Sapporo (February 2004)
Sitting pretty on a quiet corner of Duke Street is Liverpool's only official sushi and teppanyaki restaurant, Sapporo. It's sister to two Japanese restaurants in Ayia Napa, Cyprus: Hokkaido and another Sapporo. Just a few months old, its stealthy arrival and immediate success indicates a healthy coming of age for Liverpool's dining scene. The city's last sushi bar closed almost three years ago with many blaming its failure on the simple fact that Liverpool wasn't quite ready for this level of exotic food. Things have come along way since then, and helped by the rise of the sophisticated city dweller, the local market has matured into an arena that positively welcomes and indeed expects new culinary experiences. And what an experience Sapporo turns out to be.
Housed in a minimalist venue of Eastern design with plenty of clean lines and Japanese-style panelling, Sapporo just oozes positive fung shui, from the soft lighting to the white pebbles inset into some of the tables and walls. The restaurant is delineated into two distinct yet adjoining areas: the sushi and noodle bar, and the main teppanyaki restaurant. The sushi and noodle bar has a cool, reserved atmosphere, and is relatively small compared to the teppanyaki area, with only a handful of tables. It attracts a lot of lunchtime custom, particularly from the business community. The sushi menu is deliberately limited, focussing on quality, although the restaurant is happy to take requests for items not on the menu. It goes without saying that the ingredients are the freshest of the fresh and the sushi is only prepared once the customer has chosen from the menu. The menu features basic, more familiar sushi dishes including sashimi, nigiri sushi and maki sushi but also other less typical dishes such as California rolls (nori seaweed, rice, avocado and crab meat), and spicy tuna rolls. Prices range from £4.50 for five pieces of sushi as an appetiser, to £14.50 for special Sapporo sushi which features a selection from the rest of the sushi menu.
As well as sushi, this part of the restaurant also serves up a total of nine different noodle dishes such as noodles with barbeque duck breast or pork fillet and mixed vegetables, or with ham, cheese and mushrooms. Prices for these dishes range from a very reasonable £5 to £8. There is also a large selection of hot appetisers which includes several types of tempura and a range of seafood dishes as well as barbeque spare ribs and crispy duck with raspberry sauce. Finally, for customers who have decided to go the full hog, the sushi noodle bar offers a range of main meals, and a selection of interesting desserts such as gratinated strawberry sabayon, chocolate spring rolls (unmissable) and banana tempura with vanilla ice cream.
The majority of the venue is given over to the teppanyaki restaurant which stretches out across an expansive ground floor with floor to ceiling glass windows which emphasise the eastern style. Traditional restaurant tables seating two or four are nowhere to be seen in this part of Sapporo. Instead, the space is occupied by numerous rectangular seating areas which centre around large square pieces of flat metal which are of course the teppanyaki, or Japanese grill pans. These grill sheets are encircled by low tabling at which customers sit watching their meals being prepared before their eyes by master teppanyaki chefs. Each grill and adjoining seating area seats eight diners making the restaurant ideal for larger groups of people - an extended family meal or perhaps a birthday. Charming manager Dimitri confirms that Sapporo is an extremely popular choice for hen nights or stag dos. This is also because eating out at Sapporo is so much more than having a meal. It's a spectacle, where the star of the show is your chef. Extraordinarily, some of the chefs will perform traditional magic tricks to entertain guests as well as preparing their next course. Others will tune into those customers who are up for a laugh and in a friendly exchange, toss a piece of carrot into an open mouth or down the front of an unbuttoned blouse! But perhaps the most intriguing chef is the silent one who simply bows and performs the most dextrous and nimble-fingered display leaving those watching spellbound.
The teppanyaki menu offers a range of dishes based on chicken, pork, lamb, duck, steak, beef fillet or seafood, cooked with a variety of ingredients on the grill in front of you, sliced with expertise and served up still sizzling onto your plate. Examples include sirloin steak stuffed with king prawns, lamb loin with fresh garlic, chicken breast teriyaki, and fillet of monkfish. These main meals range from £12.50 for yakitori chicken to £22.00 for lobster tail with fresh garlic, and they all come served with fresh grilled vegetables, fried rice and potatoes. There are also six set menus available. As an example menu number three costs £25 and includes a seasonal salad, miso vegetable soup, smoked chicken rolls, duck breast teriyaki, grilled vegetables, fried rice, potatoes and dessert.
Opening times for both the sushi noodle bar and the teppanyaki restaurant are from 11 to 11 Monday to Saturday, and 12 to 10.30 on Sundays. There is an impressive range of wines and champagnes as well as sake and a handful of eastern lagers. Sapporo also stocks a range of top quality cigars although smoking is only allowed in the bar area. The teppanyaki restaurant is child friendly with highchairs available.
Sapporo certainly promises an evening to remember, particularly if you choose to eat in the teppanyaki restaurant, although those who prefer a more intimate meal can choose a quiet corner away from the commotion. As more and more top quality restaurants open on Merseyside, it becomes more common to find yourself eating great food in superb surroundings so what starts to stand out are the additional aspects of your evening out. And there's plenty of difference at Sapporo: a killer atmosphere and extraordinarily skilled culinary displays that could have people queuing up for tickets. Hold onto your chopsticks and brace yourselves!
134 Duke Street
Tel: 0151 705 3005
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