After a few months of lockdown in Ireland, Matt Damon found himself craving good sushi. How do I know this? Because a SoCoDu shopkeeper charged with supplying the Damon family with the best of Irish produce during their sojourn in Dalkey called to ask if I could help. Apparently, Matt & Co had tried a number of options and hadn’t been overly impressed.
I racked my brains and suggested that, if money was no object, the Damons should send a driver to collect an order from Yoshimi Hayakawa’s Wa Sushi in Galway. Yoshimi serves Edomae-style sushi, which originated in Tokyo in the 1820s in the days before refrigeration as a way to preserve and enhance the taste of raw fish by marinating.
She calls her version Galway-mae, and uses only fish from Galway. I haven’t eaten better sushi anywhere in Ireland, although I hear that Takashi Miyazaki’s lockdown takeaway offering at his Michelin-starred restaurant in Cork, Ichigo Ichie, was superb. (Sushi is not on the regular menu there.)
I don’t know whether or not Mr Damon followed up on my advice, but the request got me thinking about how dull sushi in Dublin tends to be these days and how it would come as a disappointment to anyone accustomed to the quality available in other cities around the world, never mind how wonderful it must be in Japan.
I imagine when he’s not hanging out in his togs at White Rock with his towel bundled into a SuperValu bag, Matt spends a good bit of time in LA, and has probably eaten at the two-Michelin-starred Sushi Ginza Onodera in West Hollywood, regarded as the best sushi restaurant in that city and an outpost of the Tokyo original.
It too serves Edomae-style sushi and, on a press trip a couple of years ago, I sat at the counter for the full omakase experience — a succession of sushi dishes prepared in front of us and explained as we ate. The experience spoiled me. (There’s no excuse for the Dublin sushi offering to be as boring as it is, given the superb quality of Irish fish and seafood, other than the lack of trained sushi chefs in Ireland. Yoshimi has spent years studying.)
Anyway, that’s a roundabout introduction to this review of a new Japanese restaurant, Yoi Izakaya, on Mespil Road, a sister establishment to Yoi Ramen on Barrow Street, also in Dublin 4.
In Japan, izakayas are bars with food, but when I go to collect our order, I find Yoi Izakaya has more of a restaurant feel to it than that of a drinking den. The menu runs the gamut of what we expect of Japanese restaurants in Ireland — a covering-all-bases offering which starts off with sashimi and trips through a list of sushi options, including nigiri, norimaki, temaki and futomaki, before following on with gyoza, noodles, poke bowls, tapas, teppanyaki dishes and ramen.
In no particular order, and over the course of two evenings, we enjoy good house-made grilled prawn gyoza, but are less impressed with tuna tataki, which is wholly lacking in flavour, either from the seared fish, black sesame, daikon salad, crisp leek or herb shoryu vinaigrette.
From the tapas section of the menu, ebi tempura — a generous portion — are excellent, the batter light and perfect, but crispy chicken karaage isn’t crisp and tastes of nothing much. The beef in teriyaki with soba noodles is tasty if rather overcooked, while the plain fried noodles with beansprouts (€3.50) are a delicious bargain.
As for the sushi, the selection is more interesting than most of what you’ll find in Dublin, but whether it would be up to Mr Damon’s standards is another matter. We like the unagi (eel) and masago gunkan nigiri well enough; the futomaki are more exciting.
The dragon roll features fresh crab mayonnaise, ebi tempura and asparagus, topped with roasted eel and sliced avocado, and garnished with masago, spicy mayo and eel sauce, while the spider roll — our favourite — has soft shell crab tempura with avocado and asparagus, topped with masago, eel sauce and wasabi mayo. The monkfish futomaki is filled with battered monkfish, avocado and asparagus topped with avocado and black caviar.
The staff are lovely, and the little ring-pull bottles of sake (€8.50) you can take away are dinky. I’ll return to eat on site (there are a couple of tables outside) and to try the ramen, but for now, this is a good addition to the area and will give Zakura around the corner on Baggot Street a run for its money as it competes for the business of the sushi lovers of D4.
Miso soup and vegan soba noodles will set you back €16.
A feast of gyoza, sashimi and futomaki for two will cost €65 before drinks.
Yoi Izakaya, 71 Mespil Road, Dublin 4, yoiizakaya.ie
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Yoi Izakaya restaurant review: ‘The sushi selection is more interesting than most of what you’ll find in Dublin, but whether it would be up to Matt Damon’s standards is another matter’