This eatery houses the true art of Japanese cooking

It is a restaurant that is easy to overlook, but once inside, you will never leave the place. Japanese eatery An has existed for thirty-three years and is one of the city’s first domestic Japanese restaurants. Via the stairs of an old building on Weteringschans you reach the bright, sober room with high ceilings, where nothing but soothing tranquility reigns. Art on the wall, views of the porch and garden, no music, only the sum of the guests sitting at a comfortable distance from each other. Leidseplein – two hundred meters as the crow flies – seems miles away.

Yoichi Fujita, born and raised in Tokyo, has been the owner and chef for all these years, he must now approach the seventies. It can not be seen on him; undisturbed – equipped with headphones to focus on his work – he fillets and cuts the fish into sashimi, kneads sushi and disappears into the kitchen downstairs to prepare other dishes. The customer base consists of regulars and passers-by, An has also built up a solid name outside the Netherlands.

At first, it is still turbulent in paradise. Our reservation did not end in the big book, and it will be a while before the cause is identified. Meanwhile, we wait at the door, the waiter gets nervous. The search for the reservation also continues at the table. It is only when we show our evidence that people breathe a sigh of relief. We feel a little uncomfortable. That feeling quickly disappears when the dishes are served: miso soup (2.50), hotate (mussel, 12, -), shimesabe (marinated mackerel, 12, -), temaki mixed vegetables (4.50), temaki umekyu (3.80 ), shojin age (vegetable tempura, 17, -), misoglazed eggplant (7,50), tori karaage (chicken, 9, -) and a bowl of white rice (2,50). The prices are very reasonable, for vegetarians and vegans there is a lot to choose from, the selection is still large. For example, you can also get involved with what the chef himself recommends: omakase – ‘It’s up to you’ -; a hill with five small dishes (28, -).

While we sip our Japanese hop-wheat beer Uijin (6.50) and taste a sip of cold, refined sake (Hakutaka, 17, -, 300 ml), bring the raw fish. It is immediately clear what makes Yoichi a true Japanese champion: fresh fish, beautifully filleted and sliced. The scallop, slightly salty and buttery, is cool, it is not the mackerel, which benefits the taste. The gossamer daikon, the shape of the wasabi ball, the lotus-shaped slice of carrot, the skin of the mackerel that is still visible … it’s a marvel of beauty.

We find the same room temperature with the hand rollers (temaki). One simple and effective with cucumber strips and sour plum pasta – served with pickled ginger and sesame seeds – and one with omelet, shiitake, cucumber, pumpkin and pickles, exciting, original and full of flavor.

This is followed by two more vegetable dishes: tempura of green asparagus, pumpkin, turnip and zucchini and eggplant glazed in miso. The latter comes from the thesis board; it is buttery and umami from the yellow, salty miso that has penetrated into the incised skin of the aubergine. The tempura stands out because of the choice of vegetables, but also because of the frying in ultra-pure oil. There is a sauce of soy with rice wine, it is delicious!

Eventually we dive into the fried chicken thigh, which is addictive as karaage can be. Tasty marinated in mirin, ginger, garlic and soy sauce and then breaded in a mixture of wheat flour and starch. It yields golden brown, tender pieces of chicken that you will primarily eat.

An is as humble as the name suggests. But behind that modesty lies the true art of Japanese cooking. As a result, the case has also been able to last for decades without a thump.

Photo by Olivier Middendorp

Reviewer and journalist Petra Possel tests a restaurant in and around Amsterdam every week.

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