Blink and you will miss it if you are driving past trying to find HanaMatsuri, the authentic Japanase sushi bar in Meanwood.
Sandwiched between a haridressers and a cafe, it’s a slip of a shopfront, the signage is minimalistic, the paint above peeling, with a functional varnished pine board under the window, which has the blind pulled almost fully down. It looks closed but as we linger outside the door, perusing the menu stuck to the window, it seems our attention has not gone unnoticed and someone pulls on the door and we’re beckoned inside.
As without, so within, which is to say, it’s small inside too, although very well ordered. There are a total of ten seats here: four running along a hefty yew-wood plank which faces one of the preparation areas, which is a lesson in neatness if ever there was one. Well organised wall shelves look down upon a work area no more than six feet wide, in front of which is another worktop, which is where chef Kaoru Nakamura silently (for the most part) and punctiliously goes about his business: chopping, slicing, pressing, then rolling and at one point effortlessly spiralising a cucumber by hand. No doubt about it, it’s a form of theatre, enhanced somewhat by its deliberately understated timbre.
Kaoru rarely looks up from his work and when he does speak, for the most part it’s in Japanese, instructing one of his staff to bring or take something.
We enter at 6pm: myself and my two children, eight and 10 - the eldest has a thing for sushi at the moment, but parents beware, post 7pm, it’s over-13s only.
We’re offered the seats immediately to our right and so we sit. It’s chilly but a couple of heaters lurking on the floor take the edge off. Behind us are simple shelving units with pieces of tightly stretched string strung across, behind which are lined up dozens of bottles of Japanese whisky, gin and sake.
I won’t claim to be any kind of sushi expert but I am intrigued by the form of cuisine and the rumours about this place, which have all been good.
For the children, we order a selection of rolls: salmon, cucumber and avocado, about 12 in all, delivered on a plate with bowls of soy sauce and a napkin “for sticky fingers”, as our waitress gently informs us. Half of the rolls are gone within minutes.
Meanwhile, I order Okamase Sushi (£45), a chef’s selection of eight ‘nigiri’ pieces. This is not sashimi, it’s nigiri, which means the raw fish meat is placed on top of the vinegar infused rice, each morsel consumed in one go.
In order, I receive sea bass, then salmon, tuna, tuna belly, scallop, prawn, octopus and yellowtail. The presentation of each looks incredibly simple and yet it’s also precise and clean.
The flavours, meanwhile, are something else: a salty fresh taste of the ocean, the tuna belly silky, oily, soft and sumptuous, scallop slightly smokey and the prawns sweet and ever so nutty. One course is followed immediately by another and by the eighth moutfhful, I have to say I’m almost done.
At this point, though, Miso soup arrives, a steaming bowl of deep brown broth which is like the best pick-me-up you could imagine: salty, smooth, slightly on the hot side, it’s one of those dishes you could take to bed with you.
Following this, we were offered dessert, which came in the form of ice cream, all home-made: green tea, toasted sesame and lemon sorbet. The lemon sorbet was cheek-clenchingly sharp but oh-so good, while the sesame ice cream tasted like peanuts - it was good but I’m not a fan; finally the green tea ice cream (which also came with a cup of real green tea - not sure if I actually mis-ordered that or if it is part of the dessert), which I have to say I wasn’t keen on to begin with but, like anything with a bit of character and depth, it somehow grew on me, revealing hidden layers of flavour: it has a smooth texture and floral, grassy notes which linger on the palate.
I also bought a bottle of Musashino beer (£6.50), a rusty coloured five per-center with murmerings of honey and a nice soft finish, plus a bottle of Sasaratsuki sake for £15, bringing the total bill to £107.
HanaMatsuri has been open in Meanwood about two years, prior to which it operated from Kaoru’s kitchen. They only take online bookings.
We felt a little ‘fish out of water’ when we first walked in but the waitress made us welcome soon enough, even bringing my children some origami to attempt.
Service is good, chef Kaoru Nakamura’s reticence is part of the overall mystique. He is diligent, determined and devilishly talented with that knife. If you have a little black book, put this place in it.
Address: 580 Meanwood Rd, Leeds, LS6 4AZ
Tel: 0113 295 5920