For my final pre-Japan Japan post, I'll plug a nice little place that I found on the hunt for some authentic eastern nosh, so that unlike last time when I went, I won't be restricting myself to things that look safe and recognisable. At least, not totally anyway.
Japanese restaurants in the UK are quite hard to come by, especially outside London, and authentic, non-commercialised ones even more so. So it was with some excitement and intrigue that I heard about the Apothecary House in Pateley Bridge. It's only open as a Japanese restaurant for two days a week, and is run by Jon and Yoshi, a husband and wife team who met in Japan and came over here to avoid the chaos of the big cities.
They provide a personal service; when you arrange your visit, you specify what you want at least a day before, because Japanese food takes longer to prepare. Being totally ignorant of what was good, I explained to Yoshi my situation and food virginity (and squeamishness towards tentacled food), and asked her to suggest some things, to try and get a good range. That opened the floodgates as Yoshi, who clearly has a passion for her cooking and knowledge of the regional variations up and down her home country. I came away from the conversation not knowing quite what I'd ordered, but it will at least be an interesting and varied experience.
I arrived at an old stone house on the high street. The menu outside was all Chinese food, and as I entered, it looked not especially eastern, and more worryingly, empty. A single table sat in the middle of the room, on which was a 'Reserved' sign and a lit candle.
Yoshi came from the back room and gave me a friendly hello, and shortly after Jon arrived after delivering a takeaway. Both made me feel very comfortable as I settled down and attempted to recall how to use chopsticks. This wasn't a normal restaurant experience for sure, but even though the decor didn't evoke many feelings of the east, I felt they had brought a bit of Japanese hospitality over just for me.
As Yoshi cooked in the back room, me and Jon talked and immediately found much in common. He told me about the places they go to while over there, the complex etiquette of visiting a bath house, and even brought over some CD's and books for me to look over, his passion for Japanese films also providing much to talk with him about. Yoshi occasionally joined the conversation and even helped me with my food notes by translating and suggesting similar meals to what I had, which included a range of sushi, edamame beans (increasingly moreish), miso soup, Donburi (many variations, in this case strips of beef on a bed of rice), Gyoza (pork dumplings - delish), Yakitori (chicken on skewers in a soy/vinegar sauce, which were my favourite of the night), and Red Snapper Tempura (seafood/vegetables in batter).
After finishing, we talked and chatted at length as if we had known each other for years, (it's apparent that Japan and its culture as a passion are like marmite - either you aren't interested or you love it) and we resolved to meet again. There's plenty of opportunity; as well as the normal meals they also do film nights and Japanese hotpot evenings where like minded souls meet and chat. I got my name down on their list with no hesitation.
I left more than four hours after arriving, full and happy into the cool night. I went just for some authentic food, and left with the food and also some new friends. I'll definitely be going again.
You can read a little more about Jon and Yoshi here.