Where East meets West - Hakkapo: the new Izakaya bar with an unusual twist

Japanese dishes and... Polish wine?

By Ben Arnold | 12 March 2024

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The cultures of Poland, China and Japan aren’t something you’d usually fuse together, but here we are on Jack Rosenthal Street at Hakkapo, just near the HOME arts centre, eating traditional Japanese dishes with a nod to Eastern Europe.

Literally translated from Cantonese, ‘hakka’ refers to the ‘guest people’ of south-eastern China – Canton, Taiwan, and Hong Kong – who migrated from the north during the 12th century.

The ‘po’ bit is for Poland, homeland of Hakkapo’s co-owner Krzysztof Borowiak, who with friends Simon and Kit Lee have opened this extremely stylish izakaya joint – natural wood, beautiful chairs, floor to ceiling windows adorned with unique cartoon designs.


“I’ve been into Japanese cuisine and culture for many, many years, I just fell in love with the culture,” says Krzysztof, a chef by trade and creative director of this new project. 

“We’re mixing the quality of fine dining with something casual, in a relaxed space with affordable prices. Come after work, have a drink, have a small plate.”

Krzysztof, who helped launch the likes of Hello Oriental among other city centre restaurants, has buried himself in Japanese cuisine, and with Simon – from a long line of Chinese restaurants in his family – they’re making some of the best ramen in the city.


The tonkotsu is done properly – pork bones and pigs trotters on a rolling boil for hours and hours on end until the resulting broth is unctuous and creamy – and then ladled onto noodles with chashu pork, while the garlic tonkotsu throws in extra depth with black garlic and some smoked pork belly (and echo of Polish cuisine right there).

“Even though it’s Japanese cuisine and a Japanese project, we’re bringing a bit of heritage into it as well,” he says. “The wine list is mainly from Poland, and central Europe. And we also have a large selection of Japanese wines, as well as sake. We have amazing merlot from Japan, which has been winning a lot of awards.”

General manager Antoine is from Bordeaux, and even he’s a convert to the Polish and Japanese wines at Hakkapo, quite something for a Frenchman from arguably the most famous wine region in the world to admit.

“Initially, I kept it quiet,” he laughs. “But when I did the wine tasting, it was… ‘OK, these are impressive’. I’d never met these guys before, and I went home after meeting them thinking ‘these guys aren’t right in the head’. He was saying ‘we’re going to do Japanese food with Polish wines’. I just thought ‘what are you talking about…’.

“But it all works so well with the food. The guys in Poland seem to do what they want, they do multi-vintages, mixing years together, ageing wine in acacia barrels. I’m done, complete convert. It’s all I’m drinking now.”

Aside from the curveball wine list and steaming ramen bowls, other stars of the show include a stunning sirloin donburi – salt-aged beef, full of character and complexity on comforting rice with soy glaze and soy egg yoke. A single torched miso scallop was a stunner too.

For pudding, try the deep fried bao buns with miso vanilla ice cream, or the bitter matcha affogato, which tastes every bit as striking as it looks.

Also striking is the design – five different monochrome characters created to give the place immediate personality, emblazoned on side plates, uniforms and even merch (you can’t say they’re not ambitious).

There’s no getting around that some of this might not work on paper. In practice, though… different matter entirely.

Hakkapo is open now at 13 Jack Rosenthal St, Manchester M15 4FN