I‘M A bit of a nervous diner when outside of my comfort zone.
I’m not too worried about the food being good. Instead, paranoia kicks in over everything else. Did I order enough? Too much? Pronounce the wine correctly?
And sushi? That’s a huge fear.
Thankfully, the attentive and knowledgeable staff of Yatai immediately put me at rest with the welcome statement: “If you’re still hungry, you can still order more.”
Oh, what brave new world ...
And it did feel like a new world, very modern, but with nods to its culture – all bamboo, bottles, stylish monochrome and a funky and open kitchen.
Of course, the setting is all well and good, but I was there for the food – from the Asian Restaurant Chef of the Year.
Deciding just to pay about £50 for the both of us, we ordered a range of dishes.
The miso soup (£3) was rich and full of umami – that savoury, brothy, almost meaty flavour that chefs like Heston Blumenthal bleat on about as if it’s the holy grail. And drinking the soup, I can see why.
Some salmon sushi (£4.30) – salmon with pickled ginger and wasabi, covered in green flying fish roe – was subtle and dense allowing the freshness of the fish to speak for itself.
This was something I found with all of the dishes. They had been seasoned and flavoured with care and love, in an attempt to enhance the flavour of the main ingredient, rather than disguise it.
The wagyu teriyaki (£2.60 each) was the perfect example of this. The savoury-sweet sauce served to boost the buttery, tender meat to another level.
And the kaisen shumai (£5.70) – steamed seafood dumplings – were also something special. The paper-thin cases managed to impossibly hold the masses of delicate but incredibly tasty filling.
Both the kamo no teriyaki (£6.50), duck in soy, mirrin and sake, and the kohitsuji sansho miso yaki (£8.50) lamb special were equally as wonderful.
The rich duck was moist and not overpowered by the soy and sake.
The juicy lamb had a smoky flavour thanks to the barley miso and chargrilling, and it really worked wonders.
Although, all this does come with a word of warning.
All of the meat was cooked very pink – perfect for me, but less so for my missus.
Our final dish was soft shell crab sushi (£7.50) – whole soft-shell crab that looked far too attractive to eat. But obviously we did.
The mild crab dish was incredibly crispy and moreish.
With a beer and apple juice, we spent £50.80. But for six plates (and one bowl) of beautifully-presented, fresh, flavourful food, this is one place I won’t be scared to enter again.