It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve been waiting months to try Sakura, an Asian cuisine and sushi eaterie, ideally placed not far from my home in Al Hail North.
I’ve been driving past it for ages, watching it taking shape from a shell of a building to a fully functioning restaurant but, frustratingly, it never seemed to actually be open for business. Finally, I glanced over on the way home a few weeks ago and saw bright lights shining in the night and a definite sign of life inside.
Without further ado, I persuaded Y’s managing editor, Felicity, and her daughter Miss C (aged 12 but “almost 13”) to come along for the culinary ride; as the boss used to live in Hong Kong, I figured that she would know a thing or two about Asian food.
Arriving relatively early on a Friday night, I managed to bag one of the outside tables (there’s two levels of dining indoors with chic Japanese interior styling) and ordered a Sakura Lemongrass special drink (very sweet but good) while waiting for my fellow gourmands.
The head chef was sitting at the next table and during a chat he explained the delay in opening was due to his services also being required in Dubai, and also revealed that the restaurant name comes from the Japanese tradition of picnicking under the sakura (cherry blossom) tree.
As soon as the girls arrived, a waiter brought along menus and took the drinks order. A steady stream of diners wandered past, so clearly I wasn’t the only one who had been waiting to try it out – not surprising, given its proximity to the residential complex, Al Mouj, which is just down the road – and one passerby, who had been picking up a takeaway at the restaurant next door, even darted in and asked us what it was like, so there seems to be an expectant buzz about the place.
Glancing at the menu, we found a mix of different Asian food influences taking you on an edible journey sweeping across different countries, from Japan’s sushi and miso soup, via China’s dumplings, to Thai Green Curry. Hungry, we ordered prawns with wasabi mayonnaise, chicken teriyaki maki rolls, a type of sushi, and chicken dumplings (a favourite of Miss C) for starters, and I would have added vegetable spring rolls to the table, except they were unavailable.
For mains, we settled on sweet and sour chicken (Miss C’s choice) and beef teriyaki, along with several bowls of steamed rice. As we waited, snacking on prawn crackers with chilli sauce and rice vinegar dips, it was nice to enjoy eating al fresco after the long summer and although the outlook isn’t great (onto a service road), it was still liberating after those months stuck inside.
Then in a sudden flurry, all the food starting arriving at the same time. Now, call me old fashioned, but I like my starters to come first, followed (after a respectable wait) by the main course. I don’t like everything coming at the same time, as it did at Sakura, so you have the maki rolls fighting for space on a crowded table with the sweet and sour chicken. That said, the food was all excellent. Miss C gobbled up the dumplings, showing off her skills with the chopsticks, while the adults feasted on the wasabi prawns, which were a little light on wasabi taste but delicious nonetheless. The standout for me, however, was the maki rolls, looking like small pieces of art on a plate and tasting even better, with a perfect balance of flavours, which also were a hit with my discerning boss. Star of the show for Miss C was clearly the sweet and sour chicken, scooped up with steamed rice. The beef wasn’t half bad either, tender and well cooked, with delicate seasoning, not too overpowering for the palate.
Thank goodness the vegetable spring rolls were not available after all, as our stomachs were filling fast. Still, we left space to squeeze in a dessert. The waiter recommended the banana spring roll and who was I to argue? It arrived promptly, looking exactly like a spring roll, but filled with hot banana and served with ice cream. Miss C and I made light work of it and very nice it was, too.
Just as we left, someone from the kitchen came out and did the rounds of the outside tables, asking if guests were pleased with their meals. We were very happy and, bearing in mind that it’s still in the launch stage and overcoming teething problems, I have high hopes for Sakura becoming part of my regular culinary circuit in the future.
Promising start for a newbie on the Muscat culinary scene
Al Mouj Street, Muscat
Tel: +968 2428 4645
Opening Hours: 12pm to 11pm daily
Dinner and drinks for three: RO30.6