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Restaurant review: Taste of Manga in Dunfermline spoils fine flavour of Japan

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Koku Shi is a small chain of Japanese restaurants in Dunfermline, Inverkeithing, Kirkcaldy and Perth. Their website admirably states that they “started as a small family business and through our journey we have learnt that’s our strength”.

They promise an award-winning dining experience, based on awards including the Japanese restaurant of the year (Central Scotland) at the Scottish Asian Food Awards in 2018 and the following year. It’s claimed they were the first Japanese restaurant in Fife.

It was an OK meal but it felt oddly transactional and a bit formulaic – as if the steady chug of a sushi conveyor belt was at work producing absolute uniformity. There wasn’t loads wrong with what we ate, but the fact we wouldn’t rush back speaks volumes.

Firstly, if you’re looking for the simple purity of a classic Japanese restaurant this isn’t for you. This isn’t the Japan of ryokan and tea ceremonies and, to be fair, it doesn’t attempt to be. This is a different kettle of fish – raw or otherwise.

What this is, is the Japan of gaming culture, Manga and vast neon signs in Shinjuku, Tokyo’s Neon cyberpunk heart. It’s brash and it’s bold, it’s busy and it’s breathless – and that’s just the design of the menu.

Surroundings of Koku Shi

The interior is bright red and grey and black, with a bit of exposed brickwork, and so it looks quite 80’s and, to me, a bit sterile. Over the road the quiet beauty of the 1930s Dunfermline fire station (now repurposed as an arts centre) looks dignified and – despite its scale – reflective and quite majestic, even stuck astride a busy road with traffic thundering by.

I myself went to Japan for the first time and came back obsessed by the culture and the food. To this day the best sashimi I’ve ever had remains at Tokyo’s Tsukjii fish market where I breakfasted on the freshest fish ever – a benchmark in my understanding of the purity of Japanese food.

Koku Shi, Dunfermline.
Koku Shi, Dunfermline.

Here in Dunfermline, 40 years later, the Japanese references are rather more reductive and include a claim to have been the first restaurant in the world to make sushi with haggis.

Such is the stuff of PR brainstorms but I’m afraid gimmicks like this don’t float my particular fishing boat, whether it be bobbing in domestic or international waters.

The main problem I have with places like this is that the menu is too long and it tries to be all things to all people. This just makes it look unfocused.

The food

There are eight soups. There is seaweed pakora for £5.25 (we shall return to this experiment later). There are haggis balls (£4.95), helpfully available as classic or vegan. There is a cabbage pancake, “drizzled with unami”, mayo sriracha sauce and topped with a choice of anointments which include pork stew (£8.25).

There is a Koku Burger (from £12.90). There are poke bowls from £12.95 and futomaki and katsu curries and Pad Thai and Japanese style fish and chips and… I’m getting breathless just reading it actually.

There’s even a pork stew served with rice or mashed potatoes, served with a Japanese cucumber-slaw (£13.95). This is one of three items listed under Japanese chef’s specials.

When I checked the menu online it ran to 14 world-travelling pages on my phone, albeit many of them illustrations of the food.

Faced with this choice I’m sorry to say all I really wanted to eat was a bowl of brown rice and some pickles. What we did eat provided results as mixed as the menu.

Pork Dumplings at Koku Shi, Dunfermline.
Pork Dumplings at Koku Shi, Dunfermline.

Salmon sashimi (£8.45) was five pieces of fresh salmon, cut a little too thickly – but good. Pork dumplings gyoza were five pieces of homemade dumplings, fried so fiercely they were like bullets and proved impervious to picking up with chopsticks. The filling was fine but the dish wasn’t worth £7.45.

Agedashi (£4.95) was unconventional in that there was no accompanying hot broth but it tasted fine. A seaweed salad (£4.50) wasn’t the best of its class but was OK and my unseasoned sushi rice (£3) was also passable. A kimchi salad was overpriced at £4.50.

David’s set meal was more problematic. Firstly, his seaweed pakora starter was just plain wrong and I wish I could capture the look on his face as he took his first bite into this mass of wet doormat.

I tried it too and would have spat it out had I not been brought up so well. If this dish is the result of the world being a global village I’ll happily stay grounded for a while. A mistake. After that a tofu katsu curry was pretty good. Service was excellent.

The verdict

Koku Shi isn’t for me, I’m sorry to say – but I do applaud the fact they’re trying to bring something new to the table, especially in places which might have been under-served by choice in that market before.

What they are doing seems to be popular and fills a need for cultural appreciation and exploration. Their stated aim is to show “that Japanese food is more than just sushi and sushi isn’t just raw fish”.

That’s all well and good, but I have to ask – is Japanese food about Pad Thai and seaweed pakora? If it is then I bow down to modernity.

But for now – in answer to the question of whether Koku Shi is Japanese enough – I would say, not quite.


Address: 41 Carnegie Drive, Dunfermline, KY12 7AN

Price: Dishes range from £3.95 to £95.95 for a master set of 66 pieces of sushi. Most dishes are around £12.95.

T: 01383 247510


  • Food: 2/5
  • Service: 4/5
  • Surroundings: 3/5

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