Stewart McRobert discovers the essential Japanese spirit right here in Edinburgh.
It could be said that Yamato represents the essence of Japan. It’s the original name for the region, now in the in Nara prefecture, that’s recognised as the birthplace of ancient Japan and Japanese culture.
Traditions such as sumo, Japanese Buddhism and sake are said to have been established there during the Asuka and Nara periods. Its rich history remains clear to this day – the area is home to the oldest Shinto sanctuary in Japan, the Omiwa-jinja Shrine, as well as the former capitals of Asuka and Fujiwara.
Perhaps most revealing, Yamato-damashii is the term used to describe the ‘Japanese spirit’.
All of this means that the staff at Yamato restaurant in Edinburgh’s Lochrin Place have a lot to live up to. Get things wrong and it’s not just unhappy diners on their hands but there’s every chance they’ll offend Japan’s national dignity.
However, it is built on solid foundations. For several years, sister restaurant, Kanpai, has been satisfying visitors who have a yen for Japanese cuisine. And as soon as you enter Yamato’s warm, welcoming interior it’s apparent that the country’s reputation is in good and caring hands.
The surroundings are what you’d expect from a restaurant that aims to exemplify all that’s best about Japan; the theme is clean, simple elegance.
We visit midweek and, encouragingly, the place is abuzz with diners. It seems they are keen to escape the unpredictability of Scottish winter weather and be transported to a place that’s altogether more pleasant and comforting.
After being shown to our seat we survey the extensive menu, make our choices and wait for the delights to begin arriving.
First up is karaage (sake-marinated fried chicken), golden parcels of batter-covered white meat that come with a fortifying sauce.
Once these are quickly tucked away a tumult of dishes come thick and dependably fast.
There is seared tuna with chilli ponzu sauce – fleshy and reviving as its name suggests.
There are mixed tempura, which include pink, plumptious prawn and wholesome vegetables.
There are fresh, tasty Nigiri and sea urchin sushi that has stirring depths of flavour.
The best is yet to come
It’s all mightily impressive, but the star of the evening is yet to come. The restaurant is proud of its Wagyu beef (pictured), imported direct from Japan. Wagyu is a unique product with a high level of fat marbling. Crucially, that fat has a low melting point which, say its supporters, helps make this the ‘juiciest, richest steak in the world’.
Our waitress gave us the full story when she delivered our grilled Wagyu nigiri. She was evangelical about its properties and one taste convinced us that her zeal was merited. It was melt-in-the-mouth soft and fantastically tasty.
On the subject of waiting staff, it’s apt to say that the service at Yamato could best be described as respectful and unobtrusive.
In the former Yamato region there is a route connecting Mount Miwa in Sakurai City and Mount Kasuga in Nara City that’s reputed to be the oldest road in Japan.
And after experiencing the menu highlights at Yamato restaurant, I’d have no hesitation in recommending that you beat a hasty path to its impeccably designed door.
See more at Yamato Restaurant