, so the exposure to the Salford elements is fierce. By the time you’ve walked across from the tram, you’re windswept, dishevelled and piss-wet-through. Also, Peruvian/Japanese cuisine? I have a feeling this is going to be my Everest.
It clung to every ingredient as well as my chin, and I was more than happy about it
There's an inner atrium beyond the front door, which seals us off from the weather, and as I shed soggy outerwear I'm greeted by a stylish bachelor loft-style interior; warm with dark wood, leather seats, and grey and blue cosy booths. The music is like a seduction. If this were James Bond’s flat he would’ve pressed a remote control to play it; a saxophone crossed with atmospheric sounds of a rainstorm... or maybe that was the actual Salford rain hammering against the window.
Essentially, this is nothing new. Nikkei cuisine has been around for 100 years, a product of Japan’s cultural impact on Peru, which has the second largest Japanese population in South America. It’s the Japanese who encouraged the Peruvians to stop serving their fresh fish to their dogs and start putting it on the plate – out of which comes the symmetry of ceviche with sushi and umami-rich broths.
Nobu have been doing this successfully since the eighties, with the emphasis on serving Japanese food using Peruvian ingredients. Shoku’s menu gives Peru more limelight than Nobu and there are more nods to corn, beef and yuca (edible cassava root, which is treated like potatoes) – all well-loved native ingredients – and they don’t look incongruous either.
We started with a couple of small plates. Soft shell crab bao (£7) was a crisp, gently fragrant seafood tempura stuffed into a sweet soft bun with red mooli, all balanced cleverly on a lime. I couldn’t distinguish the billed watercress or the passionfruit tartare (so that's really just passionfruit?), but I didn’t really give a crap. I’d have sold a kidney for another one.
I have a distinct nervousness about suckers, but Shoku's menu was so confidently written that I ordered Galician octopus (£8.50) - well out of my usual comfort zone. There was no bushtucker trial chewiness here – this gorgeous little sucker was tender inside its tempura batter. Perched on top of a pile of chimichurri quinoa that brought a different textural element and brilliantly seasoned, with sea vegetables, olive and yuzu.
Our waiter recommended tonkotsu ramen (£11) with pork belly, shoyu tare, Japanese pumpkin, achiote oil and lime. A warming and welcoming broth with true umami and a nutty sweetness. The pork was a soft, smoky, still crispy belly, with the right amount of noodles and a luxurious Inca egg. There were a few token veggies: a floret of purple cauliflower, some Romanesco, and more red mooli. That achiote oil though. Made in house with an amarillo paste, sesame, garlic and peppers, it clung to every ingredient as well as my chin, and I was more than happy about it.
I picked the cornfed chicken (£15) with sweetcorn and truffle cake for its celebration of corn, and it arrived looking splendidly corn-y on a stunning choice of plate. The chicken breast was gorgeously juicy; not my favourite cut, but they gave me good reason to like it. A brick of what looked like breaded polenta was perfectly formed with a nice crunch and interior softness, but it didn’t feel like a sweetcorn and truffle cake. Huancaina sauce (normally served over potatoes) was beautiful and golden, although it didn’t provide its quintessential cheesy heat. Deep-fried corn nuggets reminded me of those unpopped bits in the bottom of cinema popcorn, but I was impressed with the corn shoot garnish that completed the homage to the yellow stuff.
There are only two desserts on the dinner menu. The blackberry and yuzu tart (£7) with black sesame pastry had a lovely wobble. But that's thanks to vast amounts of gelatine, which was ultimately what it tasted of. I might still order it just to get the yoghurt and yuzu sorbet that sat under an acai crisp on top – that was delicious.
If you’re in two minds, get the Amazonian chocolate (£7) with avocado ice cream, candied seeds and orange. The chocolate was soft and sweet with a delice-like texture, the orange gel blobbies on the top were sharp, the candied seeds gave unusual crunch. The avocado ice cream was like getting Benicio Del Toro to play George Clooney’s twin brother. It’s just too completely different to be a good match. Avocado ice cream is not the star. Treat it like a side-kick dollop of cream to get your head around it.
Shoku was definitely a challenging prospect. It may have been an extreme sport to get past the Salford weather, but you don’t need to research the cuisine to enjoy it. Brave the MediaCity elements, the summit is worth it.
Shoku, Orange Tower, MediaCityUK, M50 2HE
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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.
Soft shell crab 7.5, Galician octopus 8, ramen 7, cornfed chicken 6, blackberry and yuzu tart 5, Amazonian chocolate 6
New and nervous yet well-meaning and attentive
Warm and stylish but quiet