Restaurant review: we take a bite out of Yo Sushi!
Victoria Square, Belfast. Tel 028 9009 9700
For all our so-called conservatism and love of the usual, Belfast and Northern Ireland seem remarkably open to new experiences, particularly when it comes to food.
While we are the last stop in Ireland and the UK to feature on the strategic expansion maps of major food chains, we jump head first into these places as soon as they show up. It has been the case with Pizza Express, Starbucks and the burger joints.
And so it is with Yo Sushi!, the permanently surprised restaurant chain. Yo Sushi! has been a huge commercial success since it first opened its conveyor belt concept in London in 1997. There are now 84 Yo Sushi! restaurants across the globe and, according to just about everyone, they are very good.
It was around 1997 that I went to a London Yo Sushi! with an industrial-strength hangover. The miracle those bite-size rolls performed on my health was instant.
Ever since, I've looked on sushi as a wonder food, capable of fixing anything, a magic power which transforms old people into young and the uncool into cool.
Yo Sushi! Belfast is a long train carriage of a place with that conveyor belt carrying the little bowls of food for you to ponder and lift travelling the 60ft or so length of the place and back at 8cm per second. It's about the same speed Samson and Goliath move up and down the Harland and Wolff building dock.
But there are no sirens here to warn you to get out of the way. It's just the opposite. Bowl after bowl of fabulously appetising morsels beckon. There's salmon and yuzu salsa tataki, chicken katsu, tuna maki and exotic salads such as kaiso, aubergine and goma.
It's Blue Monday which means all (blue) dishes are £2.70 each. You need to keep an eye on the colour of the bowls as the prices differ accordingly. Green is the cheapest at £1.90, yellow the most expensive at £6. And there isn't a bad or boring one among the dozen or so the advisor and I assessed.
Most popular sellers include the salmon firecracker rice, a fried dish featuring peppers, beans and a chunk of perfectly poached salmon. The common appeal of this is its savoury content and the familiarity of the look of it.
At the other extreme is the soft shell crab tempura (which always reminds me of Alien and I can never resist pushing the thing into my face in homage - the children used to find this amusing, but I need to refresh this act).
Nonetheless, seafood is Yo Sushi!'s thing. Crab, salmon, scallops, prawns, tuna and squid all make appearances in various guises, all of them faultless.
Yet top of my list are beef and chicken. The chicken katsu curry is your man if it's the only thing you're going to have. A breadcrumbed fillet comes sliced on a bed of sticky rice with a dark brown katsu curry whose flavours will stay with you for the rest of the day, in a very good way. Textures are light, but intense, fresh and crispy, soft and warm. I could have had three of these.
The beef and garlic teriyaki is equally impressive, the little strips of meat dark and almost blackened, absolutely bursting with Bovril-like beefiness.
Chicken gyoza, a kind of deep fried dumpling, are made from a minced mix and the flavours are as condensed as can be before becoming too salty or reduced. Popcorn shrimp bares a paper-thin coating of tempura and loses no flavour through the deep frying.
Bowl after bowl of hot food arrives and I flick back to the infinite parade of cold salads and sushi and reach for a beef tataki. Thin slices of barely seared tender meat, possibly flat iron, sit on a bed of a cool lime and scallion sauce. It is invigoratingly fresh.
Yo Sushi! Belfast is a hit because it's bright, cheerful, and staffed by people who are keen to explain and introduce you if you're a newbie. It's well-run and even if there is a queue (very likely at lunchtime) they make things happen quickly.
There are tiny booths along the central conveyor belt, but you might be more comfortable just pulling up a stool instead if there are just two of you.
If you haven't been, but you like Asian food, you'll enjoy this more interactive approach to lunch.
Blue plates x 4 £10.80
Katsu selection (grey) £5.00
Beef teriyaki (yellow) £6.00
Chicken katsu curry (pink) £4.30
Popcorn shrimp (pink) £4.30
Glass prosecco £4.50
Sparkling water £1.20