I often forget that Amsterdam is so close: it’s a two-hour drive, which makes it perfectly feasible to pop up there for dinner, especially if there’s a Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant you fancy trying for dinner.
Yamazato is situated in the Okura hotel about a twenty-minute walk south of the centre of town. The decor is very traditional, and you are served by a flotilla of quietly shuffling and smiling ladies in kimonos, but the clientèle is international and we heard Dutch, English and Australian accents near our table.
Naturally I muted my phone in order to respect the atmosphere, but that didn’t preclude using it as a camera.
Cherry bubble aperitif.
As usual we opted for the most extensive tasting menu available. I was slightly concerned as my experience with kaiseki cuisine had been a little disappointing (read more about that here), but I was willing to give it another try.
It started badly: Green tea tofu with fish bouillon. This is everything I hate in Japanese food. Gloopy blobs of tasteless mush. Although the bouillon was nice.
The next starter selection was a marked improvement: gurnard sushi, shrimp dusted with bottarga, snow crab in a fish stock jelly, deep-fried scallop, and duck breast. A nice range of mouthfuls.
Next, a sea bass soup, and we were unfortunately back in the realm of the slimy. A simple broth to accentuate the flavour of the fish would have sufficed, but they had to add something jelly-like to the liquid to make it feel more like you were eating mucus.
At least there was nothing to complain about on the drinks front. I had two different sakés; both soft and slightly fruity and very drinkable. This one is from Akahita province.
Sashimi. You can’t go wrong with sashimi can you? The salmon on the golden platter had been dropped into boiling water for a few seconds to give the edges that light flush.
The main fish course: lobster overpowered by an unpleasantly strong sea urchin sauce (the pink blobs). The slice of taro at bottom left had been marinated in some kind of sweet sauce (teriyaki?) and was fantastic. A shame they gave us so little of it.
Fried shrimp cake surrounded by corn. Not bad.
Then came the meat course, which was accompanied by a glass of a rather spectacular Amarone. The meat and veg were sitting on top of a stone with a small heater inside (you can just about see the blue flame under the plate). Great sesame and ponzu sauce too.
Right to left: miso soup, pickled veg, eel and rice.
With dessert came a dessert wine: Yuzu-flavoured saké. Delicious, and only 8.5% abv.
Left to right: peach jelly, green tea ice cream, spicy macaroon, tomato ice cream, pancake and custard. Winner: tomato ice cream.
So, a mixed bag. Some very enjoyable dishes, and some not at all enjoyable, although some of that is undoubtedly down to the fact that I personally am not keen on certain aspects of Japanese haute cuisine (tofu). Still, I found myself quite puzzled as to the accolades this restaurant has received. Next time I want Michelin-starred Japanese cuisine I’ll stay closer to home and make a return trip to Kamo.