Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Review: Yatai Izakaya

The Fanciest Japanese in Town

Lightly seared beef with seasoned soya

Yatai piqued my interest the very first time I walked past the restaurant. Housed in a glass fronted building over two floors - and with a balcony overlooking the street - it was a little more striking than the average Aberdonian establishment. A glance inside showed me an open grill, small wooden tables and a funky interior decorated with Japanese signs, labels and sake bottles. I asked around, and everything I heard back was positive, especially when it came to the interesting menu and the omakase eating style. The venue is modeled on a traditional Japanese izakaya, an informal bar of sorts that serves sharing portions of food along with drinks, though Yatai itself focuses more on the food.  

A glimpse inside

Omakase refers to “leaving it to the chef”, where you set a budget and dietary preferences, and let the chef take it away from there. This may sound like handing over too much control, but in practice I’ve found it to work very well, particularly because the folks at the restaurant run such a slick operation. I’ve visited with a group of five where our dietary requirements were quite complicated, with two of us avoiding pork and another avoiding fish, but our waiter organised a menu that worked for all of us – even making sure the members of the party who did want pork or fish didn’t miss out. The chef and the kitchen have always seemed to time the arrival of dishes very well, and I would recommend discarding any preconceived notions about courses and just enjoying the ride. The menu covers a whole range of food from sushi and sashimi to miso grilled meats, fish and vegetables, along with the occasional trendy fusion dish such as salmon ceviche appearing on the specials board.

 Clockwise from the top left: salmon ceviche with lime and seaweed,
salmon, bream and yellow tail sashimi, Kyoto miso glazed salmon
and sweet soya marinated lamb chops with pickled ginger 

Not that I’m knocking the salmon ceviche, because it was excellent. Beautifully served, balanced with lime and seaweed flavours and refreshing to eat, for a split-second it even made me feel Aberdeen wasn’t too remote a place to live. The grilled meats and fish are other highlights on offer, with the Kyoto miso glazed salmon from the main menu and a sweet soya glazed lamb chop special being particular favourites of mine. Do keep a look out for these specials, as the dishes on offer are often very interesting. The aforementioned salmon ceviche was one, and on another occasion we had a simple but very well cooked salt baked bream served whole with pickled seaweed and ginger. The pickled seaweed had a texture that was novel to us at the table, and Yatai does seem to bring a lot of these more uncommon ingredients into its food. Unusually, the sauces and dips are worth mentioning as well, as they're often served with a twist - seasoned, spiced and made a little just a bit more special. 

Salt baked bream with pickled seaweed and ginger

I will admit that not everything has been perfect. Our table was once served skewered pork belly that was apparently just fat more than anything else, and we’ve also battled through overly rich buttered mushrooms in the past. The selection for dessert is limited to a changing roster of ice creams and petit fours, though their quality has always been very good. On my first visit we were served a plate of vegetable frittered sushi – a creation that was completely unnecessary and eating it is not an experience I would want to repeat – especially since I know the chef is capable of so much more. And thankfully I don’t have to, as though omakase is on offer, you can order at will from the menu if you wish. In fact, as staff show you to your table and take orders for your drinks, they make sure to carefully explain the concept of omakase, go through the specials and leave you to make your own food-related decisions if you prefer. As a repeat customer, this is what I am most likely to opt for, especially since I now know my own likes and dislikes. 

One scoop of rhubarb and three scoops of pistachio.
The pistachio had a rich, cake-like texture that
I particularly enjoyed.

The cost of the meal may be a little prohibitive for some, as there is a £25 minimum spend for ordering omakase style. I usually set a budget of £30 a head, though admittedly this does get you a lot of food. £25 is indeed enough, as staff will keep you on the less expensive items on the menu. On that note, there is never any pressure to spend, and previous waiters have even suggested starting out low and adding more food later if we’re still hungry. This main menu is available every evening from Tuesday to Saturday, while a special shortened ramen menu is served Mondays and Sundays. I have my reservations about the latter, as I’ve dropped by for curry and ramen in the past when Yatai served lunch, and the food failed to shine. The restaurant does change its menus and opening times now and then, so I would recommend checking their website before making a visit, and making a booking for weekends. I will of course be coming back whenever I’m in Aberdeen, and looking for very good Japanese food served in style. 

Food: 8/10
Service: 8/10
Atmosphere: 7.5/10
Value: 6.5/10

Final Score: 8/10

Contact Information
A: 53 Langstane Place, Aberdeen AB11 6EN
T: +44 01224 592355
W: www.yatai.co.uk

NB. The final score, while influenced by the sub-scores, is a qualitative reflection of my overall impression of the establishment.

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