Here’s an awesome Japanese restaurant that’s been open for over 2 years that we’ve just found out about. Sitting on a quiet, little lane near the bottom end of Jianguo South Road, this little restaurant has red lanterns and indigo blue curtains hanging on the outside giving it a charming Japanese feel. It’s a good first impression and things look promising.
Inside, wooden beams and paneling further promotes a rustic, cozy environment, like a local tavern that you want to be in. You can imagine things getting cheerful in the evenings with the sake flowing.
Yiyin was opened by 2 fellas, Xiao Qin and Wang Kai, who love Japanese food. Xiao Qin takes care of the customers and Wang Kai takes care of the food. Wang Kai has many years of experience in Huaiyang cuisine then studied Japanese cookery with a Japanese chef in Beijing and his treatment of ingredients reveals reverence, respect and an inspired touch.
Foie gras is so abundant in this city that it’s becoming mundane, but take one bite of Yiyin’s Signature Foie Gras (招牌清酒鹅肝, 88RMB) and you’ll find it’s noticeably different. A soft, sweet, clean taste comes through that cuts through the fat. The texture is wonderfully smooth and creamy, but also curiously crystalline in that it breaks apart quickly and easily with a slight press from the tongue. “Is there alcohol in this?” I ask Xiao Qin, and he explains they have used sake on it. This is foie gras to be savoured.
For sashimi, their Bluefin tuna chutoro and otoro are one of their best sellers, but they were sold out today so Xiao Qin suggested Peony Shrimp sashimi (牡丹虾, 88RMB), which was sweet, fresh and delicate.
Throughout the year they will have fresh, in-season oysters from around the world. In winter, oysters will come from Australia or New Zealand and sometimes they’ll have kumamotos from the U.S. In summer, it’ll be from Ireland or South Africa. Today we had some fine Irish specimens.
Australian A3 Wagyu Beef (特级雪花牛肉, 399RMB) will be cooked on the table over a hot stone with just a sprinkling of pink salt for seasoning. The sizzling sound and tempting aromas added theatre and anticipation. The beef was amply marbled, with a fragrant taste and tenderness.
Roasted Pumpkin (闷骚南瓜, 28RMB) is baked with 2 cheese here, mozzarella and mascarpone. Mozzarella for stringy chewiness and mascarpone for a nice creaminess. In one bite, you get sweetness from the pumpkin and a savoury taste from the mascarpone. It was addictive and we were scrapping the dish to make sure we got every last bit!
Roasted Unagi (烤鳗鱼, 88RMB) was excellent, even better than some I ate when in Japan. The skin roasted to a crisp and the meat was fluffy and flaky. The teriyaki sauce was not overly sweet either.
Equally as good as what I’ve had in Japan is the Uni and Ikura Don (海胆盖饭, 128RMB). My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw the glorious mounds of bright orange sea urchin and beautiful pearls of salmon roe piled over glistening sushi rice. At 128RMB, it’s a real steal! The uni comes from Dalian and it was so sweet and creamy!
Since the unagi was so good, we ordered one more item, Unagi Avocado Sushi (鳗鱼牛油果手握, 38RMB). A slice of ripe avocado is laid over the rice and topped with a thin slice of unagi, some foie gras and some mayo then blasted with a blow torch. I liked that, unlike most places in town, this restaurant doesn’t smother the sushi in sauces and you can actually taste the ingredients.
To make things even better, Yiyin restaurant has 2 resident cats roaming around the premises. A rolly-polly orange and white cat and a gentle black and grey tabby laze around and will easily let you pet them. They get to eat all the fabulous uni, salmon and shrimp from the restaurant and they are, quite possibly, the luckiest cats in Hangzhou!
The food took such a center stage that the drinks were kind of on the periphery but they shouldn’t be neglected. We had House-Made Rice Wine (手工米酒, 18RMB) which was sour, cold and refreshing. It’s made from glutinous rice and takes about 1 week to ferment. At 4-5% alcohol, it goes down easy. There was also an IPA beer from Xiao Qin’s friend’s brewery.
So although it took us 2 years to discover this gem of a restaurant, it’s definitely a case of better late than never. You’ll want to come quickly to have a taste for yourself.