Sunday, 25 February 2007

Restaurants in Vilanova: Japanese cuisine at Yamato

If you hear people living in our neighbour town Sitges say that they prefer to go to Vilanova for a good sushi dinner, you get curious. So far, I have only visited one Japanese restaurant in Sitges but that one made a strong impression on me, although it might be that I was so blinded with the sophisticated ambience that forgot to think about the food quality. However, logic has it that Sitges should be a better breeding ground for Japanese cuisine than Vilanova. No matter if you prefer to call the local people of Vilanova Catalan or Spanish, their culinary preferences are local and traditional. A cynical person would point to the fact that all recently opened Asian restaurants in the town are all-you-can-eat bufé libre concepts. If you can not make people interested in the quality of your cooking then maybe, at least, you can catch their attention through quantity.

Sitges is the opposite. Although its actual population is smaller than Vilanova’s, the town is populated by a big amount of western foreigners and those of the local people who have actively decided to live there, often do so for the international flavour. To make things better, Barcelona’s jet set has this as one of its favourite resorts to go to for weekend lunches which further increases the impact of money and sophisticated taste on the local restaurant scene.

So, can it really be that Yamato (Passeig del Carme, 2) here in Vilanova beats the Sitges competition? My wife and I went there to give it a try. Our first impression was that the interior decoration was genuinely Asian, but not in any positive sense. In many Asian countries, the local population prefers to go to restaurants with a strong florescent illumination. According to their culture, bare tables are considered as dirty and the only accepted solution to cover them is real linen, albeit that the hunt for cost savings results in the owners accepting the cheapest synthetic textiles available in the market. To this extent Yamato is truly Asian, albeit not very Japanese, since in that country dimmed lighting is popular and bare wooden tables are a proof of quality. In the end, this confusion at Yamato is not too strange since, as far as we could hear, the staff are Chinese and not true Japanese.

So what about the food then? To try the place, I ordered a miso soup which I liked although the chef could have been more generous with the miso. I was also content with my third dish, teppan yaki squid. In between we had a sushi combination plate, the big test of the evening. Maki rolls should be freshly made when you eat it, in order for the seaweed not to absorb the humidity of the rice. For that reason, typical mixed sushi platters are not good for food quality, since in all restaurants with anything but high rotation it will result in the makis being refrigerated before they are being served. Yamato, on the evening when we were there, was far from crowded so we have only ourselves to blame if our makis were not perfect. On the other hand all the pieces of nigiri were to our full content, most importantly the quality of the fish.

To sum up, we are not yet convinced that Yamato beats all sushi you can find in Sitges, but we certainly will come back. We almost feel a responsibility to support a place which manages to serve good Japanese food here in our town. Yamato’s owners can hope for occasional visits from the local people but I am convinced that among their regular guest they have a big number of Vilanova’s relatively few western foreigners.


Mike Banks said...

We two (ex-pat Brits living in VnG) are huge fans of Yamato, and must take issue with you over their sushi-making. On the numerous occasions that we have eaten there the sushi has always been made to order, not taken out of the fridge. Indeed you can watch the maestro at work if you choose a seat at the front of the restaurant. Lovely grub! On our first visit we asked our waiter which part of Japan he came from - the answer? "Hong Kong"!

Erik Wirdheim said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks for challenging my opinion!!

I am confident that the makis are usually made-to-order and if the seaweed on ours wasn't in top conditions, we only had ourselves to blame. As I write in this post, we were there during a sadly calm evening.

...And our return is long overdue, but our little sons aren't big fans of Japanese food.

Please, recommend this blog to your friends in case you like it.


Anonymous said...

Nothing beats Sitges' Usaka for me, but I must say I love the simple and tasty rolls and the tempura they serve at Yamato. I must try the miso soup!