The words "sushi" and "all you can eat" are, one imagines, not regularly found together within complimentary sentences. At probably the most famous sushi joint in the world (3 Michelin Stars and a movie have been dedicated to it) a meal lasts about half an hour, and you have no choice. So it's perhaps against the odds that Tenji on Barrack Road, where they're happy for you to linger until you can't face another grain of rice, and you have a really large selection to choose from, is as good as it is.
The first time I came here I was dubious. How fresh will the fish be? Will there be enough customers in to keep the buffet moving? The thing is that for all but the tiny fraction of folks from these parts who will have eaten at some high-end sushi place, this is really very good stuff. It's always been busy whenever we've been in and it was no different when I visited with family last weekend. The rice provides a really pleasant foil for the toppings and fillings, with just the merest hint of vinegar. It's well cooked, holding together in the hand but falling apart in the mouth. My favourites were a salmon tartare gunkan, a fried-chicken topped nigiri effort and an unusual pistachio California roll. There's also very fresh-tasting salmon sashimi with rich veins of fat and cold cooked king prawns as well as excellent buckwheat noodle soba soup and delicious seaweed salad, and well, a tonne of other sushi as well.
|The sushi/ sashimi/ cold counter|
And then there's the deep-fried stuff. I limited myself to a few gyoza (which were lovely by the way, certainly more flavoursome and porky than Wagamama's efforts, and no, that isn't damning with faint praise) and some perfectly light and greaseless veg tempura.
Like I say, I played things steady on the deep-fried counter in order to retain enough space to have a real go at some low and slow cooked pork items, namely the mirin-braised spare ribs and the soy-cooked pork belly. Both were deep, rich, fatty and great.
|Slow-cooked porcine delights|
...because it's pretty damn great! Looking back on all this now, I must've been bloody ravenous. Anyway, I managed to round things off with nicely baked profiteroles, a dense chocolate mousse, a just-set strawberry jelly that actually tasted of strawberries and a tub of Beckleberry's superb blackcurrant and liquorice ice cream. The only let-down was a lemon posset that I had assumed to be a set vanilla custard, but that's my mistake, not theirs. I managed to console myself by eating an additional profiterole. The whole shebang was washed down with green tea, which is constantly refilled. Service, which largely consists of topping up the aforementioned brew and taking away empty plates, was cheery and efficient. Maybe just a tad too efficient for my Mum, a slow eater, who nearly had not-completely-finished plates whisked away from her once or twice.
So, on the one hand you could turn your nose up at the idea of a sushi buffet, where people come to fill their faces like so many swine at the trough. The problem with that approach would be that the fare on offer here is clearly in advance of, for example, Yo Sushi and definitely on a par, with, in our experience, St Sushi. Yes, it's a buffet, but you know: take from the newly replaced platters, avoid the ones which have clearly been sitting round a while and you'll be good. I'm always impressed how regularly the sushi and sashimi in particular are replenished. And anyway, it does us good to unshackle ourselves from culinary limitations once in a while, don't you think?
So, what's the cost for this Japanese scranageddon? Well, that's the bit that's really amazing because at lunchtime (including weekends) all this and more (if you can hack it) is yours for around £12 a head. Honestly, considering that salmon sashimi is far from cheap and even a pot of Beckleberry's will set you back £2 if you're out and about, I've no idea at all how they do it. At dinner time the price goes up to about £20, but for that you're getting fresh crab and oysters, tuna sashimi and steak on the teppenyaki among other ingredient upgrades.
For those really looking to praise at the temples of Dionysus and Edesia, you can also drink as much as you want for five pounds sterling, including Asahi and sake! I haven't tried this out, but maybe will, one special day...
We waddle out into the Spring afternoon, farcically sated, but, personally speaking, feeling pretty good. I suppose this is a hell of a lot healthier than, for example, your standard Chinese no-limits eatery. If you like sushi you should really give this place a go. I'd be very surprised if, at these prices, anywhere else in Newcastle can compare.
9/10. About a million out of 10 for value.