SHEFFIELD’s certainly changed over the past few years. Just along the road from the once legendary office party hot spot the Mad Greek, a restaurant discreetly announces itself by means of a circular logo.
A new Japanese restaurant and takeaway, Sushi Express, sits at the foot of an apartment building on Milton Street, two minutes’ walk from Devonshire Green.
As you walk in, a team of chefs are busy in an open kitchen to the left and a shop area is full of all the snacks and drinks that no doubt help to stave off homesickness among the city’s Japanese student population – crispy squid peanuts, anyone?
The dining area has an airy cafe feel and the decor keeps up the understated theme, all modern dark wood veneer furniture and white walls.
The attentive staff all look sweeet in their short blue seafood-patterned kimonos.
We are seated and asked about drinks and we could have had Japanese beer, wine or sake but as I was driving I opted for cold green tea (£1.50). Let’s just say it is an acquired taste, quite bland and slightly sweet.
The menu, in English and Japanese, is very helpful as it has pictures of most dishes which gives the novice something to base their choices on.
My friend Bahia and I were keen to get stuck into the sushi. Bahia is a fan of the type you get in supermarkets and wanted to see what the real thing is like.
There’s quite a choice of sushi, with and without a seaweed wrapper, and sashimi, which comes without the vinegared rice base.
We opted to share an eight-piece rainbow maki (£5.95) and I added an eel and a tuna sushi (£1.30 and £1.50) and Bahia went for the tofu skin (£1.30).
Our waitress suggested adding some of the pretty pink sushi ginger (50p) which was a good idea.
The chefs did their magic and some very pretty plates of food began to arrive.
I love all the bits of ritual and our waitress solemnly placed a tiny rectangular bowl in front of each of us and poured some light soy sauce into each. A big lidded jar also arrived with the pungent green wasabi horseradish paste in for us to help ourselves.
I musty admit that I weas a bit too enthusiastic about the wasabi as I love it and it was a sinus-clearing and eye-watering experience but in a good way.
Small wooden chopsticks were on the table but knives and forks arrived quickly when Bahia chickened out from using them.
I showed off and used mine but came a cropper later and had to use a fork to eat my main course.
All the sushi were fantastic. Our beautifully coloured rainbow selection came arranged on a long serving dish.
The toppings featured salmon, octopus, surf clam and tuna and all were very good with surf clam possibly my favourite.
The individual eel one was beautiful with the fish far more dense and chewy than some of the others and Bahia said that her tofu skin, with the rice on the inside, was a surprise as the tofu was sweet. She said it worked.
If you really don’t like the idea of raw fish, although I would urge you to try it, there’s various vegetarian and roast fish options and even a fried chicken maki.
If that still doesn’t appeal, try the little skewers of cooked meat, fish, vegetables or tofu.
As this place is called Sushi Express and it’s not western-style dining, your main course may arrive before you’ve finished the first, as ours did.
We both chose soup noodle dishes but you could have cold noodles, bento boxes which offer a set menu all in one portioned container or donburi rice dishes, which are similar to the noodle ones.
Tempura dishes are also lurking in the side dishes part of the menu and there’s a specials board on one wall.
I went for the very thick ramen noodles (the cause of me abandoning the weeny chopsticks) with salmon teriyaki in a miso soup (£6.90) and Bahia had assorted noodles with thin udon noodles in a pork soup base (£8).
The assorted noodle dish turned out to be an inspired choice as it came with a substantial side order of tempura prawns and vegetables.
I tried a prawn and it was excellent with a wispy, crispy batter. The idea is to dip it into a dipping sauce and some finely chopped daikon (Japanese radish) and ginger. Very good indeed.
Our soup dishes were oversized bowls with noodles on the bottom topped by various vegetables all in the soup.
In my case there were also two pieces of salmon that had been marinated in teriyaki sauce and then cooked.
The overall effect was of Japanese comfort food, filling and substantial and warming rather than exciting flavours. Neither of us got anywhere near finishing.
However, our waitress suggested trying some ice cream and we had a delicious trio of green tea, wasabi and, I think, black sesame seed flavours (£4.50). The surprisingly delicate wasabi flavour was a particular relevation.
With drinks, our bill came to £35.95.
l Verdict: The prices are modest but the food is sumptuous.
l Open: Monday to Saturday 11am to 11pm.
l Sushi Express, 8 Milton Street, Sheffield. 0114 279 7669. www.susshiexpress.org.uk