Thursday, 12 September 2013

YAKITORI#1, Cardiff

Amidst all the chain restaurants in Mermaid Quay, down in Cardiff Bay, it is good to see a local independent starting up. Last month, in a unit underneath The Glee Club, Yakatori#1 started serving modern Japanese cuisine - with the focus on sushi, grills and noodles. This is Japanese food that reflects the owners’ travels around the world seeing how it has evolved in contact with other cultures, such as California.

We were fortunate enough this week to be invited along to Yakatori#1, as guests of owners Meng and Cheryl Yap. Meng founded Ethnic Cuisine in Swansea in 1994; the company grew to employ around 400 people and supplied ready-meals for J. Sainbury’s. He sold that business five years ago, and is now embarking on this restaurant venture.

The Malaysian-born couple have assembled a highly-skilled team of chefs, who can be seen in the open kitchen preparing beautiful-looking food. Meng explains that, just as he told his former workers to always imagine Sainsbury’s looking over their shoulders, he likes his chefs to be aware of the customers whose food they are preparing.

The range of sushi - maki rolls, hosomaki and nigri sushi – look great and, as Meng says, are designed to produce taste sensations. Therefore, the amount of rice is kept relatively small, to allow the other ingredients to shine. Bowls of avocados are prominently displayed in the kitchen, and thin slivers of avocado contribute a distinctive cool and creamy dimension to Yakitori#1’s maki rolls. Salmon, prawns, crab, tuna, and chicken are among the other favoured ingredients. Rainbow maki is a colourful flavour sensation, while avocado and mango maki provided an unexpectedly sweet and delicious taste experience. 

‘Yakitori’ means ‘grilled chicken on a skewer’. Yakatori, a term that can be also used to describe skewered and grilled food generally, is served in small informal restaurants and from food stalls in Japan.  The chicken yakitori here is therefore something of a signature dish, and consists of succulent flattened chicken breast pieces, coated with teriyaki sauce, and spring onion on small wooden skewers. Lightly battered king prawns and gyozu (a type of dumpling) with a sweet chilli sauce were other highlights.

The freshness of the ingredients is very important to Meng and Cheryl (and there’s certainly no MSG). The fish is sourced from Brixham-based Channel Fisheries, while vegetable ingredients are obtained locally. The nori (seaweed) is imported from Japan (where it is farmed, toasted and packaged as rolled sheets on a large scale) and there’s a choice of Japanese beers.

Yakatori#1 is family-friendly, not something you usually associate with Japanese restaurants in the UK. The children’s menu has ‘mini mains’ of ramen, wok-fried noodle and rice dishes, and a mild curry (and ice cream, of course). The menu also offers lunch and dinner specials, bento lunches and take-away options.

The name suggests that there could be at least a Yakatori#2 to come. On the evidence of the food we tasted, that would not be too surprising.

Yakatori#1, Unit 10 Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff CF10 5BZ (Tel: 2049 5050)

All food kindly provided free by Yakatori#1
Photos in this post courtesy of the restaurant.

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