THERE’S nothing quite like seeing your meal skilfully and artfully cooked just a metre in front of you to really get your mouth watering and belly rumbling.
Hokkaido, Wakefield’s only Japanese restaurant, offers both an extensive sushi menu and teppanyaki, a traditional way of cooking using a steel plate.
Seating in the restaurant is designed around two large teppanyaki plates, putting the diner right in the heart of the action. With that in mind, we decided to make our selection from the teppanyaki menu and save the sushi for another visit.
As we perused the menu, our waitress bought over our drinks, a pot of green tea complete with large tea leaves insides, and a soft drink for my dining partner.
A selection of appetisers were on offer, and believing that Japanese cuisine is often on the small side portion-wise, my dining partner and I selected three dishes to share, deep fried tempura vegetables (£5), Japanese chicken dumplings (£5.50) and grilled Mongolian lamb skewers (£7.90).
How wrong we were about small portions. The lamb was cooked on the grill in front of us and marinated beautifully in chill and cumin. Four of the meaty kebabs would have been a large starter for a solo diner, but it was nice to share and sample what else was on offer. My dining partner, somewhat of a dumpling aficionado, gave top marks for the crispy dumplings, and I particularly enjoyed the tempura, which featured large slabs of courgette, carrot, mushrooms and onions with a Dashi dip.
The decor in the restaurant is sleek and modern, and the specially designed plates and dishes, all bearing the Hokkaido logo, are a nice touch. When we arrived, at 7.30pm on a weeknight, we were the only diners in the restaurant, which also offers a number of more traditional tables away from the hot plates. But as the evening went on several more couples joined us, making the atmosphere all the better as our eyes feasted on each other’s choices. The restaurant caters for large parties and I imagine it would be a great atmosphere to be surrounded by family or friends on a special occasion.
We didn’t have to wait long before the chef started preparing our main course. The waitress brought out the individual ingredients artfully arranged on a tray, with our choice of tuna (£14.50) and duck breast (£13.50) looking fresh and appetising.
Our chef started by preparing the base of vegetables, a large mix of beansprouts and shredded vegetables, and then moved on to preparing the egg fried rice (£3.50).
Dinner conversation was quickly forgotten as we were mesmerised by the theatrical way in which the chef moved the food around the hotplate. The egg was cooked into a perfectly rectangle shape and then folded over and over before being expertly chopped into tiny pieces. It was like watching some sort of show rather than waiting for your dinner to be cooked, a real experience.
Artful skill was also used as he prepared the meat and fish. The only note of caution for health conscious diners would be to avert your eyes when seasoning is being applied. Although Japanese cuisine is generally more healthy than other options, which I’m sure are laden with salt behind the closed doors of a kitchen, it’s hard to ignore when it’s being poured on in front of you.
I must admit that we did not ask for a low salt option, which I have no doubt would have been accommodated by the friendly staff.
But salt intake was soon forgotten when the food was presented, placed on individual dishes kept warm on part of the teppanyaki plate.
My tuna was cooked beautifully and broke apart easily as I grabbled with chopsticks (with I admit were soon replaced by a fork). Tuna can often by over cooked but the fine slithers melted in the mouth. The crunchy beansprouts offered a nice contrasting texture, and the large potion of rice could have been easily shared with my dining partner.
The duck, he told me, was also very enjoyable - clearly demonstrated by our clean dishes at the end of the meal.
Despite being pleasantly full, we decided to check out the dessert offerings and I found myself intrigued by the flaming ice cream (£3.50). Unable to resist the prospect of a dramatic dessert, I plumped for that while my dining partner chose a toasted sesame mochi ice cream (£3.50).
Unsure of what to expect, I was surprised to find that the pancake being prepared on the teppanyaki plate was indeed for my desert. Stuffed with vanilla ice cream, doused in some sort of alcohol and then set alight, it was well worth the small price for the experience of it all.
Large and filling, it ensured I was sufficiently stuffed by the end of the evening. My dining partner’s mochi was beautifully presented alongside pieces of apple and whipped cream, an exotic ending to the meal.
When the bill arrived at our request, our waitress explained that we would have been better served ordering one of the restaurant’s set menu banquets, which sound like a great idea for those wanting to try teppanyaki for the first time (or the very hungry). There are four on offer, one vegetarian, starting at £23.90 per person. As our starter and main course came to £53.40, they really do look like great value, with the cheapest offering tiger prawns and sirloin steak wraps among the large line up which is worth over £40.
Drinks were good value, with two glasses of Coca Cola and my pot of green tea, which had a complimentary top up, for just £6. A large wine menu was also available.
The final bill came to £66.40, which considering the quality of the food and the entertainment value, seemed well worth it.
Hokkaido seems somewhat of a hidden gem in Wakefield, located away from the main restaurant area on Kirkgate. Oliver will certainly be making a return trip.
Address: 113-115 Kirkgate, Wakefield, Wf1 1JG.
Opening times: Mon-Sunday 5pm-11pm.
Tel: 01924 315284.