Down a small alleyway just off Angel Row in the heart of Nottingham sits a small part of Tokyo. Kushi-Ya is a restaurant like no other that we have come across in The Midlands. A place serving Japanese Tapas to great acclaim.
Walking down the tight Cannon Court, you could easily be in a back alley in Tokyo. The string lights overhead, the unremarkable entrance and simple setting get the whole Japanese experience off to the perfect start.
Once inside the door, everything becomes even more authentic. Smart, clean wooden panelling and minimalist wall decorations all with a nod to the land of the rising sun. The dining room is then just a quick climb up a flight of stairs.
The dining room wouldn’t look out of place in London. A smart, spotless open kitchen overlooks the whole room. A bar area directly next to the kitchen has a few seats positioned towards the front. The typical set up that you would expect to find at many yakitori bars running along Memory Lane in Shinjuku.
Unlike Memory Lane, this place has ample seating. The spacing between tables allows for uninterrupted conversation and a pleasant, quiet atmosphere during our visit. Staff provided us with menus, one of which was an ‘Early Bird’ special, served between 6-7pm.
Our order from the a la carte virtually mirrored the set menu so the staff were kind enough to offer us the set menu option, saving a few pounds in the process. The set menu comes with a formula of one snack course, two skewers, sticky rice and a pint of Asahi beer.
One feature of the menu that was a little off putting was the supplement charges. If you want curry sauce on your sticky rice, it’s an extra £1.50. For ordering the beef skewers it was an extra supplement of £2.
Still, we couldn’t resist adding to our order and took a glance at the specials marked up on a chalkboard. Iberico pork is one of the best meats anywhere in the world, it simply must be ordered at any opportunity. In this case it was wrapped in a Gyoza – at £2 per Gyoza.
With four gyozas ordered, we sat back and watched the restaurant fill up. The chefs got busy behind the stoves in the open kitchen and the food arrived shortly after. Incidentally Kushi-Ya translates to a grill on which skewered meat is cooked. Hence the wide range of creative options on sticks.
The tray of food on arrival looked both immaculate and inviting. The options on the table were simply chopsticks and napkins. As basic as it comes and a demonstration of confidence from the chef. Our experience at Kushi-ya began with the first taste of our snacks.
A beautifully presented Sweet Potato Korokke with Wasabi Cream was first up. A ‘Korokke’ is a croquette, in this case Sweet Potato, breaded in panko crumbs and deep fried. The crispy exterior of the croquette was flawless as was the filling. The Wasabi Cream needed a pinch of salt just to balance it. Overall, a decent start at Kushi-ya.
I had heard good words said about the Nori and Sesame Crisps so I went for them. Nori seaweed is often found encasing sushi rice. Having thin sheets fried to a crisp with sesame seeds was going to be very different.
The hype is fully justified with these crisps. The crunch and subtle flavour of the sea with the hit of toasted sesame is something unexpectedly brilliant as a combination. All appears very simple and innocent on the plate but they really need to start selling these by the bag. Highly addictive and most enjoyable.
Our skewer choices were Beef with Black Garlic and Mustard alongside Tiger Prawns with Peanut, Tamarind and Chilli. The beef was cooked beautifully rare, retaining a juicy texture with the smokey notes from the grill. A sauce of black garlic and mustard zig-zagged across the tender pieces of steak.
A top tip on how to get the best from the skewers is to slide off the pieces of beef, prawn or whichever food item that you decide to go for, onto the sticky rice. It’s almost like making your own dish.
The prawns were of high quality. You could tell how fresh they were by the clean burst of the sea once your teeth sank into one. The sauce on these skewers was a superb accompaniment. The rule of ‘anything with tamarind in it is good’ was proven correct once again.
Iberico Pork Gyoza times four slid in between our two trays. Gyoza, in my experience, tend to be either greasy or heavy. These Gyoza were a refreshing change with the pork still pink inside and insanely juicy. This is cooking with a huge demonstration of skill and knowledge attached to it.
It’s hard to put into words the flavour of Iberico Pork. Think of how the best pork chop would taste smothered in the best quality butter and you’re in the right area. The richness of this prized meat from Spain is on another level entirely.
Looks can be deceiving and we were beginning to get rather full after finishing our trays. A look at the dessert menu brought us to the conclusion that a Dark Sugar Parfait with Sesame Crisp would be ideal to split between us.
Our Parfait arrived looking simple yet majestic. A round circle of sugary sweet cream topped with a Sesame Crisp and a small avalanche of honey running down the side was simplicity personified.
The richness of the dessert is all based around that smooth Parfait. A sweet, smooth cream but not overly so. The Sesame Crisp on top provided that perfect nutty flavour that just works magically with the honey. This was less of a sharing scenario, more of a battle with spoons.
If I had to aim one criticism Kushi-Ya’s way, it would be to include how the meat is cooked on the menu. In Japan, many places will undercook meat and fish. Some even serve chicken sashimi! To inform the customer as to how the meat is likely to arrive provides peace of mind. For us, it wasn’t an issue but some have commented on previous reviews.
I have to end this review by heaping praise on Kushi-Ya. An authentic Japanese experience is not easy to find. Had we not been blessed with the services of Google Maps, we may never have found this place. I am very glad that we did.
Opening Times: Tuesday-Saturday 1200-1430 (Saturday 1530), 1800-2200
Nearest Train Station: Nottingham