Please note this establishment has now closed
Alternative dining experiences have been around for a while, the Americans and Japanese appear to particularly like them. For example Americans have before chosen to deliver your burger and shake on roller skates, or by girls who are blessed in the chest region. In Japan we have seen cat cafés where you can stroke a moggie whilst drinking your mocha, or you may chose to have your dinner served by a ninja or in a prison, whatever tickles your fancy... (See here for a further list of what Japan has to offer in the alternative dining scene )
Teppan 260 aims to bring a modern alternative dining experience to Leeds. You order your food through iPads (chained to the table) and you cook your own food at your table.
Frankly, I wasn't convinced by the concept. Surely the whole point of going to a restaurant is the 'being waited hand on foot' experience, the trivial but jovial chat with the waiting staff, then it's the joy that you get from having food cooked for you. Whether you're getting that joy because you simply can't cook that particular dish yourself at home, because the ingredients are hard to come by, or simply because you want a night off. This restaurant is taking most of that away from it's diners.
We had a table booked for 6.30pm on a Tuesday evening, granted it's not the busiest time of the week, but when we walked in it was noticeable how quiet it was in a restaurant that can seat around 30 (at a guess). I guess the word hasn't gotten out yet. I in fact stumbled across them on my way to Leeds food festival a few weeks ago, surely many of the food lovers of Leeds would have done the same? Are they not yet convinced by the idea too? I shall let you make up your own mind...
Seated at a booth type seat near the windows we were greeted by a member of staff who explained the concept to us, how to order our food and how to cook our food once we had ordered it. It was a lot to take in.
iPad ready (angry birds absent) we looked at the menu flicking through the various tabs at the side. Once we had made our decision we clicked send and we could hear our order being printed off in the kitchen (visible from all tables in the restaurant). A little confusing was the tab starters/sides how did the kitchen know if we wanted the dish as a starter or side or which were starters and which sides? With no one there to take your order you couldn't specify or query this.
Followed shortly afterwards by our starters, the speed ever so slightly baffling if we were to presume they were freshly cooked.
I ordered Singapore Crispy Tiger Prawns with chopped shallots. Quite unusual in appearance came in a Singaporean oriental sauce (aka mystery sauce) that was nice but rich and the slavering of it all over my prawns neared it to sickly. The prawns however were delectable and even D (a non-prawn lover or even liker) said he liked it.
When mentioned to the waitress/manager (I'm unsure she didn't introduce herself) about this dish she said that the prawns were rolled in the sauce which is why there was so much... But would give compliments to the chef about D liking them.
D ordered Bang Bang chicken, which is shredded chicken topped with peanut butter and further topped with crispy potato strips. A relatively small portion, perhaps similar to something you may have (in a larger size) with rice as a main. D cleared his plate in no time commenting that it was because he liked it and not referring to portion size.
The iPad menu recommends sauces for dishes/meats however there are so many sauces for the meats it becomes quite confusing especially when you come to press the dish you want and then you forget what was recommended. I don't want to complete a puzzle I just want to make the right decision.
In the end I think it was clear I had no idea what I was ordering as I was brought my meal with it's chosen sauce and told not to put it on my meat as it wouldn't go and brought a katsu curry sauce to top it instead... If it doesn't go with the meat why was it listed as an option?!
D had a similar experience with his sauces in that he didn't want anything with spice and so was left with the one option of garlic and coriander. Not the sauce of choice for many who order pork and noodles I expect.
Our mains were brought to us in their sizzling pans (260 degrees hot) with the sauces and salad gently lifted of the wooden holder and placed beside at the table. There wasn't another explanation of what to do at this point and myself and D looked at our dishes bewildered.
I chose chicken tonkatsu and egg fried rice with a Thai Paenang Sauce (a sweet and spicy coconut curry). The chicken looked cooked and this confused me... I thought I was doing this myself? Wary of uncooked chicken I just kept flipping it over so make sure it did end up cooked. Is it legal to serve raw chicken? In the end.. As D sweetly commented.. My chicken was over cooked. The sauce I had chosen was nice and I cooked my rice and mushrooms in it doing as I was told and using the other sauce for my chicken.
D just sat and stared at his for a bit. Looked confused. Looked at me and said I don't know what to do. After telling him to cook his noodles in his sauce he still looked bemused and the waitress came back over to the table and asked him if he didn't like his food to which he replied he was just trying to figure out what to do... No assistance was offered. In the end D asked for some more sauce and he too was given a sauce for his pork as apparently this went better.
I tried a piece of D's pork and it was a bit too fatty for my liking and so left most of my bite full.
I suppose the better option here would have been to chose the beef but not confident in what I had to do once it arrived I wasn't eager to risk it.
For dessert the waiter recommended the chocolate spring rolls and so D ordered those (these had already taken his fancy before the recommendation) and I chose the Teppan Mango Pudding.
Again like the starters the portions were small and I could see the look of disappointment on D's face as these tiny chocolate rolls were placed before him.
Nice enough the chocolate rolls reminded me of something which I haven't quite figured out yet... Chocolate pastry perhaps?
The only way I can describe the mango dessert is that it's sort of like a mango panacotta with small chunks of mango inside...
We debated over when would be appropriate to visit a restaurant such as this and concluded that it would perhaps break the ice on one of those earlier dates, as long as your date has a sense of humour and openness to new experiences. Could be a complete diastase otherwise.
We thought about location, I'm not convinced it's the right place for them. Stick them in trinity and the novelty will draw in a younger social media savy age group who are virtually born with an iPhone in their hand... Would generation X want to cook their own food? Is it all just a bit too out there for us humble northern folk? Would it work better in that there London?
I don't know... I guess only time will tell.
We discussed the price, our meal would have come in at around £45. Mid range. What are you paying for though? The experience? Your cooking your food, you're not paying for a chef to cook for you.. D came up with an interesting view in that having everything segmented and placed before you devalued the meal. It showed you that you could, if you wanted, pick up the same ingredients from tesco (for a much lower price) and do it yourself at home. So why go to a restaurant?
Maybe I'm a cynic. Maybe I'm not down with the kids. Maybe it's a fad I'm yet to latch on to. I just can't see myself going to a place such as this time and time again.