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.