Places To Eat In Canterbury: Happy Samurai
One of the most exciting things for me as a food writer is seeing the restaurant scene come up in my home town of Canterbury. These days it seems like every time I try somewhere new I have something new to get excited about. As a stop off after my hair appointment and before a shopping trip (I’m still not quite used to having simply long, rather than shoulder length hair!) my mum and I decided on a spot of Japanese food for lunch at Happy Samurai. I think it was last year they relocated from what I think must be a cursed unit opposite Tiny Tim’s Tearooms to a cosy side street between the High Street and the Cathedral, and I have no idea why I honestly had not tried it before now. Feeling a little regret here, to be honest!
The plan was to get ramen, washed down by a green iced tea. The weather had cooled down a little, and I wanted to do a compare and contrast with my favourite place to get a steaming bowlful in the city, Tamago down on Westgate. However, the moment we walked in and I saw the mountains of sushi-grade raw fish on the counter and sushi being made to order, that plan went out of the window. For too long, London has been where Canterbury folk need to go for good sushi. Yes there is a Yo! Sushi by the Cathedral gate which is great if you’re in a fix, but not for every day. The Waitrose and the big Sainsbury’s has yet to get a fresh sushi counter (but ditto) and I’ve never been a fan of the sushi at Mister Miyagi, owned by the Tamago people. Compared to their incredible ramen and dumplings, it just reminded me of yet more (quality) supermarket sushi.
So, okay, I’m calling it. Happy Samurai is the place in Canterbury to get your top quality, fresh, made to order sushi. I went for the chefs choice platter to get a bit of everything. Tender, well seasoned rice, fresh fish, perfectly formed. The tuna and salmon were as bright as you’d expect, the squid had that unusual texture I find so satisfying, and you need to order the mackerel nigiri – so bright, fresh and flavoured, one of the best sushi bites I’ve had in ages, and that includes that sushi mountain I had at Eat Tokyo earlier this year! My mum, not a professed sushi fan like me tried the (cooked) prawn number, and she also loved it, so perhaps one to try out on someone who is not as on board as you are with going for a sushi feast?
However, the very, very best bite we had at Happy Samurai which is the thing that has me excited to go back for more was the one item we ordered off of their street food menu: okonomiyaki, a Japanese cabbage pancake, served on skewers, crisp on the outside and tender in the middle, flavoured to unami perfection with okonomiyaki sauce (you can get the general idea of what is in it from my okonomiyaki recipe over at BBC Food), Kewpie mayo and a very generous sprinkling of bonito flakes. This is exciting food, and next time I’m getting a whole plate to myself with my sushi. They’re that good.
Our bao buns were less exciting – a little dry and clearly just heated up from a supplier rather than fresh (when this is done I can’t help but feel like the whole point of a hot, fluffy bun has been missed) with underwhelming fillings – just simply average pork with a good sriracha mayo, and a veggie number loaded with yet more Kewpie mayo, shredded carrots, cucumber and avocado. Skip these.
As I said at the beginning, I’m very happy I finally tried Happy Samurai. Okay, this is a bit of a mini review – I’ve totally missed the ramen, noodles and rice dishes, and slated the bao buns. But the sushi is excellent and something I’ll be sure to go back for, and the one bite of street food I had has me clamouring for more. Be sure to keep an eye on my Instagram where I’ll be sure to post a more of a hot food oriented update on my next visit!