It's amazing what, lacking actual experience, you can convince yourself of; things that haven't happened yet are unsullied by the weight of their own reality. We are ever-hopeful creatures, seemingly hard-wired for optimism. Nothing else, for example, can explain the way I look forward to the start of a new football season. Who is is to say that the few players signed over the summer won't turn out to be world beaters? No-one, not yet at least. I vaguely remember promising myself after some grim experience or other that I would never again eat in the Metrocentre, but I broke that personal covenant recently. We were there for a film, it was a school night, and - what was this? - a Japanese place I'd never heard of. And therein lied it's attraction; in a sea of Waga this and Pizza that, Ikuze had all the promise of the untried.
Ebi Tempura was an opportunity missed, as some sweet, firm and juicy prawns languished inside a pallid tempura next to a dipping sauce that tasted very accurately of nil.
|Crispy salmon skin nigiri|
Salmon skin nigiri were much better. The rice was a bit over-claggy but no matter, for the skin was just as advertised. Crisped skin of beast is one of the best - aesthetic, not moral - arguments against a diet that shuns carcasses. A thin wodge of moist pink flesh had been left attached to each morsel which was to the good.
|Salmon bento box|
|Spicy beef ramen noodle soup|
My noodle soup was worse. I had vainly hoped for some sort of long-simmered tonkotsu stock, full of the story of the bones who's essence it had borrowed. What I got was a miserably thin and wan slop that apologetically told tales of cubes and boiled kettles. Slices of grey beef had been over-cooked to leather, a shame, as miraculously they still had some sort of flavour, suggestive of decent cow. The hard boiled pickled egg bobbed around mockingly, like the unloved evil twin of the soft-boiled thing who's yolk enriches the broth. Sigh. But back to that broth: along with the taste of packet, it had an unforgiving mean streak of raw spice, as if chilli powder had been lobbed straight in. Each mouthful was more punishingly depressing than the last, like trying to climb a particularly shit mountain in ever-thinning air. I gave up some way short of base camp.
We trudged off to watch Gone Girl (really good quality nonsense) fifty quid lighter. And I promised myself that I would never eat in the Metrocentre all over again.
Here's the thing. I take no pleasure in slagging this place. I like things to be good, especially when I've paid for them. And that salmon sushi was really nice. But the rest of it spoke of a hollowed-out mixture of meanness and ineptitude. A dish of ramen that should be full of heart and feeling was a snide husk (£8.90 btw) of a thing. I'm not sure how much I blame Ikuze themselves for any of this. The bigger problem seems to be that in the biggest shopping and leisure centre in the whole of the bloody UK, there is literally fucking nowhere to get anything interesting to eat. At the risk of overstating things just a tad, this strikes me as not just a shocking indictment of Intu, but of our species more generally. Aeons from now, when the cockroaches have forgotten us, we'll have only ourselves, places like the Metrocentre, and meals like this, to blame.
Ikuze, Unit 128, Metrocentre, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, NE11 9XG
0191 460 0607