“ Address: Schwachhauser Heerstr. 6 / 28203 / Bremen „
~The one that got away~
Until a couple of years ago I absolutely adored sushi. I would crave cold rice and raw fish ahead of just about any other type of food. I liked sashimi even more - I just couldn't get enough of raw fish and seafood. Then after receiving treatment for an illness a couple of years ago I was left not exactly disliking raw fish, but certainly not craving it the way I used to. I lost my sushi mojo - I went from preferring eating the stuff to doing just about anything else, to a feeling of mellow indifference.
Back in October I got a new team member at work when we hired an assistant to work with my two colleagues in Germany. I went over to meet her on her second day at work and I'd warned the other two women that I'd like to invite them all for dinner. They could choose where we went. It turned out that Katharina - the new girl - has a bunch of serious food allergies - including lactose and fructose. If you know anything about food composition you'll realise that leaves the poor woman with a shockingly restricted set of dietary choices. The combination of all the stuff she couldn't eat left her with one restaurant in Bremen that she loved and where she could eat and that was the Sakura Sushi restaurant on Schwachhauser Heerstrasse.
~First find your fish!~
I don't think I've been to that part of Bremen before and we walked there via a swanky residential area and I lost my bearings entirely. I had the sense I was heading in the direction of the university but I wasn't too sure. We walked from my hotel at the central station to the restaurant in about 15 minutes, kicking our way through the fallen autumnal leaves and enjoying a major dose of property envy as we passed the grand old villas of Bremen's well to do areas.
Sakura is not a fancy place at all. It's a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in a narrow but deep building with the tables arranged end-on to the sushi belt leaving those seated nearest to the belt to grab the passing food whilst those further away can do no more than shout "That one' as a choice morsel comes into view. We were on the very end of the belt where the food performed a 180 degree change of direction so our view was a little restricted. Marianne and Katharina took pole position next to the conveyor whilst Heloise and I were out of reach. The waitress removed the little Perspex window so we could access the food, took our drinks orders and left us to it.
~Catching fish without a line or net~
Sakura does do a la carte sushi and has an impressive menu of delights on offer but I suspect that most people do what we did and go with the 'all you can eat' deal at Euro15,50 a head. For me the words 'sushi' and 'all you can eat' seldom go together well although I had all you can eat sushi back in August in Lisbon and could have sat there all day guzzling down delicious morsels. Sadly there's a big difference between sitting on a sunny terrace in Lisbon and sitting in the back of a slightly dingy conveyor belt restaurant in Bremen in October.
Compared to the a la carte options, the sushi belt offers a restricted range of dishes. For good reasons, they don't put the expensive sashimi or the more exotic sushis on the belt and the choices were heavily weighted towards the cheaper dishes. There were a few 'nigiri' - oblong slabs of rice on with strips of fish on top, mostly salmon, occasionally tuna and very rarely squid. More common were 'maki' - the little round ones with fish or veg inside and seaweed wrapped around the outside and 'inside out maki' - like maki but with more filling and no seaweed. Spring rolls were perhaps not exactly Japanese but were quite tasty. As the little dishes passed by on the conveyor, Katharina grabbed lots of small plates and slid them onto the table. Bowls of deep green spinach-based salad were tried and soon dismissed as just too yukky to swallow whilst I got quite fond of small bowls of delicately flavoured noodles and polished off two.
One of the strangest things about the conveyor belt was that sweet and savoury dishes were all mixed in together. What we suspected to be tempura vegetables turned out to be banana and pineapple - although I was pretty confused that everyone else said it was pineapple and I was sure it was banana and it took a while to work out that each dish contained a mixture of the two. The weirdest thing we tried - or rather didn't try because we nominated Marianne to be the guinea pig - was a small bowl of bright green glutinous goop that seemed as reluctant to stick to the spoon as she was to attempt to eat it. Since we weren't sure if it was sweet or savoury, it got tested in the middle of the savoury dishes and seemed to be a toxic green tapioca mess.
Blobs of wasabi and baskets of assorted pickles and sauces also circulated and I thought it odd that we each got a small dish for our soya sauce but there wasn't any wasabi actually on the table. It's a bit like getting a salt cellar on the table but having to chase the pepper pot. I was surprised that I didn't actually feel all that excited about the food and I was quickly quite bored by the choices. Katharina showed a phenomenal and impressive appetite that probably reflects a life of living off a very boring and restricted diet.
The food keeps passing and you keep nibbling - it's extremely difficult to work out how much you've actually eaten and very tempting to keep going long after you've lost interest especially if others are still tucking in. The lack of 'courses' with sweet and savoury, starters and 'mains' all bunged on the belt together is somewhat unsettling and will appeal to those who've never understood why they shouldn't start with pudding and then head back to rice or noodles. For me it was disconcerting. The quality of the food was OK but not wonderful - more like supermarket sushi than restaurant grade. If I were to go again, I'd rather choose specific dishes from the menu and have a smaller quantity of what I really wanted rather than graze too much of food to which I was indifferent.
Our bill came to just under 80 Euros for four of us. The evening sushi belt is Euro15.50 a head and the balance was drinks. If you go at lunch time, the all you can eat sushi belt is just Euro10.50 - I'm not sure if the dishes are cheaper or if they just assume people won't eat as much at lunch time. Lunch is available Monday to Friday between 12 and 2.30 pm and the restaurant is open for dinner every day from 5.30pm (the Germans like to eat early) until 10 pm.
As far as I know, Sakura is the only conveyor belt sushi place in Bremen although there are other places such as Chili Club which include sushi and sashimi on their starter menus so you're not restricted to this being the only place to indulge your craving for raw fish. At Euro15.50 it's quite good value and a fair price for the quality. It will not change my belief that sushi and sashimi should be served respectfully on a plate and not on a belt but we had a pleasant night out and I expect that due to it being the only place Katharina can eat out, it won't be long before we go back. I am hoping to find a way to avoid it for our team Christmas lunch in December though.
Footnote - after going to Sakura and realising that 'all you could eat' was more than 'all I wanted to eat' I was concerned that I might have just lost my fish fixation or gone off sushi. Then last week I had a plate of absolutely sublime tuna and salmon sashimi in Amsterdam. I'm more than happy to confirm it was delicious and I loved it. My raw fish mojo is back - but Sakura wasn't good enough to give me that same sense of excitement. Sakura's conveyor belt is sushi as food, as fuel, as something to fill your belly whereas really good sushi and sashimi is not about nutrition; it's more like a solemn act of worship, both to prepare it and more importantly to consume it.