21 Mar Yügo, Belfast
Tucked away down a side street flanking Belfast City Hall, Yügo isn’t the sort of place you happen upon. This is a restaurant which must be sought out. You’d equally be forgiven for thinking the name implies Germanic or Scandinavian origins, but don’t be fooled by the umlaut. Yügo describes itself as an Asian fusion restaurant, an unfortunate phrase which fills me with dread from woeful experiences in the past. However, these days more chefs are taking considerable care when fusing cuisines, the results of which can be beautiful and delicious.
I arrived at Yügo for the start of dinner service, bang on the dot at 5pm. As a walk-in customer on what would be a busy Thursday evening, I was offered a kitchen counter seat with front row view of the chefs working at their stations. Yügo is a proponent of the trend for ‘small’ and ‘big’ plates which I think works well here. As a result you have the freedom to choose dishes across the entire menu to suit your appetite and/or greed.
At the head of the menu I am immediately drawn to the Omakase Sushi Selection. The Japanese word ‘omakase’ means ‘chef’s choice’ and that element of surprise when you’re not sure what you’re going to get always intrigues me. On this occasion the day’s variation is fresh bluefin tuna*.
To the right are proud pillars of tuna, cucumber and red pepper maki. This is complimented by nigiri finished with a small dollop of sweet citrus spring onion sauce and nestled in between are pure slices of tuna sashimi. The quality of fish is excellent, super fresh and served at a good temperature. I’m not a fan of cold, hard sushi fish which has been taken out of the fridge too late as it completely changes the flavour and experience. Ditto that with sushi rice – it cannot be too wet nor too dry. Here it is perfect! Adding the sauce to the nigiri is a great idea to give the collection variation.
One of the waiters suggested I try one of the small plates – grilled Iberico pork belly with cucumber and sesame. I will happily seize any opportunity to eat Iberico pork so this was a no brainer! From my ring-side seat I watched the chef preparing the dish over coals, its smokey pork fumes wafting through the restaurant, enticing many fellow diners to order it for themselves. Grilled fatty pork is always a win but then combining it with cucumber also warmed by the flames is an inspired decision. It lends a fresh, juicy element which mingles with the rich meat and brings balance to the dish.
At this point I had hoped to order more small dishes such as the truffled beef tartare with black rice and confit egg or spiced lentil dahl, but my stomach was already nearing full capacity. Therefore I looked to the desserts. Passionfruit is one of my favourite fruits so when I saw it was included in the chocolate ganache with marshmallow and milk sorbet, I knew it was the one for me.
On first inspection, I thought the chefs were being stingy with the portion size. However this is a richly satisfying dessert and I concede that anymore would have been too much. The marshmallows are well torched, crisp on the outside, fluffy gooey on the inside. Tropical citrus cuts through the creamy ganache whilst the delicate sorbet cleanses the palette. Loved it!
Yügo is a must eat when you’re in Belfast. Go early or book in advance – even better, go with friends so you can share some of the ‘bigs’. I’d love to sample the Szechuan lamb shoulder or Massaman beef short rib. Even the side of wok fried green beans with spicy minced pork. Or the kimchi, chilli and crispy shallot bao… Time to book my return flight.
- Nearest venue – Ulster Hall
- Total receipt – £38 (3 dishes plus drink)
- Standout – Iberico pork skewer
- Rating – 9/10 Contemporary, intelligent cooking, a celebration of asian fusion cuisine
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*Incidentally, it suddenly occurred to me that eating bluefin tuna might not be great sustainability-wise. I checked the UK government website (bluefin guidance) and in the past few years bluefin tuna has gone from ‘endangered’ to ‘least concern’. Of course this needs continuous and careful management to ensure exact data collection and monitoring.