“Irasshaimase!” was the familiar greeting at O-Tokuda.
It apparently means “welcome, we are ready to serve you”.
My Japanese is a little rusty but it was a lovely warm welcome into the charming and recently refurbished restaurant, down an unassuming alleyway, nestled under the Vic Veranda in the heart of Chesterfield.
O-Tokuda has been serving traditional Japanese food since 2009 - but the latest news is it has been shortlisted for the international restaurant of the year prize in the 2017 Chesterfield Food and Drink Awards with results due in October.
Owner Jess Yan is actually from the other side of the East China Sea, in Hong Kong.
“Japan is where we go on holiday and there are many Japanese restaurants and stores on the high streets in Hong Kong, so it is what I’m used to and what I love”, she said.
“This is why we wanted to share the experience with Chesterfield.”
Jess and her team opened a business in Sheffield before moving to the market town, where it has proved popular, perhaps because there were no other Japanese restaurants there to begin with. And perhaps because they changed from teppanyaki to the well priced style of eating it now offers.
The venue now has many regulars and introduces newcomers to the cuisine with its all you can eat dining, which allows people to try different dishes without committing to just one dish.
Staff showed us to our table, handed us some prawn crackers and then menus. But who needs those when it is try it and see?
The best way to sample a wide array of food is to opt for the sharing platters and sushi box for starters.
Now, this might come as a surprise to many, but Japanese food isn’t all about raw fish.
I have been a fan of sushi for a while and, as a vegetarian, there is so much more to the cuisine.
The vegetarian sushi box comes with tamago nigiri and inari nigiri – similar to a cold omelette or tofu on rice, wrapped together with seaweed.
There are plenty of other sushi choices too from the most common California maki (rice rolled in sesame seeds and seaweed).
Ours came with creamy avocado, cucumber and tofu in a delicately crafted creation.
Obviously, if seafood is your thing, there is a veritable shoal of seafood toppings to go at too from fresh salmon to giant prawns.
The vegetarian starter platter was a mixture of hot dishes, included steamed gyoza dumplings, gently fried on the bottom until golden brown and filled with crunchy vegetables.
Fine spring rolls, vegetable skewers dipped in a thin tempura batter, and melt in the mouth salt and pepper bean curd were also included.
These sharing platters are great for groups because it’s a good way to keep the food flowing. The staff are really organised so you are never without your supply of starters.
We could see the chefs busily working away in the kitchen and the clanking of pans adds to the bustling atmosphere.
They produce over 200 sushi pieces on an average day but Jess revealed this is now done with a machine that they invested in a while back to meet demand.
We were constantly having our empty serving dishes cleared away with offers of more food.
Of course, the key here – and the difficult bit – is not to be too greedy.
There are still several courses to follow so restraint was needed on the salty, addictive edamame beans.
The meat platter seemed to be keeping the others happy with chicken mango rolls and pork skewers stars of the show. And endless dips, from sweet chilli to sou, nose-flaring wasabi and ginger, to dip things into.
There’s a bargain extra course available – crispy aromatic duck with pancakes for just £1 per person.
But there are mountains of choice on the main courses, including many gluten-free dishes, all marked up with helpful spice ratings.
I opted for the cashew nut sauce with tofu.
This was an elegant sauce served with sesame seeds, cashew nuts and vegetables including crisp bamboo shoots and water chestnuts.
You can order a selection of noodles and rices. The egg fried rice was light, fluffy and, with plenty of egg, a dish on its own.
Tim’s tofu in black bean sauce was of a thicker sauce and more flavoursome but came with less vegetables and noodles. All the sauces are homemade to their own family recipe.
For desserts (at an additional cost) there is a range of unusual homemade ice cream flavours.
I had to try the green tea. The vivid mint scoops arrived on a plate served with a small glass of fruit salad, cream, with a light layer of matcha powder dusted over.
It was really creamy but less sickly than a vanilla ice cream – the perfect way to end a wonderful dining experience.
All you can eat costs £14.49 per person Sunday to Thursday, £15.49 on Fridays and Saturdays.
O-Tokuda, 37 Knifesmithgate, Chesterfield S40 1RL
Tel 01246 556996