Friday, 6 June 2014

Kibou, Cheltenham

My love for sushi has grown stronger over the past nine months, and this is before I’ve even had the opportunity to fulfil a lifelong ambition to visit its native country of Japan. All gratitude and praise for influencing my palate, which includes a new admiration for warm sake (Japanese wine) and an improved skill in mastering the art of using chopsticks, goes to Emma Graveney and her team at Kibou in Cheltenham. Having opened their doors last August with very little advertising, word of this fabulous restaurant soon got out, and they have taken the town’s dining scene by storm ever since. Kibou has become one of the most talked about restaurants in the area, reflecting the recognition they have rightly received for the quality of food and the high standard of service that they offer to customers.

I first walked through their doors and sampled the exciting menu on their first week of opening, and I’m pleased to report that Kibou’s consistency to produce exquisite plates of food, using only the freshest of ingredients, has never faltered. With an impressive selection of dishes featuring all the classics such as nigiri, hosomaki and the popular ISO roll, Head Chef Yu Wang has used his knowledge and passion for Japanese cuisine to create his own flavoursome combinations. For those of you who are new to sushi, Kibou is the place to go. With hand-drawn illustrations representing each type of sushi positioned above the open-plan kitchen, as well as recommendations from the friendly, knowledgeable staff, you will encounter an experience that you won’t forget in a hurry.

With a warm plum sake in hand - my new poison of choice with a deep, sweet flavour that shares a resemblance to sloe gin - we tucked into the ultimate sushi experience. The starters began with prawn tempura, soft shell crab, ebi stak (a fragrant Japanese version of prawn toast), and pork gyozas - delightful little dumplings filled with succulent pork and infused with vibrant Asian flavours. From the specials board, other luxurious indulgences include monkfish tempura with a coriander dressing, and if you’re feeling somewhat adventurous, there’s an offering of octopus on there too - both of which are definitely worth a look in.

Following a gratifying feeling of satisfaction and having politely fought over the last pork gyoza, we moved onto the main course - and at Kibou you’re definitely not short of exciting combinations to choose from. The Chef’s selection of sashimi is a dish of refined beauty, which really sums up Kibou as a whole. Featuring tuna, salmon, scallop, prawn, crab, kisu (a Japanese white fish), and ikura (salmon roe), this is every inch a seafood lover’s dream. For meat lovers, the sirloin steak teriyaki will bring a smile to your face with its authentic presence alone. Cooked to personal preference (although I recommend you ask for it rare) and infused with coriander, ginger, chili and lime, this dish gives an enjoyable insight into the flavours of Japanese cuisine. Being a fan of Kibou’s prawn tempura, the ebi katsu roll on the specials menu which features this succulent favourite wrapped in sushi rice and topped with tuna and tobiko (flying fish roe) sounded too good to resist and having polished off the plate with little intention of sharing, I can only recommend that you do the same. I find the menu here is reasonably priced, with starters ranging from £2.90 to £7.50, and mains beginning at £3.20 and finishing at £15.00 – and matched against the quality of each dish, you certainly get what you pay for. Notorious for having eyes bigger than my stomach and with a menu full of affordable allurement, Kibou is the only place where I deem my tendency to order the entire left side of the menu acceptable. No judgment is passed, and if there is ever an occasion where there might be leftovers, the lovely staff are always on hand to box them up so you can relive the experience the very next day.

With good food and excellent service, the only thing left to address is the atmosphere. Kibou only sits a few dozen covers and may not be big in size, however this is no reflection of the atmosphere you’ll find here. The dimmed lights and flickering candles create a sense of intimacy, but with the likes of Paulo Nutini, Beyonce and even some good old jazz music subtly playing in the background, there is a real positive ambiance as diners relish in the ultimate experience given at Kibou.

A: 18 Regent Street, Cheltenham, GL50 1HE
T: 01242 300 161

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