Last night marked the next stage of my journey in exploring Cardiff ’s independent Japanese restaurants; something I talked about in my previous review of Tenkaichi on City Road, Cardiff. This time, I was lucky enough to visit Yakitori #1 in Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay, having heard endless streams of praise about the restaurant since it opened last year.
Yakitori #1 offers a contemporary Japanese dining experience, with a menu that features both traditional and modern dishes including freshly prepared sushi, grilled meats, fish, noodles and rice. Each dish can be shared at the table or eaten individually, which is especially handy if (like me), you like to try a bit of just about everything going.
As we entered Yakitori #1, it soon became clear that the staff knows how to look after their guests. We were greeted at the door by a friendly Japanese waiter, who seated us at a table and offered us drinks as we browsed the menu. The restaurant owner, Meng, came over to our table and introduced himself, so we took the opportunity to ask him which dishes he would recommend. He explained that many of Yakitori #1’s guests like to order a few different starters to begin with, and then order mains and/or side dishes as and when they want them. As the food can be prepared quickly the dishes can be served at intervals rather than all at once, if desired.
Meng has never owned a restaurant prior to Yakitori #1, but his experience in running a Swansea-based ready meal firm has helped him to develop a strong understanding of food preparation. Whereas some restaurant owners might just let their chefs get on with the cooking, Meng plays an active role in the kitchen by being on hand to offer advice to further improve each dish. He buys local produce wherever possible, with a commitment to ensuring each dish is served consistently.
The focal point of Yakitori #1 is the open plan kitchen at the far end of the restaurant, perfectly placed so that diners can watch their food being prepared by the chefs. The other advantage of this, according to Meng, is that it motivates the chefs to put their best into each dish.
Before we tuck into our first course we try some sake (a traditional Japanese wine), served hot in small cups (£5.50 each). Sake can taste a bit strong at first, but after a few sips I started to enjoy the flavour. This really is a drink to warm the cockles, so to speak – just the thing for a windy evening down the Bay.
On Meng’s advice, we ordered several starters so that we could try a good range of dishes. We began with the beef fillet skewers, which caught my eye when I first glanced at the menu. The dish contained two grilled skewers of diced beef, sliced peppers and red onion, in a teriyaki glaze. These tasted just as good as they looked on the menu; the beef was really tender and the teriyaki flavour left me wanting more. I was glad that Yakitori #1 asks their diners whether they would like to use cutlery or chopsticks; I sometimes feel rather awkward when I have to ask for a knife and fork in a Japanese restaurant, because I’m useless with chopsticks.
|Beef fillet skewers|
Just as we finished off the beef skewers, the waiter brought the chicken gyoza (£5.40) to our table. Served with a sweet chilli dipping sauce, the gyoza had a deliciously crispy outer casing and were filled to the brim with fragrant chicken and chives. I’ve had steamed gyoza before, but after sampling Yakitori#1’s chicken gyoza I’ve decided I prefer them fried.
After tasting prawn tempura at Tenkaichi, I was very keen to find out what Yakitori #1’s version was like. I definitely prefer Yakitori’ #1’s tempura batter to that of Tenkaichi, because it was slightly thicker and fluffier. The prawn tempura (£5.50) was served with a contemporary wasabi mayo in place of the traditional fish sauce; a perfect example of how Yakitori #1 combines traditional Japanese favourites with more innovative, unusual dishes.
The dishes we ordered were served at a steady pace, so we ended up with a few plates on our table to choose from; a lovely selection. Next up were the king prawns (£9.50), two grilled skewers flavoured with soy sauce, spring onions and sake. Of all the dishes that we tried at Yakitori #1, this was my favourite. The prawns were fresh and succulent and the flavours of the other ingredients made them taste irresistible.
|Grilled king prawns|
Our final starter was the aubergine miso (£4.50) – an aubergine sliced lengthways and grilled with sweet miso and sesame seeds. I’m not big on aubergine, but it tasted great served with something sweet.
For our mains we ordered some maki rolls, another classic Japanese dish consisting of circular patties of sticky rice surrounding an inner filling. I opted for chicken teriyaki rolls (£6.95), which were filled with morsels of teriyaki chicken, cucumber and spring onions. I love teriyaki sauce and so I really enjoyed these. The presentation was very impressive too, with a wasabi mayo and soy drizzle and a carved piece of mango on the side.
|Chicken teriyaki maki rolls|
My guest, who is quite adventurous with seafood, went for the spider crab maki (£9.95). These rolls were served with lightly battered whole soft shell crab, avocado, cucumber and tobiko (fish roe). I sampled one of the rolls that didn’t have shelled crab on it, but as I thought, crab just isn’t my thing. My friend managed to polish off all of these rolls though, so they must have been pretty good.
|Spider crab maki rolls|
In addition, we ordered some avocado and mango maki rolls (£7.50) to share. We were somewhat intrigued by the idea of putting avocado and mango together and simply had to sample it for ourselves. The mellow, buttery taste of the avocado neutralised the fruitiness of the the mango. This dish was presented even more beautifully than any of the others, accompanied by a flower intricately carved from wasabi and fan-shaped pieces of mango and cucumber, with a wasabi mayo and soy sauce trail along one side of the plate.
|Avocado and mango maki rolls|
After eating our maki rolls we felt comfortably full – it’s surprising how filling the maki rolls are, because they do contain a fair bit of rice. With just enough room to spare, we turned our attention to the dessert menu, which was written onto a blackboard which the waiter brought to our table.
I went for the fruits of the forest cheesecake, which had a thick, tasty base and was topped with a sweet compote containing whole blackcurrants and blackberries. The cheesecake was also served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This was delicious and I’d definitely order it again on my next visit to Yakitori #1.
My guest ordered vanilla ice cream served with lychees. Lychees originated in China, but today they grow in the Far East and the West Indies. I tasted them once before and I found them sweet and almost perfume-like; I wasn’t keen on the texture. This dessert went down really well with my guest, though, who is a big fan of lychees.
After visiting Yakitori #1, it’s safe to say that it is, by far, the best Japanese restaurant I have visited so far in Cardiff. I’d even go as far as to say that this was probably one of the nicest meals I’ve had in a long time, at any type of restaurant. I enjoyed myself so much not only because of the quality of the food, but because of the dining atmosphere. The staff were so friendly that I felt completely welcomed and looked after, almost as though I was dining at home. When you factor in the value for money, it just gets even better. It’s a shame those maki rolls were so filling because we’d have loved to try out some fried noodles, but there’s always next time. I’ll most definitely be returning to Yakitori #1 again – I can’t recommend it highly enough!
(029) 2049 5050
Monday to Thursday: 12.00pm – 10.30pm
Friday to Sunday: 12.00pm – 11.00pm
I was invited to Yakitori #1 as a guest and our food and drinks were complimentary.