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Hope Izakaya, Edinburgh - try traditional Japanese food and cocktails at this new restaurant

Their speciality is the omurice

Published: March 18, 2023

I had a pet goldfish once.

His name was Ninian, and he came to a very sticky end when an ornament rolled off the mantelpiece and smashed his tank.

I was out at the time, so I couldn't rescue him. RIP wet pet.

At the point of crossing the rainbow river, he was a bruiser. Not quite as big as The Carrot - the 67 pound goldfish that was caught in France last year.

However, he wasn’t far off koi-carp-sized. There are tributes to these fish, which, in Japan, symbolise strength and success, on the ceiling of this new izakaya, which has opened in the former premises of pizzeria Quattro Zero.

I inquired, because I really wanted one for my flat, partially as a Ninian tribute, but also because they’re gorgeous. Sadly, it turns out that this restaurant’s shoal is custom made in Japan. Out of my league.

They're a big feature of this restaurant’s second presence in Edinburgh. Their first location is Hope Omurisu, which is smaller and more casual, as befits its student-ville Nicolson Street location.

The food options seem similar and the menu is glossy, with pics of the many types of yakitori.

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I wouldn’t say these brown and beige photographs are that flattering but I can’t really talk. I’m much better looking in person.

We tried three varieties of these skewers.

The first to arrive consisted of two flattened rectangles of ‘seafood corn tofu curd’ (£3.50). I’d ordered something a bit more unusual for review purposes and when it arrived, I’d already forgotten what it was, but I loved every hot bite. It had the savoury flavour of crispy fish skin, the bounce of protein, and sweetness from the kernels and the restaurant’s special sauce. On a freezing evening, it chased away the chill that had been swirling around my collar.

Next was a set of three rice cakes with bacon (£4.20). These were like pigs in blankets, except the porky core had been replaced by steamed, bouncy and glutinous rice cakes, which were wrapped in thick and smokey bacon. Let’s call them Miffies in stoles.

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We threaded three chunks of chicken thighs and leeks (£3.90) off their skewer and attempted to divvy them up between us. This option was equally good, with veggies that were blackened at their stubby edges and lots of BBQ char flavour.

The table beside us had gone for the omurice (£18) speciality for their main course. “I’ve always wanted to try one,” said the diner, as the waiter, with the skills of an expert veterinary surgeon, gently slit the top of the eggy mixture, and let its skirt drop over the pile of char sui flecked fried rice.

My other half went for this Japanese-style omelette, and it was right up his yokocho.

As it said beside its picture on the menu. “Let your smile change the world”. I wouldn’t go that far but it definitely softened his perma scowl.

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There are lots of other things to choose for a main course,  from curry rice bowls to sashimi, udon dishes and a version of omurice that’s topped with curry sauce.

I went for the Inaniwa udon (£7.80), which is slightly thinner than the original chunky noodle. This was served in a heavy and thick bottomed bowl that kept the copper-coloured savoury broth warm for ages, and there was a soft yolked boiled egg, spring onions, and those pink swirly narutomaki fish cakes, as well as the chikuwa ones that look like Frankenstein’s neck bolts.

As an alternative to pudding, we tried a couple of their cocktails.

Mine was the very formally named Iwakura Accomplishment, which is named after the “first fact finding mission by Japan that came to many European countries including Scotland in 1872”.

This may have sounded heavy on history, but it was a fruity and light blend of gin, plum sake, green chartreuse and vanilla (£10), all served in a highball over ice. We also tried the equally zingy and sprightly yuzu and lychee martini (£8.50), with the billed ingredients as well as lemon and sake.

A vitamin-C-infused tonic to wake us up after warming comfort food and the sort of service that makes you feel well loved.

We drank like fish and ate almost as much as The Carrot.

There could be no better tribute to Ninian.

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.

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