It took us a wee while to find Yamato – we looked down Lochrin Terrace from the main road but couldn’t see it. Assuming we had the wrong street, we made our way to Lochrin Place on the opposite side of the Cameo cinema. But no, we were actually right at first, so did an about-turn, arriving late and indicating our gaijin-ness. Actually, we’ve been to Japan – see Snack Issue 6 – and one thing which stood out on our trip (or rather didn’t!?) was the two kaiseki restaurants we visited. Both served traditional and expensive 8 course+ meals, and both were hidden down narrow alleyways in the Gion (geisha) district of Kyoto. Kyoto being an ancient capital of Japan, and Yamato being an ancient name for Japan, it seemed fitting to us that we should have trouble finding this restaurant!
It also seemed apt that the menu at Yamato is fit for an emperor, filled with extravagant ingredients such as wagyu, uni (sea urchin) and on the day we visited, Otoro. Sounding a bit like the main character from a Studio Ghibli movie, this is the most expensive and flavoursome cut of tuna, from the belly. It’s so desired that it even has its own website – otoro.com.
We took our seats in the sophisticated yet relaxed restaurant. Instrumental Japanese music and a colour scheme of grey, black and pastel shades set the tone. The geometric wooden beams, squares and hexagons hinted at Japanese minimalism, but there was a kawaii element – origami-style and cloud-shaped lampshades above us, and little bonsai trees and cute teapots on the tables. Fresh fish on display on the counter and bottles of sake, whisky and gin lined up behind. This looked like our kind of bar, bringing back happy memories of our trip to Japan.
On the table, an oversight for many – thick, quality napkins. These are things food bloggers tend to get excited about, rather than latte art!
We didn’t focus on the wine list, but dived straight into the sake page. They have at least a dozen, most served cold but some can be served hot. We felt there was more of a ritual to hot sake and so shared a ‘pot’. It’s like a teapot…only not!
Crispy Brussels sprouts with yuzu sauce and pine nuts surprised us on the menu – it did appeal, but we decided to stick to the authentic items. Then we got home and googled, and it seems that this is a popular dish in New York Japanese restaurants after all. Who’d have thought?
Dishes come out when ready, and the Otoro tuna belly nigiri arrived first. We could taste why it’s so revered. This is the leanest, tastiest slice of tuna you’ll find.
Next we ate takoyaki – octopus balls. These plump doughy balls with a crispy exterior are seasoned with Japanese mayonnaise and a tangy okonomi sauce (a bit like Worcestershire sauce).
The sushi soon followed – eel and egg maki, snow crab gunkan and the best of the lot – grilled wagyu gunkan, which was sushi rice topped with little cuts of rich, buttery steak.
Chawammushi arrived next in a dinky lidded pot. This was something that we had actually eaten in Japan, but didn’t realise it. Like a hot eggy savoury custard with scallop, prawn, brown himeji mushroom and truffle sauce, it sounds a bit odd to western palates, but is quite comforting.
We ate the best tempura in our life at a restaurant underneath Tokyo train station, and the assorted selection of king prawn and vegetables which was soon delivered was almost as good.
For dessert there are only two choices, so we ordered both. Matcha mochi, coming with a ball of your chosen flavour of ice cream, and a trio of all available ice creams: matcha, white sesame and black sesame, which was our favourite.
In Britain we perhaps don’t have the appreciation of sushi that leads people to revere the likes of Jiro Ono (see the movie Jiro Dreams Of Sushi), but Yamato excels in lifting it above the level of what may appear to be something basic and unsophisticated. Of course, it’s not all just sushi either. The tempura, takoyaki and chawanmushi were all great.
Date night coming up? Heading to the Cameo and need a pre-movie dinner? Yamato may have you covered!
11 Lochrin Terrace, Edinburgh
Chilled out Japanese decor
High end sushi