Issho – taking Japanese food to the next level
As Leeds becomes increasingly known as a gastro hub, Scott Manson reveals why Issho is taking Japanese food to the next level….
At first glance, Issho feels less like a restaurant and more like a private dining club. There’s a tucked-away entrance with a lift that whooshes us up to the third floor, a smartly suited greeter who welcomes us and – once in the bar area – a DJ playing a brilliantly judged selection of deep house and dance classics.
This restaurant has been described as Leeds’ answer to Nobu but, in truth, it feels closer to Soho House. It’s a chic eatery in the city’s newly fashionable Victoria Gate area that’s attracted plaudits since opening for its modern Japanese food, from sushi and tempura to dishes from the robata grill. The skyline views from its outdoor terrace also help add to the member’s club vibe.
We were given a great corner table with a view of the handsome room, all blonde wood, buzzing tables and a big open kitchen. Occasional flashes of flame on the grill would puff out bursts of fragrant smoke from the meats and fish that the chefs kept dancing above the charcoal. I was seriously hungry and smelling this was like an exquisite form of torture.
We enjoyed a couple of glasses of Nyetimber Classic Cuvee as we waited, placing ourselves in the hands of the sommelier when it came to pairing wine to our orders. Some fabulous sashimi kicked things off – pearly, firm scallops and sea-fresh salmon artfully draped over crushed ice. Pillowy bao buns followed, some with crunchy chicken katsu and others with punchy spicy tofu. This was already a heavenly meal, but the delights just kept coming.
We doubled down on crab – from delicate soft-shell crab to chunky California maki packed with crab, avocado and fish roe. Smoked eel made an appearance too, its heady fragrance mixing with a surprising sweetness on the tongue.
Then it was time for the showstoppers: a 200g rib-eye steak cooked robatayaki-style (meaning “fireside grilling”). Served with a smoked shiso béarnaise, umami butter and Issho steak sauce, this was a premium hunk of protein done perfectly. I know, I know, we’re all trying to eat less meat, but surely that means that, when you do, you owe it to yourself to enjoy some of the very best?
The final big hitter came in the form of a handsome hunk of black cod, marinated in miso paste and grilled until beautifully browned. The flakes that fell off it had required no dressing or tricky cheffy techniques – this tangy, buttery creation was a simple affair, and simply delicious.
There was little need for dessert after such a feast, so we retired to the bar instead – emerging three espresso martinis later. Because Issho isn’t just a place to enjoy superb Japanese food, it’s also where the city’s bright young things gather for pre-club cocktails. So as we were departing, their night was just starting and – given the generational difference between us – it felt like the perfect handover.
Leeds’ restaurant scene has become increasingly impressive – and Issho is definitely in the top tier.
For more information, go to www.issho-restaurant.com.