69 Grey Street
Newcastle upon Tyne
0191 261 5300
11am to 11pm daily
Does Newcastle Council hate city centre restaurants? Grey Street is now packed full of eateries, but its parking meters cost £2.40 for a maximum of one hour only. So lunchtime diners must either rush their meals, or face a parking fine. Every modern city now has meters with hours extendable by phone. Newcastle should wake up and smell the extractor fans: don’t expect to have a thriving restaurant trade without looking after the customers.
The newest addition to Grey Street is Osaka. At last, a Japanese restaurant in the very centre of town.
Well, almost. My idea of a Japanese restaurant may not tally with yours. You may like plastic dishes going round for hours on a conveyor belt; you may like trying to throw raw eggs into your hat while a teppanyaki chef grills poor quality ingredients in oily butter. Newcastle has several of those.
Personally, I like robatayaki cooking: little skewers of delicious fish and vegetables slowly grilled over hot charcoal. I like yellowtail sashimi with truffle yuzu dressing; I like ebi furai prawns, straightened, breadcrumbed, fried and served with avocado and sweet soy; I like Japanese omelette with freshwater eel, and gently stewed belly pork with spicy aubergine; and I absolutely love black cod marinated in miso.
Osaka doesn’t do any of these, nor, as far as I know, does any restaurant in our region. Tell me if I’m wrong, and I’ll be there tomorrow. There’s a huge gap in the market called Japanese fine dining.
One of my regular haunts used to serve live sweet prawns. They decapitated them in front of you and, while you ate the twitching bodies, they deep-fried the heads. I drew the line at their live octopus. They amputated a tentacle with the others still wriggling, poor creature. I think the authorities shut that one down for selling whale. But back to Grey Street, and Osaka, an altogether tamer affair.
Outside, it doesn’t claim to be more than a sushi and noodle joint. We already have a couple of these, but one more can do no harm. This one is co-owned by a Chinese and an Indian, which sounds like the start of a joke, but it’s the Chinese restaurateur Kevin Liu, so this place should be taken seriously. Mrs Diner and I gave it a couple of weeks to settle in, and went for lunch.
It’s bright, modern and attractive, has charming Asian staff with Geordie accents who don’t really know the food, and it plays hits from the Japanese X Factor at full volume. I had to feed the parking meter halfway through, which means we tried a lot of food. But here’s the good news: it’s cheap and has some nice dishes. We had nine in all and a bottle of cold sake, yet the bill came to less than £50.
It could have been even cheaper. They have a special lunch that they stopped serving at my lunchtime, which is 1.30pm. That would have cost £10.50 for three courses. They’d also run out of yellowtail and sweet prawns, which is pretty inexcusable.
Instead, we had mackerel, which was fresh and sharp. We had various tempura – the batter was spot on. We had three types of maki rolls – ‘active volcano’ (spicy tuna – poor), ‘chung wa’ (duck – like something from Mr Liu’s Chinese restaurants), and ‘spider’ (soft-shell crab – delicious).
Mrs Diner and I fought over the cod cheese puffs, wrapped in seaweed and deep-fried. Salmon teriyaki came with a thin, insipid sauce. Seared Tuna sashimi was nicely fatty and smoky, but cut too thick.
Their sake ranges from run-of-the-rice-mill Namachozo-shu to more expensive coarse-filtered Nigori. There was also fruit wine and shochu, including the oaky Kannoko.
All in all, it’s a welcome addition to the street.
One big criticism: they serve their pickled ginger in a jar on the table. When we arrived ours was almost empty. This suggests they leave it there to become a communal germ-gatherer. I definitely don’t want someone else’s chopsticks in my ginger. This should stop immediately.
Just as the council should sort out the parking.