Jun 21, 2016
This is the review that I have been planning and been putting off since I started writing on this website. Why? Well, this restaurant feels a lot like home to us, and you should always be careful about who you invite into your home. Robatayaki, next to the old Euromart in Shi Hui Fang, just down the road from the twin towers, Yo Ba Ba and Sing Health at Xinghai Square, is just one of about a dozen Japanese restaurants in a couple of hundred metre stretch. What makes it stand out?
Well, it is not alone in being a lovely meal out on that stretch of Shi Hui Fang. I could, and probably will, review most of them as excellent evenings out worthy of your time and money. But having tried pretty much all the others, even as they change hands and décor as time passes, this is the one that stands out. First of all, it is the only, and really the only, restaurant that we still go to at least once a month after more than three years in Suzhou. Such loyalty is hard won and only ever earned by deserving it.
Is it the cheapest and best value restaurant we frequent? By golly no! It is expensive and, frankly, over-priced, and they keep putting the prices up each time they reprint the menu. Is it because the service is second to none? Not really. They are kind and attentive, but almost every time we go, they get at least one of the items we order wrong. They are prone to not look when you are waving for help and pour a “nama beeru” with far too much head for the price of the glass. Is it the beautiful environment? Not really. Cheap pine and a pretty unimaginative décor are the order of the day.
So, what is it? Well, bugger me; if a restaurant wasn’t sometimes worth overlooking all of the above elements mentioned, then they wouldn’t bother employing chefs! This restaurant serves up food to die for. It costs too much, it often comes wrong, it comes sporadically, it comes accompanied by staff shouting inanities in fake Japanese and it comes on unnecessary wooden padles. But it goes down good!
Robatayaki, is, in our humble opinion, deserving of recognition, and is the only eatery in China that we have been to so far that is. I have eaten in Canoe in Toronto, the Tribeca Grill in New York, Nobu and the Ivy in London – all full of lesser stars than you, like Gwynny, Bob, Stingy and Brad – but Robatayaki beats them all, I reckon, in terms of taste. Stand out dishes include the smoked cheese starter, the beef with marinade chestnut, the foie gras with asparagus and the cod roe. Other delights include what I would normally describe as the usual sashimis and sushis, except that their quality raises them above the usual.
There are even vegetables. They serve a grilled potato that is so good that a friend of mine, let’s call him Nick, came to Suzhou for a week’s holiday, ate the Robatayaki spud and loved it so much that he saw it as symbolic of the great life one can have here and quit his job in London and has been in town for two years! He still loves a Robatayaki potato!
So, to conclude, it is already difficult enough to get a seat at peak times, so please do not read this column. Do not add Robatayaki to your list of favoured restaurants. You can’t afford it and your taste buds are not refined enough to appreciate it. Leave it for my wife and me. Oh, and for Nick!
Please never reserve a table by calling: 0512-6253-4609
About the Column
Markus is from the Isle of Wight in the UK and had been living in Suzhou since 2013. It is his first time living in China and before this he was in London. He has been teaching English all of his adult life and in HE since 2000. He is lucky to have his wife with him in Suzhou and together they are making a new life. His interests include eating out (a lot) and exploring local areas on his ebike. And recently, walking a doggie.