Dining in Amsterdam: Yamazato*

Regular readers have guessed it: yet another friend’s birthday to be celebrated with a dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant. In this case it is Melvin’s birthday, and because he likes Asian cuisine I took him to Yamazato in the Okura hotel in Amsterdam. Yamazato is a traditional Japanese kaiseki restaurant, and was the first Japanese restaurant in Europe with a Michelin star in 2002. I had been to Yamazato quite often about 15 years ago, but had not been for quite a while. So I was curious what it would be like.

From our table we had a nice view of the wonderful Japanese garden. The restaurant only offers two set menus that have quite some overlap between them, the Aoi Kaiseki (8 courses for 170 euros, or 235 euros with upgrade to Wagyu A5) and the Icho Kaiseki (7 courses including Wagyu A5 for 195 euros). For both menus the rice at the end can be upgraded to 5 pieces of nigiri sushi for 25 euros. We opted for the Aoi with Wagyu and sushi. The matching wine and sake was 115 euros for 5 glasses.

We started with a glass of sparkling sake. The amuse bouche was fried eggplant with corn, a green bean, a berry, and a sauce of dashi and sesame.

The appetizers were white asparagus with shrimp, seared scallop with shiitake mushroom and lotus root…

…and a single piece of sea bream nigiri, wrapped in a bamboo leaf. We found out later that there should have been a wine paired with these appetizers, but since the sommelier came to our table after we had finished the appetizers, we had not ordered the wine pairing yet. The sommelier made up for this later in the menu.

Japanese pea soup with sea bass. The soup had a very nice flavor of fresh peas.

The first sake, a sake that is only produced when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. The sommelier told us that he had 60 bottles flown in, because this sake is unpasteurized and therefore doesn’t keep for a long time and needs to be transported in a climate controlled environment. The sake was amazingly aromatic, with fruity aromas that you would not expect from something made out of rice.

The sake was a nice pairing for the sashimi, that came with regular soy sauce as well as soy sauce mixed with a raw egg yolk. This enriched soy sauce was very nice, as it added creaminess and clung better to the sashimi than regular soy sauce. The sashimi consisted of sea bream, regular bluefin tuna, belly piece (toro) from bluefin tuna, and hamachi. It came with fresh wasabi (much more delicate and complex than the factory stuff), a shiso leaf, cucumber, green bean, and radish. This was excellent sashimi of impeccable freshness, delicious. The toro was so tender and creamy.

We continued the pairing with a wine, a white Bordeaux: 2019 Ch?teau Chasse-Spleen, a blend of 85% Sauvignon Blanc and 15% Sémillon, aged in new oak. The oak made the wine very aromatic.

This was an adequate pairing for the black cod, cured in miso, and served with daikon stuffed with smoked salmon, Japanese green peppers, and potato. Black cod is not at all like regular cod, because it is much more fatty and has thinner flakes. The fish had a very nice flavor and texture. The wine could just hold its own against the fish.

We continued with another wine, an extra wine to make up for the glass that we had missed: a 2019 Baron de L Pouilly-Fumé, 100% Sauvingnon Blanc aged in oak. Due to the oak this was more creamy than a usual Pouilly.

This made it a good match for the eel salad. The eel had been basted with a white soy sauce and was therefore lighter in color and flavor than the usual Japanese eel. It worked well with the very nice Pouilly.

Then it was back to sake, with a special one that was brewed by Noguchi Naohiko, who is a master brewer in his nineties with more than 70 years experience. It was a delicious and very creamy sake.

It was an original pairing for the Wagyu A5, that was served with five flavors: by itself, with lime juice, with ponzu sauce, with sea salt, and with wasabi. The Wagyu was very tender, flavorful, creamy, and with a nice smokiness from the charcoal. And served perfectly medium rare. The crunchy vegetables were a nice contrast. My favorite flavor combination was the beef with salt and wasabi. I would have expected a red wine with the beef, but the sake was very nice. It was served at two temperatures, slightly chilled and warm (but not hot).

Another sake to go with the sushi. I don’t know anything about sake so I can’t tell you much about it, but all of the sakes were very well balanced and complex. The sommelier told us that he is about to become a Master of Sake, which is the sake equivalent of Master of Wine.

A Japanese meal always ends with rice, miso soup, and pickles. We had upgraded the rice to sushi, which had very generous portions of salmon, regular tuna, belly tuna, eel, and sea bream. There was also a piece of egg tofu.

For the dessert we had plum sake, very nice and not too sweet.

It was a good pairing for the dessert, which was also not very sweet. The strawberry cake was very elegant.

Japanese tea is complimentary at the end of the meal. You get nice friandises with the coffee, which for a 5 euro surcharge you can also enjoy with the tea.

Melvin got an additional dessert with a candle for his birthday.

Except for being too late to take our wine order, the service was impeccable. The ladies wear traditional Japanese kimonos and speak good English. They explain all the food very well, including how to enjoy it best. The whole scenery of the restaurant is like being in Japan. The Dutch sommelier is very passionate about sake and it was interesting to chat with him about it. The sakes were very nice and paired well with the dishes. The food was excellent, all perfectly prepared and beautifully presented. Kaiseki is a very elegant cuisine that requires attention when tasting it. If you prefer bold flavors, you may find some of the dishes bland, which they certainly were not. This was like being in Japan away from Japan, and a wonderful experience.

15 thoughts on “Dining in Amsterdam: Yamazato*

  1. You’ve certainly made me want to try this place, the food and experience sounds absolutely wonderful. We adore Japanese cuisine but know little about it, just the flavours are one of my favourites! Years ago we dined at a high-end Japanese restaurant in Toronto and were surprised to learn that good quality Sake is never hot, they just heat mediocre sake to hide its imperfections! Happy birthday to Melvin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What an amazing meal! I love Amsterdam but haven’t enjoyed Japanese cuisine there (my sister-in-law is Japanese so I have high expectations lol). But I think I may pay a visit in my next trip to Europe coming up soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Incredible. We’re going to be in Kyoto in a few weeks and I’m so excited for the cuisine! And sake! So many delicious varieties. I’d always preferred it warm, but now I also love the cold, cloudy variety.

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    1. Mimi – I have been in Kyoto dozens of times, tho’ not lately. One of my three favourite cities in the world! Don’t go overboard on the steaks – you can do as well and more cheaply in the US. Don’t worry about different sakes – you are not there long enough to become an expert! Have it old-fashioned and warm! Look up some old, old-fashioned restaurants outside the tourist belt . . . just a little English will do – do NOT go after the latest fashion stakes – you will lose the utter charm of the place! With the money ‘left over’ ask to go to one of the old crockery/cutlery sores – chopsticks, their rests, small bowls etc you may be able to fit in your suitcase, Go to Nara next door if you can . . . altogether GET AWAY from the tourists . . . Kyoto is heaven!!! Oops, is the Takashima Theare still in Nara part of the year? Have fun! :LEARN!!!

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    2. Back once more – you are aware I presume that the very best kitchen knives in the world come from here – cost a ferocious price but many of our chefs come to order and buy!!!


        1. *smile* Am supposedly ‘retired’ but busier than ever1 And – studied and became a doctor of medicine . . . married ‘into’ the plastics business and made PR++ my work . . . all my friends are still shaking heads ? !

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  3. *huge smile* For the first time in a decade of knowing you perchance I know more than you both as far as both food and drink are concerned! From my 20s to my 40s business took us to Japan yearly or more often and weeks at a time . . . Ha! I guess we bought enough machinery and materials to be feted at places most Westerners never saw! Worked out I have spent almost a year of my life in the Land of the Rising Sun! And when time could be taken from Tokyo and Osaka beautiful, beautiful Kyoto beckoned with restaurants sans pareil! Time has changed things and inevitably there is a European feeling about your meal. To be honest I dislike most of the crockery with mixed colours, un-Japanese shapes and patterns – too much of a purist! Wonder why Chinese chopsticks and not Japanese are used! Looked for the traditional sake bottles – how do you keep it at the needed 40-43 C temp? . . . only to realize it is now also drunk cold . . . !!! Love the stuff . . . well, must try one of our Chardonnays next time around – Vietnamese and Korean having largely replaced Japanese in my own menu! Altho’ some of your dishes looked a little ‘European’ to me . . . this was a fabulous trip down memory lane . . . thank you!!!

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  4. It’s good to see posts like this because this spot truly reflects the food in Japan. Something I typically cannot say when seeing other Japanese-style restaurants throughout Europe online. Now, I wonder what country has deviated the most? I’m sure the US must rank in the top 3 category for mayo and sauce slathered rolls from its Americanization makeover ?.


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