As far as good quality, small independent restaurants go, Yatai Izakaya hits the nail on the head.
Focusing on traditional Japanese methods, the eatery has created its own unique take on the cuisine.
It’s a hidden gem, sitting among city centre cocktail bars. The bamboo cane exterior gives a clue to the authentic Japanese experience within.
And the decor inside also helps set the scene, with a touch of oriental style to the furnishings, atmospheric lighting and shelves lined with sake bottles.
The best seats in the house seemed to be at the counter in front of the open range, where food is prepared by highly skilled chefs in a whirl of flashing blades and flaming grills.
Sadly for us, someone else had bagged front row to the finest food show in town.
With a menu that’s designed to be shared, we deliberated on our must-try dishes.
The friendly staff suggested the Omakase approach to our selection – trusting the knowledgeable staff to choose dishes to suit our tastes.
That also involves selecting a dish, enjoying it, then deciding what to have next.
First to arrive was the salmon and parmesan fish cakes with a burnt tomato and chilli salsa (£6). The five fish cakes were rich in flavour and the tangy salsa, provided a real hit of ginger producing an extremely fresh taste.
Arriving shortly after was the stand-out dish for me, two pulled BBQ pork belly steamed buns with apple pickle (£7.50). The bun and pork melted in the mouth and the sauce was very more-ish. The crunch of the apple and crackling sold it to me.
It was love at first bite.
Next up was a compilation of skewers (£12). Having previously visited Yatai, I knew these were a must.
Our server identified our food likes and dislikes then suggested four skewers to suit our tastes.
They featured a stunning, grilled 24-hour matured pork belly skewer with Kyoto-style miso mustard, a delicious charcoal grilled chicken thigh meat skewer with spring onion, and a salmon skewer cooked with a splash of sake and served with Kyoto miso sauce.
My favourite had to be the charcoal grilled chicken meat ball skewer with sansho pepper, served with a raw egg in soy sauce on the side.
The idea is to dip the chicken meat ball into the egg, and let the egg cook on it, resulting in a mouthful of exquisite flavour. Needless to say it was delightful.
After a much needed break, the flat iron steak with caramelised onion and wild garlic butter (£10) was served.
A generous portion, it was my boyfriend Calum’s firm favourite. The combination of the flavours was outstanding and showed great culinary knowledge.
The succulent medium rare meat was cooked perfectly, grilled on the outside and tender inside.
Last up was the deep fried soft crab shell with chilli mayo (£8.50) and the prawn katsu with wasabi mayo (£6.50). With four pieces of crab and six of prawn it was a struggle to finish. The crab was very moist and soft which complemented the thinly sliced cucumber and rice. The prawns were battered so had a beautiful crunch to them.
A word of warning – the wasabi mayo is not for the faint hearted and should be approached with caution!
Yatai is great value for money and the quality of food is second to none. I’ll be back.