At either end of the Amsterdam dining scene, you find restaurants that fall into one of two categories – at one end the big, blowsy industrial warehouse spaces along the Ij, at the other small, intimate more gezellig eateries like the Yuzu Dining Bar – a long, moody room in a hidden corner of the canal ring.
And so it was that I found myself on a night out with my lovely recently-turned teenager. Osc is slowly getting ever bolder in his eating habits and thank-the-lord is finally discovering a world beyond nuggets. His cuisine of choice now is Japanese food and within that, most beloved of all is the subcategory of Yakitori. So when I heard that Den Haag’s Yuzu Dining Bar (winner of the ‘best restaurant in The Hague) had opened a branch in central Amsterdam specialising in chicken yakitori skewers, we made a date to explore it together.
Located in the Kerkstraat, steps away from the touristy Leidsestraat but a world away from it in terms of vibe, it would be easy to miss this spot if you didn’t know it was there. The black walls, awning and dark windows give little away as to the smokin’ vibe inside (and that’s got nothing to do with the coffeeshop next door.)
Behind the door is a Japanese ‘Izakaya’ a sexy dining bar for small dishes and drinks – beautiful lighting, some killer Japanese murals, a bar that stretches half the length of the room, and right at the end – the stage – an open kitchen, framed by playful manga artwork, behind-which a couple of chefs are working their magic over a robatayaki grill – complete with hot lumps of charcoal, fans and blowtorches.
We loved the clever detailing – wire baskets under the seats for coats and bags, a cup on the table for used wooden skewers (no escaping the evidence of our greed here) and best of all the awesome soundtrack that took us from hip hop beats to 80’s electronica.
But it was of course the food we had come for, and it delivered in droves. We had the ‘Omakase’ chef’s choice menu so we were left in their capable hands. A little nervous to be sure as this is ‘beak to tail’ dining with every element of the chicken on offer – from safer bets like thigh and wing to more obscure offerings like achilles, wingtip skin and soft knee bone as well as offal skewers like heart, liver and gizzard. We need not have worried. And vegans don’t fret, you are catered for too – alongside the chicken yakitori there is a solid menu of vegetarian options and sides.
For us, first up was katsu sando – a special request from Oscar who was keen to try the chicken cutlet with yuzu ketchup. It came served like a little lobster roll in a soft brioche-style bun, ever so slightly spicy and served with matchstick-thin strips of cabbage.
Next was the first of several vegetable-based offerings which were surprisingly delicious and unexpectedly one of the highlights of the meal. a beautifully prepared oblong of crisp lettuce, topped with hijiki seaweed and spicy wafu, a wonderful sweet skewer of small tomatoes, exploding with juice and flavour and served on a luminous green parsley oil. Finally the Oxheart cabbage served with a honey soy glaze – this was particularly wonderful, the edges singed and smokey-crisp and the sauce so delicious that Osc insisted it was left on the table to dip the chicken skewers in afterwards.
Then we got the skewers we had been waiting for – wings brilliantly served so the bone slid out effortlessly leaving the most juicy tender and at the same time crispy wing meat that punched with barbecue-char. Chicken sausage served with an egg yolk that had been cured until viscous and glistening, inviting the diner to swirl it up into the ultimate dip. We had chicken thigh served in traditional style with leek and then, the bravest choice of all, as we were presented with two chicken heart skewers. I wasn’t sure if I was bold enough to give it a try but before I’d even thought about it, to my astonishment, my ultra-fussy, nugget-eating, teenage gourmet-phobe dived straight in. That’s right – the boy whose diet is usually limited to the blandest options imaginable wolfed down chicken hearts in a way he usually reserves for Dutch licorice.
For dessert we were treated to the Yuzu cheesecake and I couldn’t say a word when Osc scooped up all the creamy goodness and left the berries for me – I mean, they are fruit after all!
But I haven’t yet mentioned the drinks. Judging by the size of the bar these are almost certainly as much a highlight as the food, however as a responsible mum I limited myself to just the one cocktail – a shochu lemonade that had all the citrus needed to balance the smoky flavours. For true Japanese aficionados, the extensive sake menu is a must to say nothing of the Japanese whiskeys and beers.
We heard the waitress mention to diners on the next table that the advice is to go slow and order a couple of things at a time – the skewers are best eaten when straight off the grill. This is not just great advice from a food point of view but lends itself to the restaurant vibe. Tongue-tingling, smoky-hot charred bites of food coming in waves between serious drinks and a sexy soundtrack. It works equally well for couples, a party or even a night out with a cynical thirteen year old who left his mood at the door and threw himself wholeheartedly into a grown-up night out with his – dare I say it – ever so slightly cool mum.
So if you haven’t already guessed we are fans. Yuzu is a great addition to the Amsterdam scene.
Make a reservation and settle down for an evening of Japanese cool.
We were invited as guests of Yuzu but remember, we only add reviews to the blog when we genuinely recommend something to our readers. The fact we are already planning a return trip (not just to try the rice chips which sound awesome) tells you everything you need to know.
Click here for the Yuzu Dining Bar website where you can make a booking.