Etsu, Japanese restaurant, Liverpool _320
Alistair Houghton finds a little slice of sushi heaven
AS A recent convert to the joys of Japanese cuisine, I was happy to see a banner appear on Brunswick Street announcing the imminent arrival of Etsu.
It’s not in an obvious location, somehow managing to be tucked away even while sitting opposite Simply Heathcote’s, on the corner of busy Brunswick Street and The Strand.
Even though I kept taking lunchtime wanders past Etsu, it took me weeks to find an excuse to go.
But eventually an anniversary and a dining companion with a love of all things Japanese led me in.
After walking under a wooden arch, diners open the door and head into a small room that could be described as minimalist with a heart, white and polished wood but not clinical and intimidating.
We were ushered to a table by a friendly waitress – good service became a theme for the evening – and perused the menu.
As we were pondering, the waitress came over with a cling-film-wrapped plate I’d spotted on the counter on the way in.
It was a sample of the chef’s special sushi plate, including tuna burger – tuna between rice blocks – and even a sushi pizza. Bizarre, but very tempting – at least one other table gave it a try.
But I was after some substantial hot nosh, so reluctantly passed it by for a main menu mixed choice.
We started off with a selection apiece from the sushi menu. My vegetarian companion chose tofu – a useful reminder, of course, that sushi is not about raw fish but instead about quality ingredients served with rice.
I went for the eel – not on the latest menu, but well worth a try if it returns.
Banish all thoughts of chirpy Cockney wideboys and their pie and mash stands, this was a gently cooked piece of fish atop “fingers” of sticky rice – a delicious light bite.
Of course sashimi – that is raw fish – is also available for the curious.
We also shared vegetable gyoza – dumplings stuffed with cabbage, onions, garlic and carrots, with dipping sauce.
Now my companion is a vegetable gyoza addict.
If you ever read about a gyoza truck being ambushed and its contents vanishing into the clear night air, she’ll be the mastermind behind it.
So when she says these gyoza are the best she’d ever tasted, it bears listening to.
The sauce, she added, was a perfect balance of sharpness, sourness and saltiness.
For the mains, my companion went for another tofu dish, but one with a completely different flavour and texture from the starter, as the crisp exterior of the tofu blocks reveals a heart of silken softness – all in a “zingy” sauce.
I went for the tuna steak. A confession – I’d never eaten tuna in a restaurant before. I’m a fan at home – can of tuna and a tin of tomatoes and I’ll make the pasta sauce of your dreams, or at least not quite of your nightmares.