Samui Wining & Dining
Fresh Fish Flesh

And there’s a lot more too at Chaweng’s exciting Yamato Japanese restaurant.


11‘Chow mein’ and ‘rogan josh’ sound comfortingly familiar. But how about Mongolian buuz? And if that makes you pause then don’t even consider sampling Vietnam’s bánh con sò! The world is getting smaller every day. But, even so, most of us still tread carefully upon the path to new dishes, particularly if we’re not really quite sure what they are. But fare from China, India and Thailand has spread around the globe. And I’m told that Japanese cuisine has now become the world’s most popular choice. Strangely, though, for many of us this cuisine is still a bit of an adventure.

But this is Samui and not the side streets of Osaka and we don’t care for too much ceremony, particularly when it comes to enjoying our food. And one restaurant where this will certainly happen – enjoyment, that is! – is Yamato in Soi Colibri, across the road from Centara Grand Beach Resort Samui.

Yamato is an izakaya. Which, literally translated, means ‘sitting alcohol shop’! But in reality it’s the Japanese equivalent of a ‘pub’ and, similarly, you’ll find they come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are small bars with a food counter along one side. Some are fast-food chains found mainly near train stations. Others are palatial, like Tokyo’s legendary three-floor Gonpachi, where scenes from Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill’ were filmed. Others, again, are refined dining venues. And that’s what you’ll find when you visit Yamato.

It’s all very relaxed here, with a blend of Japanese culture that seems to have adapted to our island lifestyle. There’s no sitting cross-legged at low tables (which isn’t the custom in izakayas anyway) at Yamato. And if you’ve ever experienced a Tokyo eatery you’ll have been bowled over by the deafening chorus of – “Irasshaimase!” – from the entire staff as you enter. But here the traditional welcome comes in the form of a smiling greeting from the owners, K-san and Q-san.

The pleasant décor is subtly understated – this is an establishment that’s typically dedicated to the business of eating and drinking, after all. The tones are muted, the furniture is sturdy and there’s an enclosed section with air-conditioning should you prefer. And, like most izakayas, you’re able to see the chefs busily at work. This is an experience in itself. Japanese chefs pride themselves in the speed and precision with which they prepare their food and the way those sharp blades fly around has to be seen to be believed. And the spin-off from this is that you’ll never have to wait very long for your dishes to appear – another point of pride with the chef.

There’s quite a range of different dishes available and it’s maybe not a bad idea to try the Japanese approach. And that’s basically to enjoy the experience to the full, and at leisure, and to order lots of small dishes interspersed with liberal amounts of alcohol! This is otsumami, a similar idea to tapas. And, without tangling you up with tongue-twisting names, you’ll particularly enjoy picking through a selection of pickles and rice crackers, roast potatoes, chicken or pork on the skewer, crunchy fried chicken tid-bits, salads and beans and half a dozen sorts of dipping sauces.

It’s not precisely what springs to mind when you think of Japanese cuisine, is it! In truth, the traditional Japanese dishes at one time were all centred on fish. This nation has always had a vigorous fishing industry and enjoyed a wide variety of approaches to preparing these dishes. And, true to form, at Yamato you’ll find a plentiful supply of sashimi.

Sashimi literally means ‘pierced body’ and describes any thinly-sliced raw fish or other seafood, with the exception of shrimps which are usually served cooked. It comes with its own garnish and is accompanied only by a dipping sauce. The spicy wasabi sauce is particularly strong but the trick here is to make a blend that suits you by mixing it in with the soy sauce and optionally adding a dash of ginger or lemon to taste. If you’ve decided to give the mixed otsumami selection a miss then do make sashimi your first course. The flavours are delicate and if this comes after a more robust dish it tends to make the sashimi taste bland. Of course, there’s always the option to go for this as an entrée, in which case it should be accompanied by bowls of rice and miso soup – a particularly favoured combination as the tofu and seaweed complement the subtle flavour of the fish. Sashimi is one dish that’s always eaten with chopsticks, so be prepared!

But if it’s rice along with sashimi that you fancy then have a look through the sushi offerings – an ideal way to present this combination of contrasting textures. The maki sushi is a Yamato favourite, consisting of layers of rice, seaweed and vegetables rolled into a cylinder with the sashimi around the outside, sometimes all held together with a bamboo mat. And keep in mind that tip for diluting the wasabi sauce with this dish, too!

Or you could go for the alternative option of ordering one of their food sets. It’s particularly effortless here as there are choices of the gyoza (meat and vegetable dumplings), the sweet and savoury teriyaki (seafood, chicken or meat), or the ubiquitous sashimi, all of which come with ample helpings of salad and vegetables.

A further admirable aspect of Yamato is the actual menu itself. It’s big and colourful and with detailed descriptions of each of their offerings alongside photos of the dish itself. It makes it so easy to pick out your choices that ordering becomes a delight of anticipation. And the pleasure will also linger when the bill appears. You’ll find that everything here is very reasonably priced; yet another attraction in these financially tense times.

Japanese restaurants are not exactly thick on the ground in these parts although they’re rapidly becoming a popular choice. At Yamato the atmosphere is cheerful, the cuisine is excellent and the menu’s been thoughtfully presented with clarity and detail. It might not be a Tokyo pub but it is an izakaya, it’s the only one on Samui, and it’s a name to be remembered – Yamato!


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