Penda has been keen to go to Ginza in Northampton for some months. And no, it’s definitely not just raw fish.
A Japanese restaurant on Wellingborough Road ticks lots of culinary boxes – a wide range of options, hot and cold, light and substantial and an emphasis on cooking fresh. It makes a welcome change from the ubiquitous pizza and burger options.
You might have expected a table for two adults and a child to be more difficult to get on a Saturday evening, but apart from a couple of larger group tables and a scattering of what appeared to be first dates, we were seated immediately near the large glass doors up a set of stairs from the entrance on Wellingborough Road. This was underneath an air-conditioning unit which blasted us with freezing air that, even on a warm day, was just uncomfortable.
We’d ordered some soft drinks reasonably quickly, and that was the second sharp intake of breath – it was £2.50 for a bog standard glass bottle of diet Coke or Sprite.
The menus are hard to decipher if you’re not familiar with Japanese food and we waited . . . and waited some more for a member of staff to explain our options. When one finally arrived she didn’t really help and seemed very rushed, so we opted for three bento boxes, which came with miso soup, and a sort of posh school lunch box with spaces for the ingredients. We chose two Ichiban bento, with teriyaki chicken and rice, a huge pile of delicate tempura vegetables, four hosomaki (sushi rolls), swapping out the kimchi (salted veg) for a couple of gyoza (dumplings). The other box was a Sakana bento, with teriyaki salmon fillet, edamame beans, chicken gyoza and mixed vegetable tempura.
The soup, which comes in a little lacquered bowl with a lid, is a clear salty broth with tofu, wakame (seaweed with a kale-like texture) and spring onions. It was delicious, and even the fussier members of our party slurped up every drop.
We had another long wait for our bento boxes – it seemed to be that the members of the waiting staff were also having to go into the kitchen to cook, which may have just been a staffing issue on the night but meant service was very slow.
The boxes were impressive – the sushi rolls were delicately fresh and better than your supermarket versions. The gyoza were soft not fried, full and meaty with a drizzle of vinegary soy.
Child guest got a mild shock by gobbling up a large slice of the “pink stuff in the middle” (picked ginger, thankfully avoiding the accompanying wasabi paste) but ate everything in the box except half the sweet sticky rice and the tempura veg, which were light and delicious slices of aubergine, carrot, mushroom and green beans.
The salmon was a generous slice, sweet and sticky with the teriyaki sauce and the rice beneath was enough to make the meal feel more substantial and just about worth the £13.99 for each box.
We waited some more for waiting staff to clear our table – which seemed to happen in stages as they kept disappearing. At this point we decided ordering pudding would take too long and asked for the bill, much to the disgust of the child who wanted a penguin shaped icecream pot.
All told it was a good meal, albeit with slow service. The total bill for three (mostly due to the expensive soft drinks) was 50p short of £50.
Ginza is a good place for a genuinely different dining experience and, according to its website (ginzauk.com), it has karaoke rooms on the top floor which will certainly need further investigation. . .
BY NQ PENDA