Miyako Teppanyaki, Arcadian Centre, Birmingham B5 4ST
Have you ever heard the phrase “Waiter, there’s a fly in my sushi!”?
I haven’t and there’s a good reason for it: health and safety. Flies are never allowed to land on sushi. If they do, it’s sayonara.
This was made very clear to me and Lil L when we turned up for lunch at Miyako Teppanyaki at the Arcadian Centre. It was a beautiful sunny day last week and dining al fresco in Birmingham seemed like a sparklingly good idea. Sun rays were pouring down on to the concrete, workmen were eating chips and the Arcadian Centre, bathed in bright light and a warm breeze, made it feel like springtime in Paris.
Actually, it didn’t. It felt like Birmingham, in March, on a freakishly warm day. It was just that people were wearing their TK Maxx sunglasses.
Still, there were tables outside Miyako Teppanyaki. The moment had to be seized. “Can we eat outside?” I asked the kimono-clad waitress.
“No,” she said, with a face that said “Are you stark raving mad? Where do you think you are? Paris?”
And why couldn’t we eat outside, I asked? After all, there were several weather-beaten tables out front and a dying Christmas tree. What could be more inviting?
The waitress explained it was because of the style of cooking. We needed to be seated at the teppanyaki tables where the chef would overcook our food.
“But what about sushi? We’ll just have sushi. No cooking,” I said.
“No,” said our host. “We can’t stop the flies getting on your food... health and safety.”
A new one on me. Dining en plein air is bad for your health, a potential killer.
We were told rather sternly that we could have a drink outside (because flies aren’t drawn to alcohol, apparently), but we couldn’t eat there. Anything could happen. A fly might swooped on our California roll and then what were we going to do?
So on one of the finest spring days known to man in The Arcadian, Lil L and me traipsed inside like naughty school children and stepped back into 1986. I kept waiting for hair-flicked ex-Chicago crooner Peter Etcetera to launch into “I am a man who will fight for your honour...” from The Karate Kid: II. Sadly, there was no such luck. Instead we were serenaded by a recording from an X Factor-style Japanese singer. With just the two of us in the bar, the volume was cranked up to the max. Lil L was trying to tell me about a pitch she was due to make to clients. I could see her lips moving but couldn’t make out the words. In fairness to the in-bar entertainment, that often happens to me and is no slight on Lil L.
I’m useless with interior design descriptions but was reliably informed the look in Mikayo is ash black with red accent colours and white. (I get the Japanese flag theme but I think diners have moved on.) The bar’s ceiling has a semi-porn film, semi-Samurai metallic mirror effect. It’s like you would expect a Japanese restaurant to look... in 1986. Miyako claims to be the first Japanese restaurant in Birmingham and it feels like it.
The menu prompts customers to ask for the day’s fresh available sushi, so I asked about it and was told it was the “normal” sushi. There’s nothing like a never-changing menu to deaden the soul. This restaurant is two-minutes’ walk from the city’s wholesale fish market. You’d think the kitchen could liven things up occasionally. Sensing my disappointment, the waitress perked up and uttered words including eel, squid, tuna and salmon.
Note on bar drinks: what’s wrong with a good old-fashioned standard measurement for a glass of wine? It’s all you need. A glass is a glass. I didn’t specify a size of white wine and ended up with half a litre in a rimming goblet. It’s too much for an aperitif and it’s a crass means of increasing bar revenue. Loads of places do it. It’s poor taste. Not all of us are on hen nights.
There is a two-course lunch for £10 which sounded all right online but looked so miserable on the menu cards that we quickly moved on to the à la carte.
The seating is at group tables around the teppanyaki grills. A young couple who had lost the power of speech were already stationed at right angles to us. “Why the hell have they come here?” I asked Lil L. She couldn’t hear me through the roar of the hot plates’ after burners. Why the hell had we come here?, I thought.
Our starter of nigiri sushi with California rolls was already at the table, presented on a wooden block, fringed with dinky plastic green hedges that wouldn’t look out of place running down the side of a Subbuteo pitch. There were eight pieces and a couple of rolls each (£14.50). The sushi was workmanlike but I’ve had better and fresher at mass production outlets like Yo! Sushi. I think you would reasonably expect a little more finesse in a speciality Japanese restaurant. I wouldn’t go back for the sushi.
In fact, I wouldn’t go back. This felt like cliched Anglocised Japanese “Happy Eater” cooking with trademark, and annoying, mock-theatre at the grill plate. The chef juggled some eggs, which is mildly interesting once but irritating when you watch the same routine for the next set of diners at the same serving station.
I’m no expert with teppanyaki cookery but I do know that if you introduce vegetables to a very hot heat they burn very quickly. Thus it was with the garlic. I do know that burnt garlic doesn’t taste great.
Is butter a staple of teppanyaki cooking? I didn’t think so. It is here. The chef uses more butter than any chef I’ve come across, including those from south-west France, where they eat two pats of beurre for breakfast.
Both the salmon fillet and the tuna steak were slathered in the stuff. The tuna was badly overcooked. “It tastes like liver,” said Lil L. That can’t be a good.
After “death by teppanyaki butter” we skipped desserts, but I’m guessing we didn’t miss much.
The bill, including butter, was £62. A 10 per cent service charge was added automatically.
The whole meal was a particular disappointment because Birmingham is crying out for a good Japanese restaurant. I am baffled why no one has seized the opportunity.
Japanese culture is hip, the style of cuisine, with the heavy emphasis on fresh fish, is healthy and, when it’s done well, it is irresistibly good. People will pay good money for good sushi and sashimi, especially if it is served in a cool, comfortable (non-theme) environment.
A cocktail bar with speciality sushi? I’m in.
Until then, I’m out.