Moonsha Japanese Bar & Restaurant, Derby Restaurant Review

Our reviewer is dined, dazzled and delighted at a Japanese restaurant in Derby


If there is a place where art, spectacle and fine dining meet, then Japanese cuisine must be pretty close. MoonSha, on an unprepossessing corner of Derby, has been open for just less than a year, yet in that time, to judge by the number of people who have exclaimed about ‘the food! … the showmanship! … the decor!’ word has got around that MoonSha has something classy and exciting to offer, and it was with some keen anticipation that we arrived in the car park conveniently behind the restaurant on Friary Street in Derby.

THE RESTAURANTMoonSha was obviously designed by someone who knew what he was doing. The exterior is not particularly remarkable by day, but at night comes alive with pretty illuminations. The interior is something else. Spacious, slick, sophisticated, elegant and restrainedly Japanese in style, it offers a 50-seat teppanyaki bar and smart black furniture more conventionally arranged around individual tables. Soft leather banquette seating is complemented by what looked like a magnificent onyx table, long and low. Upstairs is a further large area, equally glamorous, with a stage set up for karaoke, and a smaller private room. A fish tank lent a relaxing air, and we were assured that its contents were ‘pets’ rather than dinner.

THE MENUWhile we relaxed on the banquette with drinks (I’d chosen Japanese Asahi beer, my daughter a soft drink) marketing manager Vincent Chu brought menus. Diners can be as flexible as they like, taking a dish from this section and a couple from that, as and when satiety permits. Relaxation is the aim, without the pressure of having to decide ahead what you might fancy next, and with plenty of time to do it – no quick turning around of tables at MoonSha. The menu itself is divided into more than a dozen sections, not counting set meals and desserts, headed by a helpful explanation of each type of food. Somewhat pathetically, we gave up on trying to enjoy the flexibility offered by a vast menu and asked Vincent to help.

THE FOODWe were shown to the teppanyaki bar, and quickly served with Vincent’s first selection for us: literally a boatload of sushi. The wooden deck of a beautifully carved model boat, more than a foot long, was fully laden with exquisite pieces of sushi and sashimi. Sushi is made up of a sticky, vinegared rice, topped or rolled with the freshest raw fish, vegetables and seafood, while sashimi is slices of raw fish – fresh salmon and a fish new to me, amberjack (or yellowtail), buttery smooth, textured and not too salty. Some of the sushi was bejewelled with tiny pieces of flying fish roe which burst saltily on the tongue. Sushi is dangerously easy to eat, each piece one scrumptiously large mouthful, and quite quickly the boat was several inches higher in the water. The sushi was served with feather-light tempura (batter) prawns.  Just as we were feeling beaten, we were offered the next course, teppanyaki. It felt churlish to decline, so we sat back to watch chef Balatong begin the complex performance of preparing it. This is the unique culinary art in which ingredients are cooked on a very hot metal surface, the food being made to order, more of this, less of that, just as you like it. Any special dietary requirements are easily and scrupulously accommodated. All the ingredients used are of the freshest, best quality, sourced from specialist suppliers. Our teppanyaki was served first with miso soup, a clearish broth in which cubes of tofu, spring onions, seaweed (or nori) and soya floated. From the first sip from the dinky black bowl, our appetites gradually began to return and we began to sit up and take notice of what Balatong was doing. First a dramatic plume of flame, then, working at lightning speed with flashing implements, he chopped and mixed, using oil, soy sauce, garlic, and other ingredients that went in too fast to remember. In between he juggled anything that came to hand, including four eggs, ending up with one in his tall hat. From this eye-boggling show came more magic dishes: teppanyaki fried rice with finely chopped omelette; tiny portions of prawns and salmon, prepared with a sauce made on the flat surface; then teryaki chicken, also with a special sauce and served sizzling in a foil container Balatong made on the spot. We finally ground to a halt with a dish of crispy bean sprouts with mixed chopped vegetables, which unbelievably we managed to finish completely.  Throughout the meal both Vincent and general manager Kenny Siew were on hand to guide us through the flavours, textures, dips, sauces, cooking techniques – and most importantly, MoonSha’s philosophy, which can be summed up in two words: ‘complete flexibility’. Oh yes, and freshness, quality, attention to detail, flavour, taste …  MoonSha, it was explained, is the complete ‘one stop shop’ for a night out. With a smart bar, fine dining and post-prandial entertainment upstairs, there need be no hustling into coats and finding a taxi to get to the next part of the evening. Lunches are popular too, with the light style of cuisine perfect for afternoon energy levels, while business and corporate functions of all kinds are welcomed. In its first year, MoonSha has won the ‘Best Newcomer’ in the Derbyshire Food and Drink Awards and has been shortlisted for this year’s ‘Best International Restaurant’. With smiling and talented staff, wonderful food and a stunning setting, it has certainly assembled all the ingredients.

If you’re enthused to make your own sushi MoonSha offers lessons. Call 01332 343288 for more details.

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Japanese cuisine – a brief glossary …                                                     Tempura, sukiyaki, sashimi, sushi – even the words sound exotic. Japanese food is some of the healthiest in the world, bursting with fresh fish, seafood, vegetables and rice. But apart from the plastic-encased sushi offered by supermarkets for workers’ lunches, few people – especially in Derbyshire where Japanese restaurants are thin on the ground – have much idea of the food behind the names. Here are some of the most popular …Bento boxes – not the mass-produced plastic boxes described above, but a beautifully packed, complete meal served in individual compartmentsRamen and Udon – big bowls of Japanse noodles in a light flavoured brothRobata-yaki – grilled and skewered meat, seafood and vegetablesSukiyaki – thinly sliced meat, seafood, or vegetables cooked in a pot of simmering broth at the tableSushi – sticky vinegared rice topped or rolled with vegetables, eggs, tofu, prawn or fish – cooked or raw Tempura – meat, seafood or vegetables deep fried in a light batter, served with a dipping sauceSashimi – delicately sliced fresh fish, eaten after dipping in soy sauce flavoured with wasabiTeppanyaki – the finest of ingredients cooked before your eyes – usually with incendiary effects!Teriyaki – a sweet sauce made with soy sauce, sugar, and sweet rice wine applied to grilled foodsWasabi – a strong, spicy green horseradish-like condimentYaki soba – Japanese egg noodles, fried on the teppanyaki grill with mixed vegetables

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