Northampton’s infamous Wellingborough Road is known for its collection of lively pubs, bars and burger joints. It’s also home to some interesting and exciting places to eat. Fancying something a little different on a Saturday night, we decided to try one of the few Japanese restaurants in the county, Ginza.
Our table is booked for early in the evening and as we arrive we’re suitably impressed by Ginza’s grand entrance, complete with glass frontage and ornate chandelier. The restaurant is set in a 3-storey building with the ground floor our dining room for the evening. As we walk to our table, we’re surprised by the lack of decoration in general. Despite a large oriental surround to the open kitchen, you won’t find yourself magically transported to Kyoto or Tokyo when you dine here. A simple interior means only a handful of posters and props hint at the japanese influence.
“It’s a good start, the dumplings firmer than I’m used to but all the better for it. They taste great and the sesame dipping sauce has an acidity that makes a nice change from soy. They’re so good in fact I start to wonder if I could eat a few plates of these.”
A few couples are enjoying dates and a family with two young children are exploring the menu. A large group of tables suggests a party will be arriving shortly. After a quiet start, the restaurant is soon bustling with conversation and atmosphere. The volume rises steadily as the seats fill and drinks start to flow. It is a Saturday night on the Welly Road after all. Even with a full restaurant, our evening is casual and relaxed which suits us.
The food is ultimately what matters and a quick glance at the menu tells us Ginza is all about the sushi. We’d heard good things going in and the amount of choice is a little daunting. Photos and descriptions help, but we need more time to consider so order some drinks. An asian beer and coconut mocktail for our nominated driver.
As well as sushi, we see bento boxes, teppanyaki and noodle soups. Keen on sampling a bit of everything, my partner orders the teppanyaki set menu. £16.99 for four courses including soup, sushi, a hot platter and chicken teppanyaki main.
Despite a recently discovered love of Japanese food, I find myself struggling to find something that grabs me. Most of my experiences have been in high-street sushi chains, where fish-phobic patrons are well catered for.
The sushi platters in particular look immense and ornate, grand structures of wood, boats and bridges, piled high with perfectly formed sushi. Sorely tempted to try something new and fighting to be brave, I eventually retreat, cowardly, into my comfort zone and order the chicken gyoza.
It’s a good start, the dumplings firmer than I’m used to but all the better for it. They taste great and the sesame dipping sauce has an acidity that makes a nice change from soy. They’re so good in fact I start to wonder if I could eat a few plates of these. If I was in front of a conveyor belt I might have done just that. The miso soup and selection of chicken skewers, spring rolls and samosas that come as part of the set menu look far more filling and I find myself chewing slowly to avoid finishing well before my partner.
We’re quickly served our next course, sushi! The set menu includes three maki rolls and two nigiri of prawn and salmon. They live up to our high expectations. Neat, precisely prepared, they’re so pretty it almost seems a shame to eat them, but eat them we must. The fish is fresh and while it isn’t to my taste, my partner seems very happy.
I’ve ordered the only sushi that isn’t fish or tofu, so once again I have chicken, this time four pieces of katsu chicken in the form of maki rolls. I’m sure there’s chicken in there, but under all the rice, three different crunchy toppings and a thick dressing that reminds me of salad cream, I can’t really taste it.
Onwards to the main, we both have teppanyaki. Our roles are reversed, this time me with the fish (salmon, cooked) and my partner, the chicken. I’m not sure what I expected in terms of presentation, but as the dishes arrive we feel a little underwhelmed. A mound of plain rice, a piece of salmon, a small salad bowl and a dipping sauce.
Everything is cooked well, the sauce in particular delicious, but as we see the great platters of sushi arriving at other tables we can’t help feeling like we’ve missed the point here. Our teppanyaki feels like the equivalent of meat and two veg when there are many more exciting things we could have ordered.
My partner fares worse. His chicken is sliced thigh meat and cooked plainly with no sauce, leaving it limp and fatty. Worse still we find ourselves unable to eat the dishes with chopsticks and have to ask for knives and forks, leaving us feeling very English!
After a relatively light meal, we both find room for dessert; one Ferrero Rocher ice cream and a chocolate pavlova. The ice cream is solid, frozen as one with the glass bowl. I feel sorry for the lone chocolate lodged in the middle, awaiting excavation. I can’t argue with the taste though which is pure chocolate and nut indulgence. The chocolate pavlova fares better on presentation and is as equally tasty.
Service throughout dinner has been prompt, polite and efficient, only slowing slightly as the big groups arrived which is to be expected.
We’ve both found plenty to enjoy with our meal but leave feeling like we haven’t seen the best Ginza has to offer. We’re keen to revisit, knowing a bit more about the cuisine and the restaurant. Upstairs houses karaoke booths so if we get a few more drinks inside us we might be tempted to give them a go.
The sushi platters are perfect for big groups and I’m looking forward to introducing more of my friends to Japanese food, as well as building up the courage to be more adventurous myself!
The meal in total came to £62 for two, including four courses each and four drinks (two alcoholic). There are set menu options which are good value and are not restricted to certain times or days.
Find Ginza at 156 Wellingborough Road, Northampton, NN1 4DU, call 01604 628431, or visit: