Today my husband and I find ourselves in Leeds for a craft beer festival later this evening. Before we start ruthlessly flashing drink tokens and testing that delicious wonder that is craft beer, we decided to line our stomachs with a good meal; bringing us to Issho.
A hard find if you’re trying to enter from inside the Victoria shopping complex like we did; take note and don’t go into the Victoria at all – the entrance is on the outside to enter the rooftop part of the building, which we found out after taking an escalator up to the casino and asking a lovely lady where we would find the restaurants location.
However, in the end we found ourselves standing outside of the Issho door, praying to the Japanese food gods for a good time; and I was so hungry my stomach was audibly loud to anyone within a 5 mile radius – the hanger was real, and boy was it alive.
Upon looking for a great Japanese restaurant we specifically tried to find ramen. This place had great reviews on their Tonkotsu ramen and we were sold completely, eager to go and get that milky noodley broth, we headed that way. Our dreams were soon crushed when we found out that they did not have the dish on the menu, and the only ramen they did have was a seafood ramen that did not sound appealing to myself or my husband.
Instead we chose the lunch special of 3 dishes for £15; refusing to dampen our mood and still have a great time.
Before I go any further let me talk a little bit about the restaurant itself.
The inside was very nicely decorated with artificial cherry blossoms to mimic the beauty of spring in Japan; and the modern light wood throughout gave it a bamboo feel.
Through to the back of the restaurant, which is were the hostess took myself and my husband, the dining area opens up to a more fancy table service. I’m presuming the first half is for people looking for drinks and snacks over a good conversation.
The back room seemed to be where the main foodie feasts went down; placed nicely around the sushi bar/chefs station so you could watch your food being prepared.
For my three courses I ordered a spicy pork bao bun, a salmon avocado maki roll, and chicken yakitori.
Now, usually the first thing I notice in a good restaurant are the smells – tantalizing and luring; feeding your imagination with every whiff that floats effortlessly your way. Here, not so much, but I kept an open mind and waited patiently for our food.
My husband ordered miso soup and we were disappointed to see the salmon and avocado rolls arrive before a soup that we had requested as a starter.
The rolls came out quickly and both shared a plate for us to take from; six pieces each.
I was fairly disappointed with the maki roll in all honesty and felt a sting of annoyance in our restaurant choice. The salmon was chewy on two of my pieces; and not a pleasant chewy at all. The avocado wasn’t very ripe and it felt like a workout trying to get it into my stomach. Usually a good salmon will breakaway like butter and have a deliciously fresh – almost creamy taste – in my opinion. However, this one was chewy and didn’t taste very fresh, but I’ve definitely had worse so I ate the roll and brushed it off as I waited for the next course.
Within minutes the spicy pork bao arrived, along with my husbands miso ( which he said was fantastic) and I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat at how delicious this little pork bun looked.
The first bite made up for all of the disappointment so far. They definitely have their bao down to a fine art. The delicious spicy sauce inside had an almost teriyaki taste to it, complimenting that beautifully soft pork belly that had been cooked to perfection and propelled the dish into a godly place. The cucumber was pickled, which I’m sure adds a ton of texture and flavor but pickling really isn’t for me, so I decided to axe that little guy as soon as I set eyes on it. The bun itself was a pillow of heaven and the dish as a whole was hands down my favorite part of the whole meal.
Last up we both ordered the chicken yakitori, and as I took my last bite of the bao bun it was in front of me on a sharing plate; two sticks each.
Upon my first bite I tried longingly to find the taste of teriyaki that was promised, but instead was smashed face first into a mouthful of burnt chicken pieces. The taste was so strong that it masked anything else within the dish, and I struggled to taste anything but burnt ends, rendering the dish tasteless; it was a very sad time. My husband also agreed and we ate up quickly before asking for the bill.
I felt rather let down by such a restaurant that boasted all the qualities of a good time, but in the end was mundane and pretentious in many ways. Having spent months in Japan traveling all over I could confidently say that Issho did not do the Japanese cuisine much justice on this trip. Maybe an off day, or maybe Leeds just really doesn’t have a good Japanese scene yet as it would appear at the present time. I’d love to see an influx of solid Japanese restaurants popping up in this beautiful West Yorkshire city, and would definitely throw my money at all of them given the chance.
So today we did not win, and the pork bao bun was definitely the highlight of the whole meal; but maybe in the future they will perfect the art that is Japanese cuisine. Who knows. For now though, we leave as happy as we were upon entering the restaurant as the day is young, and even this small blip can’t deflate our mood for what’s to come.
Thanks Issho, but no thanks.
Until next time,