Pick-n-Mix Japanese Tapas
Succulent meat dishes, deserts with a twist and some very drinkable sake infused cocktails means the Japanese food lover in Leeds should welcome Issho with open arms
Review by Andrew Steel
Leeds isn’t a city hugely renowned as a hub of fine Japanese dining, with its relatively compact cityscape dotted by the occasional teppanyaki or katsu curry house. That could be about to change however – fresh from their success with the award-winning Angelica in the heart of the Trinity shopping district, D&D London have branched into Yorkshire’s sharpest new leisure hub Victoria Gate with their own spin on the cuisine of the Land of the Rising Sun. Divided between a relatively informal rooftop bar and more traditionally-influenced restaurant, Issho aims to offer a contemporary experience for the discerning diner- and for the most part – succeeds.
Billed as “Japanese tapas” by its staff, and working from a menu crafted by Ben Orpwood, Issho’s strength lies in the pick-n-mix nature of its combinations. A selection of prawn and salmon gyoza, served with a soy and mustard dip, is a sterling highlight of the hot selection; steamed rather than flash fried, its shrimp-tinged notes are a gentle caress upon the more dominant fish ones. Paired up as a starter for a seafood double, it is a fine compliment to a sweet miso black cod. The latter, a generous serving matched with a citrus-tinted yuzu, is cooked on a robata, lightly grilled over open flames – though given its lush nature, the texture of the course does become noticeably oily the closer to the skin.
For those of a meatier persuasion, Issho’s duck breast provides a succulent delicacy, crisply salted on the outside and almost melt-in-the-mouth within. Accompanied by nashi pear, the tart fruit cuts through the fullness of the bird’s flavour – and alongside a drizzle of spring onion, is a well-balanced match. Duck leg confit also reappears as a filling for the restaurant’s selection of bao buns, alongside pressed pork and tofu. Here, the neutrality of the bun is lifted by its filling – and given a kick by the spicy hoisin sauce liberally added on top; it is perfect as an opener or as a generous side, no matter the diet.
If one does not gorge themselves enough across their main courses, then there are plenty of surprises to be found within the dessert range too. Perhaps stand out amongst the half-dozen dishes is a luxuriously creamy rice pudding, given two little twists; firstly, with the inclusion of sticky, caramelised banana chipping spread across the surface, and secondly, by the dollop of vanilla ice cream placed square in the middle. The latter naturally strips the centre of the pudding of its heat – but providing lukewarm custard is not an issue, the additional dairy twist adds a further layer of richness, providing a heady – if heavy – hit well worth a try.
It would be highly unusual for a top-end Japanese restaurant to not offer sake, the rice-based spirit hailing from the homeland – so it is only natural that Issho dedicates six pages of its drinks menu to the various varieties available. Lone measures or bottles aside, sake also features as a key ingredient of several cocktails also offered at the bar. Chief amongst these is the Yuzu bramble, where the rather-moreish Yuzu sake is dropped into a typical English bramble drink, complete with gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup – alongside a healthy dash of the blackberry liqueur crème de mure. An Eastern twist on a British stalwart, the gin and sake play very well off each other, making not only strange bedfellows but for a highly refreshing late afternoon palate cleanser.
If Issho slips up somewhat, it lies in the atmospherics of the establishment. The staff – to a fault – are courteous professionals and deliver consistently good personal service, whilst the décor – oriental-inspired wood-panelling, muted cream tiles and booth seating – does an effective job of conveying the restaurant’s foreign heritage without ever falling into gauche trappings. But in the fading light of day, the cosiness of low-hung ceilings and gentle amber lights are unable to compensate for the dusk outside, leaving the restaurant not hugely well-lit in places. In addition, its acoustics are ill-equipped to deal with a full house; conversations across the dinner table sometimes require a raised voice to be heard during particularly busy hubbub. These are not issues major enough to detract from the quality service and food offered – but they remain foibles on an otherwise blemish-free bill of health.
Issho has only been open since mid-June, still in the infancy of its existence. But like fellow Victoria Gate property East 59th, it looks set to be another hit for the D&D team. Intimately appointed in its settings, deliciously selected in its produce, and warmly inviting in its staff, it deserves the success it has reaped so far – and will most likely continue to for the foreseeable future.
Enquiries: Issho, 3rd Floor Rooftop, Victoria Gate, Leeds LS2 7AU / 01134 265000 / www.issho-restaurant.com/