There will always be a place in my heart for Sakura. Nowadays people might sniff and say oh this isn’t ‘real Japanese food’ but well back in 80’s it was the realest Japanese-food Colombo had. Even as other Japanese restaurants came on the scene Sakura continued to thrive by providing well-priced and perfectly reasonable renditions of classic Japanese dishes. In its day and to this day, on a good day, Sakura can serve you some of the best sub $10 Sushi you can eat anywhere. Their teka-don- a bowl of sushi rice covered in fat hunks of fresh tuna has always been an affordable revelation. The cooked food- the generous sizzling sukiyaki, tasty bowls of katsu don and Japanese curry have also served as reliably yummy stomach-lining year in, year out for decades. With its combination of decent prices and reliable food the Colpetty restaurant established itself as something of an institution. An inexpensive night of sushi and sake on the tatami mats in their quaint, frozen in the 80’s premise has long been a young Colombar-right of passage. And even if you’ve now graduated to the subtler flavours and higher prices of Ginza Hosen and Nihon Bashi when pushed most any Colombo-denizen will admit they were introduced to the food from the land of the rising sun at Rheinland place.
However as much as I’m fond of Sakura I (I’ve been a regular since 1984 ie birth) I have to admit that of late standards seem to have fallen. On recent visits the place has really felt faded. I mean its been locked it a time warp for years but now things are actively fraying and the decline isn’t confined to the decor. Some of the freshness has gone from the fish and the cooked dishes are blander than they once were. Even the incongruous irasshaimases hollered by the local serving girls aren’t as convincing as they used to be and my last bowl of chirashi sushi (a week ago) was distinctly disappointing. It left not only a hole in my stomach but a hole in my life – where was I to get palatable and inexpensive raw-fish in this city. Nihon Bashi and Ginza Hosen are excellent but not within my budget for a regular fish hit.
And so I ventured to Naniyori – Steamboat’s Japanese-wing. I’ve never found Steamboat’s staple Chinese food to be up to much. We ordered a plate of Nigiri sushi (oblong blobs of vingered rice covered by raw fish) just to see what would turn up. To my absolute surprise and delight however, within minutes, a very attractive platter of rice and fish (10pcs or so) was laid before us. Every piece of fish was gleaming and generous. Ruby red hunks of tuna, glistening slabs of squid. It really looked too good to be true, I began to suspect a paint-job of some kind. On tasting however it held up to scrutiny. Absolutely fresh, soft without being slimy with the subtly sweet tang of the sushi-rice. Very close to being the equal of much more expensive Sushi-spots in the city and definitely superior to my recent experiences at Sakura. On the strength of that performance more than a match for Sakura and honestly with the value factor competitive with much higher-end Japanese restaurants. However to realise it’s obvious potential to become a city sushi staple Steamboat/Naniyori need to do some serious work on the stark interior and elusive staff. Still it seems affordable sushi still has a home in Colombo and with the total bill at Rs 3000 (enough for three) my bank balance survived to deplete itself another day.