From the first page of the menu I felt a wave of delight. There was chawanmushi, and there was dobinmushi; two of my favourite dishes, so rarely found in the UK. Their presence immediately signalled a flair of authenticity.
Indeed, like Yamato’s sister restaurant, Kanpai, the offering is much more than teriyaki, katsu and California rolls. So if you love Japanese flavours but have yet to sample these ‘mushi (“steamed”) dishes, get a date in the diary to try them right now.
If you’re wondering what am I raving about, the answer is savoury set custard. Obviously. Served in a small lidded pot, chawanmushi combines eggs with dashi stock, mushrooms and seafood to create the definition of umami satisfaction.
Dobinmushi is a delicate broth served in a teapot. A clear liquid flavoured by enoki and shiitake mushrooms, prawns, clams and white fish, it’s poured into a tiny dish, with a squeeze of yuzu or lemon creating zing. When the broth has been all sipped up, you eat the soft, simple-tasting ingredients. The purity is genius.
For goodness sake
Beyond broth and custard, there are many reasons to visit Yamato. We chose to sample a selection of hot dishes alongside sushi and sashimi, each of which could be counted a reason to go. Then there’s the comprehensive list of sake. For our first round of dishes we were recommended an accompanying sake with notes of melon. It was delicious; cold, fruity and without too much of a kick. The second sake was more potent; rich, crisp and dry. A natural progression, it was just as enjoyable, albeit in a different way.
Snacks and tofu
As well as chawanmushi and dobinmushi, Caroline had never had takoyaki, so we ordered a plateful. Golf ball-sized spheres of deep fried batter, packed with octopus and onion, are topped with Bulldog sauce (Japan’s answer to HP sauce), Kewpie mayonnaise (thinner and sweeter than Hellman’s) and bonito flakes. It makes a great snack of squashy, bite-sized savouriness, but I would have liked more octopus.
The agedashi tofu was one of the highlights of the evening. Each piece of firmly pressed tofu was an inch square and a quarter inch deep, fried in a crispy coating and topped with finely shredded bonito. Languishing in a tangy sauce, it was a joy of harmonious texture and flavour. Crunch, softness; salty, sweet, sour.
Later we would have hiyashi tofu, a very different beast in the form of a large piece of cold silken tofu. It had a creamy texture and was also topped with bonito, but bathed in a sweet dark sauce – a breath away from miso-caramel. It would have made a good dessert.
A5 grade wagyu beef is one of the restaurant’s calling cards, so Caroline opted for wagyu nigiri. She reported that it was very rich, much more than she had expected.
I opted for grilled eel. The dense fish flakes were sweet and cold, falling apart with the rice into delicious mouthfuls.
We each had our sashimi of choice too; uni (sea urchin) for Caroline and mackerel for me. The mackerel was fresh and light, served with grated ginger and finely sliced scallions to contrast the dark flavour of the fish. Caroline enjoyed her uni but remarked that it was more grainy than she anticipated, and much more fishy. Texture-wise, it certainly wasn’t for me!
Likewise, I found the scallop sashimi unsettling; very chilled, squishy and fibrous. Caroline enjoyed it though, especially the slice of lemon between each piece. A bitter touch to cut through the sweet meat.
We found other similar dishes to be opposing too. The soft shell crab roll topped with avocado and tobiko, or tiny crunchy orange fish eggs, was simply fantastic, the crab crispy against the soft avocado.
But the crispy sushi roll topped with avocado, sashimi tuna mix and caviar was bizarre. The rice had been fried in panko breadcrumbs, creating a very hard exterior. The avocado was reminiscent of guacamole and the tuna mix tasted, to me, like ketchup. Still, as I said to Caroline, it meant I viewed the rest of the meal even more favourably: you can’t know what’s good if you don’t know what’s bad.
So overall, I would highly recommend Yamato. The staff were attentive and friendly, bustling amongst the stylish modern elegance of their surroundings. But most of all, compared to other Japanese restaurants aimed at the city’s students, the food at Yamato is bolder and more thoughtful – well worth your time.
Amy & Caroline received an £80 dining allowance from Yamato. The bill came to £102, including £12 for each bottle of sake.
11 Lochrin Terrace, Edinburgh, EH3 9QJ