Sala Sala, back on the map
The return of Sala Sala to Christchurch is a morale booster like no other.
This is the Japanese restaurant where my once-vegetarian self first tried sashimi (raw fish), tempura and the delights of real (non-tinned) tuna.
Sala Sala's Oxford Tce home fell victim to the February earthquake and, after two years, I feared it had disappeared for good.
But it has returned, to a new home in a charming two-storey villa on Papanui Rd. Extensive renovations have introduced expansive windows, an open-plan, ground-floor dining area and a larger-than-life red front door.
We struggle to get a booking, but finally squeeze in on a busy Thursday night where, to our delight, we are welcomed by familiar faces, including chef Tashihiro Uenosono and one of our favourite waitresses.
The new restaurant is modern and light, although cosier than its predecessor, with about 10 individual tables, plus a bench alongside the open kitchen for the teppan-yaki. Three upstairs bedrooms have also been converted into private dining rooms for groups of four to six.
The décor has improved with modern furniture and spacious toilets, in keeping with the upmarket venue. Sala Sala-embossed wine glasses are a nice touch.
We start with a celebratory bottle of Rockburn Pinot Noir 2011 ($85) while we consider the extensive menu. It is divided into starters (zensai), sashimi, a section for soups and noodle dishes, and a modest dessert selection.
Newcomers include the non-traditional Red and Black Salad of beetroot, black olives, sundried tomatoes and lettuce ($9), Philadelphia sushi (cream cheese, prawn, sundried tomato) and the seemingly mundane Sala Sala Fish and Chips ($11).
But the restaurant also offers a good range of traditional Japanese delights.
We order our long-standing favourite, the shared Omakase sashimi and sushi platter ($40), a generous display bordered with vegetable and chicken sushi rolls and Nigeria topped with slivers of salmon and butterflied tiger prawn. At its centre are raw slices of groper, yellow-fin tuna and salmon. Sashimi relies on good quality, very fresh fish, and this is the best - truly melt-in-the-mouth morsels.
We are also each given a piece of seared tuna, nestled in a spoon of soy sauce and topped with small balls of bright orange roe. What a mouthful.
The platter would be enough for a light meal, but we are greedy for more.
Our efficient waitress politely nods as we rattle off another few dishes.
For my partner, a generously sized entrée serving of Tatsuta age, a Japanese version of coated, fried chicken ($9) and the Quick Seared Beef ($20). The chicken has a new flavour he struggles to identify, although he gives it the thumbs-up, and goes on to declare the beef simply "the best quality you can buy".
My Tuna Tataki Salad ($12) is so soft it is almost creamy. A drizzle of chilli mayonnaise appears too orange to be edible at first, but its spicy kick proves a delicious contrast to the simple slivers of tuna.
My delicately battered kinaki, or mushroom tempura, is just $3.50, and I would happily eat nothing else. I'm certainly not sharing.
We truly are full and cannot be tempted by the small range of dessert: icecream, chocolate cake and banana tempura. Perhaps next time. We will certainly be back.
Sala Sala is as good as ever, possibly better, with its best dishes now coupled with interesting new fusion offerings to tempt the less traditional.
Its service remains efficient, polite and authentically Japanese. But be warned, this place will be popular. Book now.
Where: 142 Papanui Rd.
Service: Efficient, polite.
Prices: Moderate to high.
Ambience: Tasteful, modern.