Amsterdam Foodie

Yamazato: the Michelin stars that never shone

Believe it or not, for the past year or two the Honey Badger has been complaining that I don’t take him to the best restaurants. I know – is he insane?! But he kind of has a point: even though we seem to go out for dinner on a budget-blowingly regular basis, when it comes to the Michelin stars, I always appear to be with the Foodie Girls Dining Club. So, for his birthday, I decided to rectify this and take him to Japanese restaurant Yamazato at the Okura Hotel. It has one Michelin star, and a quick look at the menu told me it was reassuringly expensive – the kind of expensive that makes you squint your eyes to check you read it right, and then decide to trust that for nearly €400 they surely know what they’re doing… Only with hindsight, I’m not sure they did. Things got off to a bad start with the service – which isn’t something I ever thought I’d have to say about anywhere with stars. The waitress couldn’t seem to answer simple questions about the various menu options – nor explain what mystery ingredients were in either Dutch or English. What’s more, while I was the one to request the wine list and order the wine, the sommelier came straight over and poured it for the Honey Badger to taste. I’ve witnessed this with frustration a million times before – but I think there’s a difference between a cheap Italian trattoria making this mistake, and one of Amsterdam’s most sophisticated hotels. To add insult to feminist injury, the Sancerre wasn’t even properly chilled. #Firstworldproblems if ever that hashtag applied…

Yamazato Amsterdam restaurant - amuse

Moving onto the food, things didn’t exactly get better quickly. An amuse bouche kicked off the “Chef’s Recommendation” menu: a square-shaped noodle work of modern art that tasted of slimy soy with baby corn. I didn’t get it – much like modern art. The first proper course, known as “Zensai”, looked incredible but didn’t deliver on flavour. Everything had that pre-prepared chill to it, as though the five little dishes had marched down a production line from fridge to table – their orders having been given by the chef hours ago. And that orange cup-shaped petal in the bottom left-hand corner that looks like an edible flower? It isn’t. I had to down half a glass of Sancerre just to take the bitter taste away…

Yamazato Amsterdam restuarant - Zensai

The sea bass soup was – well, perhaps it was an acquired taste. It was densely populated with that type of seaweed whose fronds are so fine it’s closer to algae. The sensation of it sliding down my throat was akin to something quite different. And not something I’d want a whole bowl of.

Thankfully, things finally improved after so many false starts. The sashimi was undeniably excellent. (Which may just go to prove that I’m such a philistine that when I think “Japanese food”, what I really mean is sushi. So be it.) The lobster with sea urchin sauce was decadent but nothing out of the ordinary – as ordinary as lobster can ever be, which I suppose is not very.

The shrimp cakes, wrapped in corn, deep fried and then dipped into something umami-sweet-and-savoury was perhaps my favourite dish – it had every element of balance from salty to sweet, and crunchy to soft. The beef was exciting, too: it came wrapped around veges and simmering in its own little juicy sauce. It knew what it was about.

Yamazato Amsterdam restaurant - eel soup

Then came another soup – considerably better and less slimy than the first – with fried chunks of eel, pickled veg, and “noodles” made of some other root. The miso and rice were also familiar and comforting after so many different flavours.

I am never a huge fan of Asian desserts and this one was no exception – although I’ll readily admit that this was probably more down to the diner than the chef. They always seem to involve things flavoured with green tea (other than hot water) and odd savoury ingredients turned sweet. In this case, there was green tea and tomato ice cream, a rather flabby Japanese pancake, a slightly out-of-place macaron, and something peachy in a glass (I liked that last bit but could’ve lived without the rest).

Eight courses later, it was time to leave before I’d have to re-mortgage my apartment to pay the bill. I walked out feeling like something had burnt a hole in my pocket. Was the problem that it genuinely wasn’t value for money? Was it that I just don’t get Japanese food? I still don’t know… Either way, on the plus side I doubt the Honey Badger will ever complain about not being taken to Michelin starred restaurant again.

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Yamazato at Okura Hotel (Japanese)


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