NO matter how fussy you are about your food there are some spaces in your tummy that only a takeaway will fill.
So what’s it going to be – vindaloo, doner kebab, chop suey, southern fried chicken or a burger?
Different nationalities but they all have something in common, don’t they?
“Takeaways are a bit unhealthy,” says Savio, a twenty-something chap from Hong Kong who’d much rather you order some octopus sashimi, skewers (chicken hearts, anyone?) or go large with a Japanese bento box.
By and large Japanese food is low on grease and high on Omega-3 – and Savio and a group of pals reckoned this could be the way to go for takeaways.
They looked for a site, discovered an empty space at the bottom of a block of student flats at the corner of Devonshire and Milton Streets, Sheffield, “and decided to open a restaurant as well.”
Midway through December the Sushi Express was born. It’s not the first sushi restaurant but it must be the cheapest.
Savio is Chinese so why is he running a Japanese restaurant?“ I’ve always liked Japanese food. When we go out for a meal in Hong Kong the first choice is a Japanese restaurant,” says the accountancy graduate from Sheffield University.
Savio is a bit of a mystery. For a start he won’t give me his full name. And he’s a little vague – no names, no pack drill – on the others involved in the venture.
There’s no mystery about the food which is very cheap and tasty in cheerful surroundings. We went for a meal rather than a takeaway.
Sushi Express is within a chopstick’s throw of the West One complex and the Corporation nightclub in the heart of one of the city’s burgeoning student districts. While they’re the main customers they’re not exclusively so.
Sheffield has a lot of students from South East Asia and they have zeroed in on the Sushi Express. The customer split is 60-40 in favour of Asian but that only adds to the exoticness of eating here.
Interestingly, although takeaways were the reason the place opened take out food only represents some 30 per cent of the turnover.
We went, attracted by an inexpensive set lunch menu with six different options for £4.90, to which you can add a number of side dishes, none more than a couple of quid.
For beginners it’s made easy with little pictures on the menu of what to expect and so you know what it is when you eat it.
Whatever you order, you also get a complimentary bowl of miso soup or a salad.
We chose menus B and F with side dishes of Japanese fried dumplings for £1.40 and a plate of assorted tempura for £2.
Our waitress offered us the choice of roasted or ordinary green tea. I hadn’t known there was such a thing but roasted has, as she said, a stronger flavour.
The restaurant is a light, bright, airy eating space with a dozen tables behind a series of shelves with oriental snacks and drinks, which divides it from the takeaway section. The tables are dark brown with chrome and white chairs.
Kitchen and waiting staff have the same kimono-style blue tops. Behind a dark brown counter the kitchen is divided between chefs who make the sushi and sashimi and those responsible for the hot dishes.
The miso soup, served in little red and black bowls, was hot and sweet-sour, with little cubes of tofu and squares of spring onion green, a palate-cleansing start to our meal.
The tempura arrived first, battered chunks of squash, aubergine and pepper with perhaps not as wispy a coating but with an agreeable ‘clumpy’ texture. They came with a chilli dip.
Menu B quickly followed on a wooden board, with six little tubes of cucumber maki, cubes of the vegetable surrounded by vinegared rice bound with nori seaweed.
We also had prawn sushi – the flattened seafood pressed into a ball of rice, spicy salmon wrapped in a tube of seaweed and rice, a strip of omelette bound prettily to a lozenge of rice with seaweed and tofu skin, wrapped around rice. There was a dip to further spice things up and a squidge of wasabi, horseradish mustard.
With Japanese food you eat first with your eyes. The pleasure of seeing is followed by an appreciation of taste and, almost as important, texture, which is why the tofu might register more with oriental than western palates.
Menu F is a plate of skewers of chewy but tasty octopus, highly successful salmon wrapped in bacon, ground beef (“Japanese beefburger,” said my wife) and chicken wings.
The Japanese dumplings were like a soft, fried pasty with, as far as we could tell, a vegetable paste filling.
Our lunch hadn’t looked a lot but it was surprisingly filling, particularly as the skewers came with a bowl of sticky rice.
Even so, we still had a dessert-sized hole left in our tummies and filled it with deep-fried ice cream (£4.50). Think Arctic Roll but nicer. The batter surrounding the ice cream was reminiscent of doughnut.
All this cost £19.90, a steal, and while there was much more of the menu to explore – eel, surf clam, tuna and squid dishes beckon – this was a very pleasant introduction to the Sushi Express.
8 Milton Street, Sheffield S1 4JU.
Tel: 0114 279 2669.
Open: Mon-Sat 11am-11pm. Credit cards. Disabled access and toilets. Website: www.sushiexpress.org.uk
My star ratings (out of five):