When Akira Oshima came to Amsterdam in 1971, the Netherlands had yet to discover the delights of Sushi, Sashimi and Sake. Today, kaiseki cuisine is held in high regard and his Yamazato restaurant has now held a Michelin star since 2002.
Finding an internationally oriented hotel with a Japanese restaurant was unique even for Tokyo in 1962. The Okura hotel was the first to do it and, since then, each Okura hotel in the world has come to house a Yamazato restaurant.
Having started as an intern at the Tokyo hotel, Akira Oshima moved to the Netherlands following the opening of the Hotel Okura Amsterdam. As a master in kaiseki, the traditional, multi-course Japanese cuisine, Oshima discovered that the Netherlands in the early 70s wasn’t quite ready for a Japanese chef. Japanese food was relatively unknown and greeted with skepticism. The Dutch balked at the concept of raw fish and traditional Japanese ingredients were difficult to source. The market auctions in IJmuiden and Scheveningen could offer North Sea fish such as cod, sole and turbot, but tuna or brill was an entirely different proposition.
For Oshima, this meant regular treks to Rungis in the southern suburbs of Paris where the daily fish market opens each morning for a couple of hours. For many years, Oshima would travel up and down each week in order to source the best fish. Eventually, he found an Amsterdam-based trader in North Sea fish who was able to import other fish types from elsewhere.
Sashimi (raw fish), must be served fresh and not every fish type is suitable: "Only certain saltwater fish can be served raw as certain other species such as herring, wild salmon and cod could have worms. For added security you should freeze all fish first." At Yamazato, this is done using shock freezers, in which the fish are quickly brought to a temperature of -86 degrees, eliminating the opportunity for moisture to escape and allowing the fish to retain its flavour during the thawing process. The restaurant also cooks, stews or fries the whole fish as is customary in Japanese culture.
Akira pampers his diners with 7 or 8 courses, each small portion bursting with different flavours. Each course consists of several dishes and no ingredient is featured more than once during a meal.
Oshima also cooks with the seasons: bamboo shoots in March and April, asparagus in May, and herring in June. The seasons also inspire the beautiful presentation of the dishes that are often served decorated with real flowers or flowers carved from red potatoes or vegetables.
Yamazato offers breakfast, lunch and dinner sittings 365 days of the year, as the hotel’s Japanese guests expect to be able to eat as though they are home regardless of the date or the time of day.
Meat on the menu
Having embraced Japanese cuisine, the Dutch now make up the majority of the Yamazato clientele and, reflecting this, there is space in the kaiseki kitchen for the more typical Dutch ingredients. The Dutch customers tend to play things safe with beef tenderloin one of the venue’s most popular dishes. Offering meat on the menu is a concession to the Netherlands, Oshima explains: "My predecessor served only fish because in Japan, certainly for Buddhists, it isn’t customary to eat animals with four legs. I offer it, but not to the extent that is customary for the West."
Yamazato offers a number of menu options including a seasonal and a vegetarian menu, à la carte dishes and a lunch menu that features lunch boxes, beautiful black lacquered boxes filled with attractive appetizers and wonderful dishes served with soup and rice.
Oshima is also keen to offer a range of price options: "During the weekend we offer a limited number of lunch boxes priced at €25. We want to make Japanese food accessible for as large an audience as possible. We hope to attract those people who may occasionally buy sushi from the supermarket or who have tried Japanese cuisine and now want to take things a stepfurther."
Ferdinand Bolstraat 333
1072 LH Amsterdam