|Mt. Fuji Restaurant in St David’s 2, Cardiff|
This week I was lucky enough to be invited along to Mt. Fuji restaurant, Cardiff, as part of St. David 2 shopping centre’s Summerdine promotion. Specialising in Japanese cuisine, Mt. Fuji opened just over a year ago and I’ve always wanted to try it out, having already worked my way through the majority of Cardiff’s Japanese restaurants.
Mt. Fuji was originally launched as the UK’s first online Japanese food store back in 2000 by husband-and-wife duo, Andrew and Yoko Yamaguchi-Cooke.
Andrew’s background is in farming, and his family own an arable farm in Shropshire producing wheat, oats, barley and rape seed oil, whilst Yoko’s family live in Japan, where they own a traditional restaurant.
Both Andrew and Yoko are very passionate about Japanese food, but back in 2000 their nearest Japanese restaurant was several miles away and the food tasted nothing like it did back in Japan.
Desperate to enjoy some proper Japanese food, Andrew and Yoko began cooking their own meals and, seven years later they opened the first Mt. Fuji restaurant in the Bullring shopping centre, Birmingham, specialising in authentic Japanese Bento boxes.
To ensure that their restaurants serve the authentic Japanese food they’ve always dreamt of, Andrew and Yoko employ a chef from Japan, Kazu, and they aim to maintain a 50% ratio of Japanese staff.
The design of Mt. Fuji has always caught my eye when I’ve walked through the food court in St David’s 2. With a white curved roof and black leather booth seating, the restaurant resembles a Japanese bullet train. The wall of each booth is printed with a photograph idyllic farming landscape, complete with horizontal black bars to reinforce the feeling of being on a bullet train.
|Just like being on a Japanese bullet train – one with a luxury food service!|
There is an interesting story behind the ‘bullet train’ design, as a conversation with Andrew reveals. Mt. Fuji has an office based in Shizuoka, Japan, just beneath Mount Fuji. A Japanese bullet train flies past the office every twenty minutes or so, providing Andrew and Yoko with the inspiration for the design.
Mt. Fuji’s menu offers a range of options suitable for all tastes and budgets and diners can choose from set meals, individual dishes or a combination of both. Although traditional Japanese restaurants often specialise in one type of food (e.g. ramen, udon, tonkatsu, yakitori or chicken karage), Andrew and Yoko believe it’s important for Mt. Fuji to offer as much choice as possible for their UK customers.
The chefs at Mt. Fuji are granted the freedom to experiment with new dishes they think could work well on the menu, but Andrew won’t add any dish to the main menu unless, after sampling it, he would be happy to eat it himself. Andrew also carries out ‘check and compare’ taste tests on any dishes that are produced at both restaurants, in order to ensure the flavours are consistent.
Contrary to what some people may believe, the Japanese diet doesn’t rely too heavily on sushi, or raw fish. As Andrew reveals, chicken, pork and beef are also very popular in Japan, although chicken is the preferred option. Mt. Fuji’s food menu reflects this, with a variety of fish, chicken, pork, beef and tofu dishes on offer. The restaurant sources its ingredients locally wherever possible, choosing to buy their meat and poultry from J. T. Morgan’s in Cardiff Market and their fish from Eastons, also in the Market,
To drink, Mt. Fuji offer a range of traditional teas, beers and sakes. The restaurant works with two tea farms in Japan to produce their own green tea, which is sold in the online shop and served in both restaurants. Mt. Fuji also use this tea to prepare their green tea chiffon cake (we saw this whilst we were in the restaurant and it looked great – although we didn’t realise why it was green at the time!)
|The green tea chiffon cake is just to the left of the picture, on the table.|
We begin with a glass of Azura sake, a traditional Japanese rice wine. The waitress tells us that the water used to produce this brand of sake is sourced from a spring in the the Pacific ocean. I’ve only ever drank sake when it’s been warmed up, but this was served cold and I prefer it. Sake has a strong taste but, served cold, it’s not too over-powering.
|Azura sake: made using water sourced from the Pacific Ocean|
To eat, we start with fried chicken gyoza and avocado and tuna maki (hand-rolled) sushi, each priced at £3.95.
|The best gyoza I’ve ever tasted|
Filled with minced chicken and diced vegetables, the chicken gyoza are fried until crispy and they have a fragrant, somewhat spicy taste. I’ve tasted all kinds of gyoza at Cardiff’s various Japanese restaurants, but these are definitely more flavoursome.
|Tuna and avocado maki sushi|
The tuna and avocado maki rolls are presented beautifully, the plate drizzled with Japanese mayonnaise. I’ve never tried raw tuna before, but I am always up for trying out new things when it comes to food. I’m not too keen on the texture, and so unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be starting a love affair with raw tuna anytime soon, although the Japanese mayonnaise was to die for and I am a big fan of avocado in sushi dishes. My guest, on the other hand, is mad on sushi and seafood and she was more than happy to polish off my share.
Next up, we tried Ramune (£2.95 for 200ml), a traditional Japanese soft drink in a distinctive glass bottle that is sealed with a marble. As you can see in the video above, to open the bottle you have to push downwards using a small rubber gasket and then the marble falls down to sit in the neck of the bottle. I’m not really sure why Ramune is designed in this way – a quick Google search suggests that it could help to prevent gas escaping from carbonated drinks, or that it could just be designed to increase the appeal of the drink. If anyone knows why, please let me know!
|More sushi and maki rolls|
Back on to the food, our next dish as the Sushi Platter (to share), at £14.95. This consisted of tuna, salmon, prawn and tomago (a Japanese form of omeletter), served with a chicken teriyaki roll. I really enjoyed the salmon, tomago and prawn sushi, but I gave the tuna a miss. The real star of this dish, for me, is the chicken teriyaki roll.
Our waitress kindly brings us each a glass of plum wine to try. I’ve tried plum wine before and I absolutely love it – it’s rapidly replacing rose as my wine of choice! So, needless to say, this went down very well indeed…
|Plum wine – delicious!|
We rounded off our meal with a bento box each. I was served the chicken teriyaki and tempura bento (£12.95 for thigh; £13.80 for fillet). In Japan, thigh is most popular, but Mt. Fuji also offer fillet because it is often the preferred choice of British diners. The chicken teriyaki was, like the gyoza, the best of its kind I’ve ever tasted. The chicken was incredibly tender, with a moreish, light batter and a well defined flavour. The tempura vegetables tasted fresh and the batter was fluffy yet crispy, although I wasn’t as impressed with the tempura prawn as I have been previously.
|Chicken teriyaki and tempura bento|
My guest was served the chicken kara-age bento (£7.45). A real favourite in Japan, this dish consists of chunks of tender chicken breast fillet marinated in a soya and ginger-based sauce and fried in light vegetable oil, creating a puffed-out kind of batter that almost resembles popcorn. If I was to visit Mt. Fuji again, I’d order this without a second thought. It had a really distinct flavour that was both zesty and spicy.
|Chicken kara-age bento|
Both bento boxes were served with a portion of traditional Japanese rice (mine was served in a side bowl), salad of iceberg lettuce, radish and cucumber, chopped fine green beans mixed with a cashew nut paste (must try this at home!), corn on the cob, something that resembled finely shredded white cabbage topped with shredded chicken and a portion of some kind of small gherkin. I was particularly impressed with the variety of foods within each bento box, in comparison to those I have ordered at some other Japanese restaurants.
All in all I absolutely loved my first visit to Mt. Fuji. and I am certain that it won’t be my last. My favourite thing about the restaurant is the story behind its design, but the food is also far better to that I have tried at other Japanese restaurants in Cardiff. The staff couldn’t have been more welcoming and friendly and we really felt as though we were made to feel ‘at home’ whilst dining in Mt. Fuji.
Mt. Fuji Japanese Restaurant
Level 0, Eastside
St David’s 2 Shopping Centre
(029) 2034 0333
I was invited to Mt. Fuji as a guest and our food and drinks were complimentary.