I have always loved Japanese food, with from an early age Japanese au pairs (they were all the rage in the 70s) stuffing me (I was a child back then) full of seaweed, as well as raw and dried fish. I am, as a result, very partial to it.
There are a few Japanese restaurant in Cardiff these days, but most are outside of the city centre (need to get down to Yakitori #1) and thus not close enough to my office to allow for a lunch with J.
One suitably close restaurant is Mount Fuji in the St. David’s 2 shopping complex. It is surrounded by some pretty insipid homogenised chain outlets (Spud U Like, Cafe Rouge, TGI Fridays etc) and is very much in the “something a bit different” category for a shopping centre.
Unlike many of its neighbours, Mount Fuji is not a corporate behemoth. It is a small chain with outlets in Cardiff and Birmingham only, together with a online shop selling Japanese food and tableware.
The decor in the Cardiff restaurant is, I think, intended to be sort of reminiscent of the iconic Japanese bullet train as it speeds through the Japanese hinterland. Seating sort of looks a bit like a compartment in a train carrage.
When I remarked on this to J, she looked around, shrugged her shoulders and said “really”! It is, though, a nice enough space with comfy booths to sit in. Not perhaps a place to linger, but not intended as such either.
Whilst the menu is pretty broad, covering most of the Japanese classics (sushi, sashimi, noodles, tempura, Japanese curries etc. ) both J and I were after that rather superiorJapanese packed lunch, the bento box.
The term “bento” means convenience, with every thing coming in a pretty compartmentalised lacquered box making it exactly that. You can actually buy the bento boxes used in the restaurant direct from Mount Fuji’s. online shop.
The standard bentos (to eat in the restaurant rather than the actual boxes) are all priced at £10.65. More flashy ones are available as “special bentos” (including a rather intriguing eel teriyaki bento) for a bit more (£15.95, for instance, for the eel).
I have the giant prawn (Ebi-fry) bento from the standard bento selection.
The prawns were nice and juicy and were in a light and crisp panko crumb. I was a bit disappointed there were only two of them, but in the fried food department or rather compartment there was also a rather pleasant breadcrumbed pumpkin fritter. This was crisp with a good flavour to it and nicely seasoned. This fried stuff came with a tangy tartare sauce and a tonkatsu sauce (a sort of thick Japanese style Worcestershire sauce – the later went really well with the pumpkin).
The prawns and pumpkin fritter came on a bed of crunchy white cabbage, with a side salad, rice and a selection of extras in the other areas of the bento
The side salad was a bit lacking (being primarily boring old iceberg) with the dressing pooled in the bottom rather than coating the leaves. It was, however, pepped up considerably by the addition of a generous pinch of the on table chilli condiment and a slug of soy sauce.
The rice was as nice as plain rice (wasn’t sticky rice as far as I could tell and if it was it wasn’t very sticky) can be. Not over cooked and well seasoned.
Despite being generally totally cack handed, I am a bit of a dab hand (having been taught from an early age) with a set of chopsticks (no conventional cutlery on the table, but am sure it would be forthcoming if requested). Even I, however, struggled to pick up all the rice – giving up eventually as the effort of chasing individual grains across the laquer compartment overcame all possible gain.
The “extras” (the same in both bentos)
consisted of the follow:
– green bean salad – bit limp, but with a nice flavour;
– shredded chicken salad – this was in a mayo type tangy sauce. I liked this;
– corn on the cob – bit nondescript (chilli condiment helped pep it up);
– piece of Japanese omelette (the yellow thing that isn’t sweetcorn in the above picture of the prawn bento) – ok, if lacking a bit in seasoning (chilli condiment to the rescue again); and
– pickles – crunchy and briney – nice.
As you can tell a bit hit and miss, but all in all with the deep fried prawns and pumpkin it made for an enjoyable lunch.
J went for the chunky chicken “karage”/karaage bento.
This, as the name suggests, had as its main element chunks of chicken. With karage/karaage, the chicken is marinated in soy and usually ginger and garlic and encased in a crispy coating. The coating had a nice flavour to it with a bit of spice in the mix. My only criticisms, from the piece J gave me, were, whilst the meat was nice and moist, the coating could have been crisper and the flavours of the marinade more pronounced (bit subtle for my tastes). It was still a nice dish.
On the alcoholic drinks front they have sake, plum wine (like this stuff but doesn’t like me at all – gives me killer hangovers) and some fairly standard Japanese beers (I have always found these a bit dull) as well as a pretty uninspiring wine list (it was nice, however, to see a German Riesling – which always goes very well with Japanese food – on it).
As it was a working day it was, however, soft drinks for J and I.
J rather boringly went for a diet coke (brown water), whereas I decided to be a tad more adventurous and ordered a can of cold green tea.
This was OK if a bit tannic in nature – like when you have left the teabag in the cup for too long and it has stewed. Can’t say will be in a hurry to try it again (very popular in Japan apparently), but it wasn’t unpleasant and on reflection it was actually strangely refreshing.
I quite like Mount Fuji, as it is something a little bit different in a sea of mostly pretty mediocre chain outlets in the St. David’s 2 shopping centre.
The bento boxes are quite a substantial lunchtime meal, but if you want something Iighter and cheaper they do smaller bentos priced at between £7.25 and £8.45 . Not really that much cheaper, these smaller bentos are available only until 5pm.
Would I go again? Yes – have always loved Japanese food from a early age and, whilst not up there in terms of how really good (usually at a price) Japanese food can be, I quite like the food here. Great for lunch after a bit of shopping or to break up the working day.
It is definately much more of a lunch or early supper, post shopping/pre cinema, joint than a dinner destination in its own right, at least in my view.
Not the cheapest lunch around, but OK value I think.
Whilst not perhaps a box of delights, it was still pretty nice.
Bridge Street Arcade,
St David’s Dewi Sant Cardiff,
11 St. Davids Way,
Tel : 029 2034 0333