Yakinori Diner, Grand Central Birmingham - review
What's your favourite takeaway? Burger, pizza, chinese, fish and chips? Scrap all of them and give me Japanese any day.
Over the last few years, I've been fortunate enough to become quite the sushi connoisseur.
Don't get me wrong, there's always a place for a calorie laden double cheeseburger and fries or a beef chow mein with a helping of crispy spring rolls. . . but for a healthy, tastier alternative, a freshly prepared Ramen bowl and a King prawn tempura will do just nicely.
Yakinori, part of the fabulous Grand Central development located above New Street station, is the sister company of Japanese restaurant Woktastic.
With two successful restaurants in Bristol and Selly Oak, I was eager to see if their newest premises could deliver big on taste and flavour, while competing with the more established restaurants on the same floor.
The most important aspect of Japanese food is freshness. If the product is not top quality, then you're in big trouble. A few months ago, I went to a certain 'Japanese' restaurant in the centre of Birmingham, very close to Grand Central. The reviews were excellent and I'd been desperately trying to find a good sushi haunt in the West Midlands.
Let's just say it was one of the worst dining experiences of my life. The sushi was old, the fish was nasty and the edamame were overcooked to mush. It was one of those nights where the fish and chip shop across the road was the way to go! So it did take me a while to search again for Japanese food in the area, but I'm so pleased I did.
Although Yakinori may be slightly hidden away from the restaurant hub of Nando's, Pho, Yo Sushi and Ed's Diner and Square Pie, it does a good job of standing out from the pack with it's neon style branding and open plan kitchen.
The seating area is small with five stools on either side of the prep area facing inwards, a couple of three person tables outside and a few smaller spaces dotted around.
But this is very much the standard template of a the product on offer. Yakinori lends itself to takeaway with a bright vibrant counter of create yourself noodle and bento boxes together with your own signature Ramen Soup.
Priced at around £5 a box, you can 'pimp your box' with such products as chicken katsu, stir fry salmon, black bean beef and for the more adventurous, teriyaki octopus!
The restaurant is definitely geared towards takeaway first, but I was more than happy to sit on one of the 20 or so seats provided during a busy Sunday afternoon rush.
It was a good test for the six staff working feverishly setting tables and cooking, but they passed with flying colours. Even ordering four different dishes (I'm allowed, I'm writing the review, OK?!) , I was still in and out in less than 45 minutes. . . and that's perfect for a quick meal.
It's a smart location, convenient for the passing foot traffic of train passengers who will be attracted by the efficient turnaround of multiple dishes.
To start, I went for an old favourite, chicken gyoza. Five small tasty steamed dumplings with just the correct amount of chicken, served with a light soy ginger sauce.
There are countless times I've ordered steamed gyoza in restaurants, only for them to come back fried to within an inch of their lives. No such problem here.
They arrived to the table promptly and were finished off just as quickly as they came.
The 'dine-in' menu is extensive. Just because you don't like sushi, doesn't mean to say that you won't enjoy eating at Yakinori. Chilli noodles, donburi, katsu curry, salad, grilled teriyaki, nigiri, sashimi, tempura and teppanyaki. . . there's a huge choice for all tastes.
And of course, for those who fancy a liquid lunch or dinner, there's also a decent selection of wines and three Japanese beers for your perusal. I just stuck to sparkling water on this occasion, as I wanted to savour the taste of my next offering, a salmon/avocado hand roll and two portions of mackerel nigiri. Yes, they do have a number of excellent options, but in my opinion, a Japanese restaurant will always be judged on the quality of it's fish. . . and I was not disappointed.
The salmon used in the hand roll was excellent quality, a generous portion that melted in the mouth. The combination with the creamy avocado and fluffy rice, with a hint of mayonnaise wrapped in a thin seaweed was a delight. I always run a hint of soy sauce through the cone, just for a little added saltiness.
Now mackerel is not everybody's cup of tea, I understand that, but if you ever have the chance to try a mackerel nigiri, I encourage you to give it a go.
The fish was stunning, again a generous slither on top of the rice that was probably the highlight of the meal. A small dip into a little soy sauce mixed with a decent clump of wasabi and you have a very happy boy.
The nigiri comes in two pieces, but it would have been sacrilege if I didn't order two portions… just to make sure the first serving wasn't a fluke – it wasn't!
So by this time, I was pleasantly full, until I saw a crispy duck salad on the menu – the perfect combination of naughty and nice. Generous pieces of flaky moist duck tossed in a sticky plum vinaigrette dressing, served on mixed salad leaves and cucumber. . . simple and delicious.
I'm not a huge cucumber fan, but it was the perfect accompaniment to the sweet duck. The dish was beautifully presented and surprisingly light.
Yakinori provides an authentic taste of Japan in minutes without scrimping on quality or service. To order four different dishes off the menu for less than £25 is fantastic value.
The service is friendly and efficient, the food is healthy and fresh and satisfaction is guaranteed.
Why pay double the price at Yo-sushi to pick food up on a conveyor belt when you can enjoy a far more personable experience just 40 yards away?
So if you've got 20 minutes to kill before you board the 14.27 to London, then why not head upstairs to Grand Central to give Yakinori a try. . . and if you don't, just arrive earlier!
By Nathan Judah
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