Ocean Dragon, Birmingham
December 1, 2011 4 Comments
When the Arcadian complex first opened in Birmingham, I remember the excitement it generated not only because it was the first major building in the redevelopment of the Chinese Quarter, but it also brought with it a host of new bars and small businesses, along with the first major multi-screen cinema in the City Centre for a long time – Oh how we rejoiced at how we would now watch films in a cinema auditorium where the seats were actually comfortable and not flea-infested and/or broken in some way. Seriously, it was big news for us. Then, the cinema closed and was converted to serviced apartments which meant that a few restaurants and bars nearby also closed, in this case the Pizza Hut that was next door. After all, if the majority of your clientele were going to be passing trade from the cinema, there would be little point in staying once the cinema itself has gone.
Ocean Dragon initially opened as a Chinese restaurant specialising in seafood and with that came high end prices, presumably to reflect the expensive seafood they showcased. However, it never really took off (and the reviews were meh at best) and has been taken over by the same group who own Flaming Dragon, a buffet which also incorporates an Korean hotplate to cook your own food like a Korean BBQ, and calls itself a Bento and ramen restaurant (although they are probably more like a Izakaya, with a line in bento boxes and noodles). Either way, I thought I would take S with me and try it out with a view of being able to go to somewhere else afterwards if it wasn’t nice or satisfying.
Walking into the restaurant, I was aware that I was breaking the old cardinal chef sin of ordering fish on a Monday evening, but I was immediately put at ease when greeted by the charming waitress who attended to us all night. Sure, it was early and there weren’t many tables as a result, but the place began to fill up as the evening progressed. If it’s anything to go by, we were the only non-Japanese customers in the restaurant eating there. Looking at the menu, it certainly has all the items you would find in an Izakaya – Yakitori items including black cod with miso, a nice line in tempura items including soft shell crab, a compact – but varied – line in sashimi, sushi and noodle choices and more to the point, the prices weren’t too exorbitant.
Heading over to the sushi bar (yep, there’s actually a sushi bar where you can watch the sushi masters at work rather than someone filling a machine to churn out perfect rice for nigiri as in other places), I wanted to take a look at the fish on selection to determine if we should try it out (or not). There were the usual suspects of Tuna and Salmon but the cooked prawns were plump and didn’t look like they’d been sitting in a chilled cabinet for too long. Moreover, there were also other items like sweet prawn and octopus (which is still a rarity for sushi places in Birmingham). Jokingly, I asked if they had any toro of any sort to which the sushi chef replied: “That’s a special pre-order item, but I can certainly get you toro (midi or o-toro) if you wanted it.” I was slightly dumbstruck – A place in Birmingham – landlocked Birmingham – offering toro?!! To say I was impressed is an understatement. Heading back to the table, the waitress checked with the sushi chef if it was OK to do a sashimi selection based only on items we liked – Which they kindly agreed to do. It turned out that it was much easier to say what we didn’t like; No tuna or octopus – tuna is good but we’ve had too much bad tuna sashimi to be put off it and the octopus just didn’t take our fancy, reluctantly S agreed to trying the salmon as I could eat that all day One item selected, it was time to choose some other dishes. Our problem with a new place is that you want to try a bit of everything so that you can get an idea of where the kitchen’s strengths and weaknesses are. You could say that we’re just being greedy and want to eat everything, but the former certainly sounds better. We decided against ordering any noodles, so got a selection of items and asked that the sashimi be brought out first, and everything else together afterwards. Time to sit back, sip our green tea and wait for our food:
What we actually got first was some miso soup and a plate of some pickles and dipping sauces. Can’t say they were anything special – Miso soup is pretty much the same all over the Country, but they were certainly pleasant enough to eat and not anything to put me off. If anything, I wasn’t expecting the pickles so they were a pleasant surprise when I ate them
Then came the pièce de résistance: The Ocean Sashimi Deluxe (albeit moderated to our tastes). It certainly looked impressive and we couldn’t wait to get stuck in. The sweet prawns were sensational, S and I were there sucking the heads to extract every last delectable drop of the sweet, sweet nectar inside. The scallop was also very good, but it suffered from forever being compared to the scallop sashimi with truffle paste in the centre which I had at Sushi of Shiori. The surf clam wasn’t tough or too rubbery which I feared it would be, both the hamachi and bream were fresh and flavoursome – As was the squid and yes, even the Salmon. It was a very decent plate and more than acceptable for £20
For the bento box, we were allowed 2 choices; Well, unagi (eel) is an absolute must for us both and the waitress recommended the scallop which she explained was chopped with ocean stix (!), mixed with kewpie and put back into a scallop shell and grilled. She was so enthusiastic that it seemed rude not to go with her recommendation. Sadly, the unagi was the weakest part of the whole meal; it appeared to have been heated up in a microwave and rather than being moist and unctuous with the fatty layer, it ended up being quite dry and chewy. The scallop was pleasantly nice – I’m not sure I could manage a whole portion given how rich it was, but it was certainly different and I’m glad that I tried it. The soft shell crab tempura was delicious – succulent and sweet soft shell crab in a light crispy tempura batter. It was topped with deep-fried vermicelli and kewpie which was a bit odd, but didn’t detract too much from the deliciousness that was the soft shell crab, and for £6, it was certainly very good value.
In summary, there were a few misses but overall a lot more hits. It was certainly the best and freshest sashimi I’ve had in Birmingham so I’ll definitely be back for that, I would like to try their ramen though – especially as they call themselves a ramen restaurant. The bento boxes I think could be nice provided you choose wisely – I think you’d be safe if you went for a tonkatsu or a curry. However, given how good the quality of fish is here, why would you deny yourself better sushi and sashimi than what’s currently on offer elsewhere in Birmingham City Centre?