On first impressions you could be forgiven for dismissing Fuji Hiro. Tucked away in an unfashionable area of Leeds on the outside of the Merrion Centre, from the exterior the place is rather unassuming and even once inside the decor is probably best described as basic; more dated retro canteen than sophisticated Japanese funk. However, if you can look past the lino and formica topped tables then you are in for a treat. If you can't then you are probably better off sticking to the generic formula provided by the trendy noodle chain places, such as Wagamama, that seem to be springing up all over, but you will be missing out.
Fuji Hiro (meaning 'Happy Sun') is an unpretentious family run Japanese noodle bar and it is all about the food. It may not be staffed by multi-national students in logo-ed T- shirts and armed with hand held computers, but service is efficient and always with a smile. The menu itself is fairly limited, based around Ramen (noodle soup), fried rice and noodle dishes. However the food is delicious; served quickly in generous helpings and freshly cooked to order without MSG or additives.
The concept of a traditional meal with a starter followed a main course isn't really understood in Japanese cuisine, but there are a number of "side dishes" that you can order along with your main dish and the food is delivered out to your table as and when the dishes are ready. This means that food isn’t always served together, but this is only an issue if you let western preconceptions take over.
As is customary on our frequent early Sunday evening visits, we ordered 3 of the side dishes between 2 of us (we were particularly hungry). The Ebi Katsu arrived first; delectable deep-fried butterflied king prawns in crisp panko breadcrumbs, served with a spicy chilli sauce and garnished with lime. Gyozas next, these are popular Japanese dumplings comprising of a thin dough filled (in this case with pork) and sealed into a crescent shape then part steamed, part pan fried so that the bottoms are brown and slightly crunchy, they come with a soy dipping sauce. A word of warning, if you are too greedy and try to eat the gyoza whole whilst they are still steaming hot you get a burst of scalding juice in your mouth which will run down your chin and burn your lips. I know this but it still happens every time! Finally Yakitori, the traditional Japanese favourite – a classic dish of skewered chicken, basted in a sweet soy-based sauce and grilled over a high heat so it is slightly charred and sticky.
We accompanied this with mains of Spicy Yaki Soba and an enormous bowl of Chilli Beef Ramen, washed down with cold Asahi beer. The Spicy Yaki Soba consists of pan-fried buckwheat noodles with chicken, prawns and vegetables in spicy curry oil; this is Dave's favourite dish on the menu and again he couldn’t resist. I usually go for the Yaki Udon (satisfyingly thick and worm-like udon noodles fried with shitake mushrooms, prawns, chicken, vegetables and sliced Japanese fishcake, in curry oil) but this time fancied a ramen soup; a light broth packed with noodles, bean sprouts, thinly sliced veggies and fragrant coriander, topped with strips of beef and chilli sauce. You can feel it doing you good as you eat it.
The bill came to £34. Some folks may not "get" Fuji Hiro but the generous helpings and reasonably priced fresh & tasty dishes mean that it is one of those little haunts that I want to return to time and again for a quick fix of no frills Japanese comfort food.
45 Wade Lane, Leeds, LS2 8NJ