Flavour, fire and freshness: Senbon Sakura has your lockdown back

It is a truth universally acknowledged that food is great. Even before the madness of lockdown, mealtimes punctuated my day like beacons of light amid stressful schedules and busy evenings.

The busy-ness might be out the window in this new reality, but thankfully, food is still available – and in it we can find some comfort.

Senbon Sakura has been one of my favourite Japanese joints for a while now. I’ve cheers-ed sake over steaming bowls of ramen here, bitten into bulging sushi rolls and crunched piping hot tempura as plates arrive on the cosy restaurant counter.

And so I was heartened to see Senbon’s delivery offering wasn’t going anywhere during lockdown. Their full menu is available on Uber Eats and Deliveroo, and each time I’ve ordered, food has arrived quickly and efficiently – gyoza still hot, sushi still fresh. There are bright green balls of fiery wasabi, thin slices of pickled ginger, giant cardboard tubs of soy sauce, and – of course – an abundance of flavour every time.

On Friday, we decide to go all out. It’s my boyfriend’s birthday, and it seems like a good time to turn our spatially challenged flat into something resembling a restaurant. We spend some time reviewing Senbon’s extensive menu – an exhaustive selection of Japanese fare featuring well over 100 dishes, from bento, nigiri and fried noodles to ramen, sashimi and donburi – before making our choice. The sheer scale of the menu might have once proved stressful, but in these strange days filled with all the time in the world, spending a good half an hour perusing a menu is a welcome task.

We’re told to expect the food in 35 – 55 minutes. It arrives in 35 and we rejoice at the small piece of good fortune, opening a cardboard box of kimchi chicken wings, which belches aromatic steam into our humble living room as we tuck in. These wings are things of serious beauty. Sweet, sticky and spicy, with a delicious sourness from the kimchi and a kick of heat to finish. And the best thing? You’re in the comfort of your own home, so getting sauce all over your face is totally fine. In fact, it’s advisable.

Then, we move onto the sushi. One plastic tray offers up eight plump angel rainbow rolls – mouthfuls of rice, avocado, salmon, tuna and prawn and topped with fluorescent roe and creamy Japanese mayo. To keep those company, we enjoy a selection of prawn, tuna and salmon nigiri, and several bitesize avocado maki. An apple and avocado salad makes the perfect palate cleanser, with crisp fruit and lettuce cutting through the mouthfuls of fluffy, savoury rice.

Every bite is full of flavour and freshness – no mean feat for delivery sushi. If you’re looking for something a little different. Senbon’s bento boxes are packed with tender protein (vegan options available), salad, rice, gyoza and miso soup, and the chef special wok noodles are excellent too.

You don’t need me to tell you how important it is to support local businesses wherever and however you can. The Leeds independent scene has a long road ahead of it, but by ordering the odd takeaway, grocery delivery or box of beer, we can help pave its road to recovery. 

Head over to Leeds Indie Food’s Directory to see which indies are open for business (albeit not as usual), and take a moment to appreciate the bizarreness of a world where stuffing your face with sushi on a Friday night counts some way towards ‘doing your bit’.

If you’re looking for more things to be thankful for right now, make the independent foodies going out on a limb to get delicious dinners to your door one of them.

Photographs by Kate Ryrie.

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