Gourmet Society Event: Sakana’s Christmas Menu Party
Earlier this month the fantastic Manchester based Pan-Asian restaurant, Sakana, announced it was going to go festive and create a tantalising new menu to celebrate. Being a devoted fan of this cuisine I was overjoyed to hear this news, as Sakana has always offered a wealth of delicious dishes from across the Asian continent, and was somewhat honoured to hear that they requested Gourmet Society to come and get the first taste of the new mouth-watering marvels they’d soon be serving up. That’s what got me jumping into my car after work and barrelling straight down to Manchester with my colleague and fellow foodie, Calum, and we spent the entire trip discussing what wonders would be awaiting us.
“What kind of sushi do you think they’ll be serving?”
“The kind with fish in it,”
“What about teriyaki dishes? What about katsu curries?”
“What about them?”
“Do you think they’ll go full feature with stir fried goodness? Or are they going rice heavy?”
“You just missed the exit,”
“Forget the exit; will there be lobster?”
“…Will there be scallops?”
This is generally how our trip went, with our minds lost in attempts to predict the menu. We didn’t give much thought to the whole ‘event’ aspect of it. In hindsight, we probably should have.
We were seen to at the door and whisked away to the private, V.I.P. upstairs dining area (which was great, since I’d spent most of my life as nothing more than a P) except that night it was a bonafide hive of social activity. Two ladies waited beside the hired DJ, who spent the evening mashing up chart toppers and Christmas remixes (genuinely some of the strangest tunes I’ve ever heard, and someone in our office listens to German technopop), with glasses of complementary Champagne extended to the eager guests. As we took them gratefully we took in our surroundings.
The walls were draped with countless pink fairy lights, obscuring the view into the dining area down below through glass walls stacked with shelves containing various bottles of Dom Perignon, and the rainbow spectrum lights pulsed with the beats DJ Christmas was blasting out. Christmas trees stood dotted around the room, looking just as petrified and confused as we were, yet they weren’t alone in the festive theme, as tinsel, baubles, and all manners of holiday brick-a-brak littered the area as if the winter solstice had come several months early.
I realise I’m sounding like quite the wet blanket on this entire evening; I actually admired the attention to detail they put into the bar area. Plus, the actual dining areas looked ever inviting, with their tables clad in clean, white linen, the ample space that looked perfect for parties and the charming Asian artwork adorning the walls. And there was a magician darting between groups performing tricks. Seriously, a magician.
At this point, I wasn’t feeling wonder. No, it was hunger I was feeling. It was my appetite that had driven Calum and I all the way to Manchester, and our combined appetites were ready to be sated. At the point when I asked Calum what he’d just said, and he’d replied that it was his howling stomach that had spoken for him, we saw them; the catering staff. Those unsung heroes who carried the steaming hot cuisine we’d come to sink our teeth into, they marched towards a barren table like the servants of Valhalla brandishing another spit pig for the gods. Given that presentation was key they painstakingly, yet pretty swiftly, laid everything before us and the other revellers, and before the rising steam could reach the ceiling a queue had formed, each hand grabbing for a plate and each mouth finally falling silent.
With two gourmets ready to tackle the mound of food, we settled down and prepared to indulge ourselves.
Calum’s First Impressions
Those looking to get away from the monotony of having the same type of food repeatedly over the festive period could do far, far worse than to partake in what can only be described as a heavenly feast at Sakana, where the tantalising flavours had our taste buds believing that Christmas had indeed come early. Though I found each element that made up the starters selection to be divine, one aspect that I found to be particularly enticing came in the form of their chicken yakatori, skewers of the most succulent chicken marinated in an irresistible Japanese sauce. Coming a very close second however (or in all honestly, joint first), the fish cakes made for the most scrumptious of treats – elegantly made and packed with the essence of the sea, they were certainly a match for many of the appetisers that I was fortunate enough to enjoy.
My First Impressions
I have to agree with Calum, as there was plenty of wondrous looking appetisers to devour before diving into the mains. I was particularly fond of the classic duck spring rolls, the tantalising kataifi prawns and, of course, the resplendent sushi offerings. The spring rolls were perfectly crunchy, with a hearty helping of soft duck wrapped within. Usually the meat gives way to vegetables, yet that was not the cases with these spring rolls, and I pictured that even a small plate of these delights would really get the stomach geared up for a feast. The sushi was masterfully crafted, adorned with the slightest dap of hoisin sauce. My favourite in particular was the duck filled one (yes, there is a pattern emerging, I know) that although technically couldn’t be called sushi was more than worthy of resting besides the traditional pieces. But in my humble opinion nothing bested the kataifi prawns, as even their appearance got my curiosity rocketing sky high. The intriguing exterior captivated me and from the first bite I was in love, as the perfectly crispy coating gave way to a large, juicy prawn that, in a large quantity, would have satisfied me on its own.
Trying to make the feast as realistic as possible, I had waited until my plate was empty of almost all of the starter options before I began to dig into that of the main course, and believe me, it was worth the wait. Straight away I decided that the star of the show was, without a shadow of a doubt, the steamed Chilean seabass in a three-flavour sauce. Now I won’t insult your intelligence and have you believe that my palate was able to detect exactly what the three flavours were, but what was apparent, at least in my mind, was that they married together to create a taste sensation that was nothing short of heavenly. And the seabass itself, the word succulent doesn’t cover it – in fact, my mouth is literally salivating as I describe the course to you, it was such a joy to eat that even the impromptu BANG that occasionally came from the magician couldn’t distract me for too long. Alongside this, there were a host of other options that I would be more than happy to come across again. The scallop, pork belly and apple miso combo was simply magnificent, whereas the sweet and sour chicken was as good any sweet and sour chicken as I’d ever had – not to mention the lamb massaman, which simply fell apart on the tongue.
Like my colleague I had to restrain myself from tearing straight into the ‘main courses’, which for me consisted of the tender black bean rib eye beef, the duck red curry and the exquisite lobster and vegetable tempura. I tore straight into the tempura, savouring the rich taste of the king of crustaceans as my teeth sliced through the light tempura batter, and although I don’t usually go heavy on the veggies I must confess the tempura fried aubergine was quite delightful as well. The duck red curry was a smooth treat too, with a slightly spicy kick, yet the dish that was, in my eyes, utterly peerless was the succulent ribeye. Perfectly complemented by the black bean sauce, I couldn’t help but close my eyes and get lost in the taste as I effortlessly chewed the tender meat.
There was, however, one key issue we both shared. Since we took our time the buffet style serving had somewhat lost its warmth by the time we were half way through, saddening us greatly. After all, if the food had been served fresh and hot we imagined it would be even greater, which made me all the more jealous of the conventional diners enjoying their meals downstairs. But our envy proved that we wanted to make more of our experience at Sakana, not as esteemed guests but as respected customers. It’s because of this that I personally plan on returning to Sakana when the new menu is a standard for guests, and both Calum and I whole-heartedly recommend that you do the same.
Have you tasted some of Sakana’s newest dishes? Did you enjoy them, or prefer the older menu? Let us know in the comments section below or via Facebook or Twitter! And of course, be sure to check out the rest of the gourmet goodness on the Gourmet Society blog!
By Calum Dewsbury and Tom Simpkins