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Sunday, 2 November 2014

Sakana Manchester*

Sakana is the newest Pan-Asian restaurant located just off Deansgate near the Great Northern, replacing what was known as Chicago Rock Café. Personally, I’ve not really noticed this space before but Sakana has definitely done a good job into transforming it into a very chic and inviting bar and restaurant. This £1million transformation features a dining area over two floors for 400 diners, a stylish open bar area looking into the open kitchen with a sushi bar, two teppanyaki areas and a robata grill.

Owned by the renowned Yip family in Manchester, the team definitely knows what to bring to attract diners as the dining scene is rapidly growing and diner expectations are getting higher. The Yip family also own both Ocean Treasure restaurants in Manchester and Middleton and Red Chilli. Having dined at both restaurants several times, I can sense Sakana will also become just as successful.

I was very fortunate to be invited to the media launch for a sneak preview of Sakana and to sample a few dishes.  But firstly, what is pan-asian food? Pan-asian food is a combination of all Asian food into one, so dishes will have elements of Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian or Indian.

For this 5-course sampler menu, each dish was complimented with a wine specially selected to match and bring out the flavours of each dish. As a regular wine drinker, but no expert I really enjoyed this as it gave me grounding in selecting wines for different dishes.

First course – Sashimi & Sushi Selection accompanied with a Chenin Blanc from South Africa



As a regular sushi eater I’ve eaten my fair share of bad and good sushi, and Sakana served up really good sashimi and sushi.  Thinly and equally sliced pieces of mackerel, salmon, scallop, tuna and swordfish were presented to us on a bed of crushed ice and spiralled radish. The fish maintained its freshness from the ice and with a touch of soy sauce the fish melted in my mouth and was to die for.
 
For sushi, we were presented with salmon maki, spicy tuna maki and mackerel nigiri. The maki’s were equally sliced and each piece looked identical which, most restaurants fail to achieve and the rice was perfectly cooked and balanced with the right amount of vinegar.  However, the spicy tuna did not live up to its name as it was not spicy at all. Accompanied with ‘cucumber ketchup’ as the waiter called it, was quite unusual as I’ve never had anything like this before but it paired up with the salmon really well giving it a cool and refreshing taste.

Second course – Chicken Yakitori Skewers accompanied with The Velvet Devil Merlot


The yakitori skewers were sticky, sweet and slightly salty on the outside but once you bit in, the chicken was juicy but very bland and the flavours were gone. They were tasty but I weren’t asking for more.

Third course – Soft Shell Crab Tempura with an Asian Coleslaw accompanied with the Riesling from Washington State (Favourite white wine of the course)


I loved the presentation of this dish as the colour of the batter and fried noodles stood out on the black dish creating a wow moment. But the taste lacked a little, the seasoning was very minimal and squeezing the lime was difficult as the peel was partially sliced off. One flavour was missing, and that was chilli. Maybe a sprinkle of chilli salt or a chilli mayonnaise would go well with this.  


Nevertheless, the Asian coleslaw did live up to my expectations. A combination of finely shredded carrots, red peppers, spring onion, red onion, radish and ginger the coleslaw was full of heat from the ginger, sweet from the pepper and sour from the dressed vinegar. A little side dish to die for, which complimented the soft shell crab well.

Fourth course – Halibut in a Champagne Yuzu Miso topped with pomegranate and served with Japanese Rice



The halibut was grilled to perfection as the meat just flaked off with the touch of the fork. The yuzu miso gave it an orangey citrus flavour, which created a party in mouth; the overall dish was just sensational. The Japanese rice was sticky and was cooked perfectly and really soaked up the miso. The pomegranate and fried lotus also added crunch to the dish. By far my favourite dish of the night and will definitely be back to have this again.

Fifth course – Coconut Panna Cotta with a Cardamom sugared glass and Passion Fruit accompanied with Tenzan Yuzushu


Asian desserts have never been popular to the Western culture, hence that why you always get served sliced oranges or grapes in a Chinese restaurant. I was quite disappointed to see an Italian dessert on the menu as it doesn’t blend in well with the ‘Pan-Asian’ theme. However, the presentation was spot on and looked very much like a Sakana plate. The Panna Cotta was thick, creamy and heavy on coconut flavour, which I liked, but I loved the Cardamom sugared glass even more. It was thin, not too sweet and gave the dessert another dimension.

Accompanied with it was a Limoncello basically, which again is Italian influenced. It was cold and gave a boozy end to the course but I would rather prefer a Asian inspired dessert.

My first impressions on Sakana are definitely on the positive side as I thoroughly enjoyed the evening with great food and drink. The restaurant layout is well thought out with the open kitchen, making a dining experience more unique.  

Being able to see the open dining area from the welcoming bar area is pretty cool and the six metre high illuminated Japanese maple tree centrepiece is definitely worth taking a picture of.  The ground floor of the restaurant is open to the public, but once its fully open I can see this place creating a great buzz on the Manchester dining and social scene.




*Disclaimer: I wasn’t under any obligation to write anything, all thoughts are my own.

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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Vnam

Vietnamese restaurants have increasingly become popular recently and more people are becoming familiar with the cuisine and its most popular dishes. The rise in popularity could be that Vietnam is becoming a tourist friendly country and that people are now beginning to differentiate Vietnamese from Chinese, Thai and Malaysian. 

Luckily, we come from a Vietnamese chinese background so we are very fortunate to enjoy both cuisines in our daily lives. Chinese and Vietnamese foods are similar in the sense that flavours are revolved around sweet, sour, chilli and salty. From a personal perspective Chinese foods revolve around rice a lot whilst Vietnamese revolves more around rice noodles. 

I do become reluctant to try Chinese or Vietnamese restaurants as I always think no one can cook it better than my mum but when you're miles away from home, there is no choice but to give in and satisfy those cravings for home cooked food. 

Vnam is a small family run restaurant/cafe on Oldham road and has been there for a few years now and serves up a decent number of traditional dishes such as pho to summer rolls. 

We arrived on a Sunday evening around 6pm and it was busy with just one waiter hosting, serving, taking orders, making drinks and running up and down to the kitchen to collect the dishes. So service was a let down as it was slow and clumsy but I can't blame them for that as you just can't get the staff these days! 

The food was a different story though...

Starters 

Salt & pepper soft shell crab £5.45
The presentation was spot on as the crab was delicately battered and fried keeping its original shape and wok fried with salt and pepper. The batter was light keeping the crab crispy and the fish dipping sauce accompanied it well but I would have preferred more chilli. 


Banh khot, aka mini rice cakes topped with prawns £5.85. This is a traditional dish, mainly eaten for brunch and it can be made with different fillings such as pork, mushrooms or spring onions. I was a bit disappointed with these to be honest as they were a bit hard and the ratio of filling to the rice cake was not equal. Flavour was ok but also a little too greasy. 


Banh xeo aka savoury pancake filled with either squid or prawn and pork £7.95. This is probably my all time favourite Vietnamese dish as its packed with protein goodness. The pancake itself is similar to an omelette which is delicately fried and folded to hold the filling. The filling is wok fried with a mixture of meat, seafood, vegetables, wood ear mushrooms and vermicelli. Accompanied with a chilli fish sauce, this dish is filled with lots of flavour and can guarantee to keep you full. In comparison to my home version, the pancake was too thin and should definitely have more egg taste. 


Chicken salad £7.95 was jam packed with spice, red onions, shredded white cabbage, shredded carrots, fried shallots, crushed peanuts and a squeeze of lime. This salad definitely tingled our taste buds and is better than any chicken salad I've tried. All the strong flavours makes this dish refreshing and very enjoyable to eat, the prawn crackers also added extra crunch to it. 


Mains 

Pho Bo aka beef noodle soup £8.75 is a traditional dish and is eaten in many Vietnamese households. The dish is made up of flat rice noodles topped with thin cuts of meat such as beef and is cooked with a hearty beef broth poured over it in the serving bowl. One thing I like about Pho Bo is having the hot broth poured over the meat as the heat cooks the meat in the bowl giving you the tenderest cut of beef ever cooked to perfection. Vnam's version of Pho Bo was just as good as having it at home, the broth was packed with cinnamon and staranise. Served up with a side plate of chopped red chillies, coriander, bean sprouts, mint and lime you can make this bowl of goodness to your liking of your tastebuds. Plus the portion is very generous, the size of the bowl is huge!!! 


Bun Bo aka spicy beef and pork noodle soup £8.75 with round noodles served in a spicy broth. At home Bun Bo is my preferred option as I like things spicy and it still is when eating out. Like Pho Bo the broth was the star of the dish as the flavours and the heat tied the dish together. Vnam is definitely generous on their portion sizes as well as the meat toppings in their noodles. Bun Bo is best with a squeeze of lime or lemon as the citrus flavours accompany the mint and chilli really well. Vnam's version was definitely just as good as any Bun Bo I've tried.


Bbq pork with noodles £7.95 - I just need to clarify that this dish was supposed to come with a side portion of spring rolls which we did not receive even after querying it. However, the pork was juicy and marinated really well with lots of grilled smokey flavours as well as sweet and the fat on the pork belly was soft and delicate. The crushed peanuts added another dimension to the dish giving it another texture and the fish dipping sauce bought the dish to life but it would have been better with some chilli. The salad made the dish light and refreshing on the pallette. 



Overall, the food at Vnam is honest home cooked food and is everything I would normally eat at home but the service lacked quite a bit and the ambience of the restaurant could be improved. For example some background music would be nice as it was very awkward at times. The number of staff could also be increased as the poor guy had to run up and down those stairs to the kitchen at least a hundred times. 

Every dish was carefully prepared and tasted fragrant full of traditional herbs and spices bringing the dishes to life. 


What are your thoughts on Vietnamese food?