Food review: Harajuku Kitchen
Richard Lumgair and Kaori Simpson's Japanese restaurant goes beyond sushi
With its origins in a local food market stall, Barry Cooper finds a new Edinburgh restaurant broadening our awareness and appreciation of Japanese food preparation and cooking
When former broadcast journalist turned farmer Richard Lumgair decided he wanted to open a Japanese restaurant, serendipity sent him in the direction of Stockbridge Market stallholder and sushi specialist Kaori Simpson.
Their new Bruntsfield venture is in the former Scott's Deli just up the road from the King's Theatre. The main front room boasts funky modernist murals evoking Japanese icons while the wooden design work has an organised rusticity. The rear room, for private dining, is less well-appointed but less frequently used.
With its flavours and style inspired by its namesake district of Tokyo, Harajuku Kitchen aims to broaden Edinburgh’s palate beyond generic teriyaki and conveyor belt sushi bars. Serving more hot dishes than most, the kitchen will send what you order when it’s ready: a starter, main course mentality will do you no favours here.
The list of small plates has chawanmushi, a creamy and savoury egg custard over nuggets of mushroom and prawn, as well as freshly made pork gyoza and a rafute, a ryukyu-style dish of pork belly slow cooked in sake. Balancing creamy unctuousness with savoury umami tastes, these dishes showcase the subtlety and – to the Western palate at least – distinctiveness of the best Japanese cooking.
Larger dishes include the usual karaage and tempura, but also filling katsudon (pork served with omelette and rice in a sweet sauce). In fact sushi is limited to just half the menu, but it is an obvious strength. With a catch of the day – which might be meaty octopus, or delicate razor clams – as well as salmon or tuna, there is a guarantee of fresh, well-cut sashimi. Nigiri and futomaki rolls are expertly made and show a serious kitchen keen on tradition.
Seasoned diners in Asian restaurants have come to fear the ubiquitous coconut ice-cream or red bean-dominated dessert menus. With a pastry chef on staff, Harajuku offers a choice of at least two desserts, perhaps a chocolate mochi made up of chocolate rice parcels filled with a sublime ganache, or a tangy Oreo cookie cheesecake.
Harajuku isn't really like Japanese restaurants that have come before in Edinburgh. Neither overly slick nor predictable, the traditional, elegant fare is presented with an array of personal touches including a local sourcing policy. Lumgair and Simpson's project to show off the best in Japanese cuisine in a friendly, understated manner is well under way.
+ Sublime sushi from some skilled chefs
- Service can seem a bit disjointed