On his lunch break at Sushi Waka this week, Stan Graham samples the Bento Box so he can try a bit of everything they have on offer.
I have had some friends over from Kentucky for a week or so and have been eating out more than normal, i.e. every day. When Linda comes over she develops an addiction to fish and chips which she had four times in one week. The only break in this pattern was the evening we went to Betty’s in Harrogate for afternoon tea, and on Saturday when we had been invited to a wedding where food had been promised. One of the piscine dinners was in a pub, so Phil, her husband, and I were able to have the steak and kidney pie, but the others were all in fish restaurants which meant that I had them three times. I have not partaken of this delicacy in over three years as I need to keep a tight rein on my calorie intake, so it came as a shock to my system. The amazing thing was that, despite the meals consumed, I only gained one pound in weight over the course of the week. My body never ceases to amaze me, in many ways.
I knew that I was going to enjoy lunch at Sushiwaka the minute I walked into the restaurant, as there was a pile of Leeds Living magazines on the bar. Getting in is not as easy as it sounds as the entrances which look to be for the place are closed and signs direct you round the corner. You need to use the door under the sign for Mix Karaoke bar. Once inside I was shown to my table by the waiter, who asked me what I wanted to drink. He pointed out that beer was half price on Wednesday and so, after considering the alternatives for a full five seconds, that is what I ordered. The lunchtime offer is 20% off the menu prices between noon and five o’clock. When the bill arrived I was surprised to note that the half price beer had been added before the discount applied so it was even cheaper than advertised.
I like to try a selection of the delights on offer so I chose the Chef Special Bento Box. There was a caveat on the menu that as it was cooked to order there would be a longer delay in service than is normal, something to remember if you are on a set lunch break, although if you are do not order this as it will take all afternoon to eat. I had in front of me my cut price Asahi beer so they could take as long as they liked.
The description of the dish on the menu was ‘Sushi and sashimi, assorted sashimi on sushi rice and king prawn in crispy batter. It also states that all bento boxes come with rice, miso soup, mixed salad and sushi roll. This sounded like an overdose of sushi, sashimi and rice, but I figured that it would be a lot lighter and healthier than my recent seafood binges. One out of two. It was healthier but the portions of what arrived were enormous, more like a Bento tea chest than a box. Needless to say, being a Japanese restaurant, most of what came was fish, some of which was in batter, as were the vegetables. So much for a change of diet.
The sushi, raw fish with rice, in this case, salmon and what looked like cod, came with the usual pickled ginger, soy sauce and, lurking in the central cavity of the bento box, wasabi paste. I am pleased to report that the wasabi was of a strength that made it hot but edible. A couple of months ago I had wasabi on a sushi sampling plate in a hotel in Lisbon and it all but blew my head off. Being a man I had to have another taste to convince myself that it was as potent as I first thought. I regained the power of speech about three days later. The flavour of wasabi deteriorates really quickly and if it is not processed within fifteen minutes it all but loses its taste. Sometimes horseradish is dyed green and substituted but this tasted like the real thing to me. There was also a flavoured mayonnaise which was very pleasant.
Along with the sushi and assorted sashimi there was a green salad, vegetable tempura and deep fried king prawns coated in very fine vermicelli noodles to give a crispness. A small bowl of miso soup was also brought. The good thing about the meal was that there is no particular order in which the food should be eaten so I was able to rotate. When presented with raw fish, whether in a restaurant or a shop, the first thing I do is to smell it. If it smells of fish it is not fresh; if it has no smell at all it is perfect. There was no aroma of seafood here whatsoever. The tempura batter was as light as you would expect and the king prawns were huge. Although they come from the same source this was about as far from the fish and chips I had been eating as you could possibly get.
The bill, including my half price beer, came to £20.80 but after the 20% discount the amount payable was an extremely reasonable £16.60. The card machine was not working so they were only taking cash. There was a notice to this effect on the bar but please be aware in case it is a long-term problem. The service was exemplary and, if you are not familiar with Japanese food, this is a good place to start, as explanations and recommendations were readily forthcoming. It is also a great place to eat even if you are familiar with the cuisine.
My friends returned to the Blue Grass State on Sunday so I am now avoiding any marine produce for the foreseeable future. They generously left behind a litre bottle of Special Edition Woodford Reserve Bourbon so I don’t think that it will be too long before any memory of fish and chips will be permanently eradicated from my mind.
Photography by Stan Graham