Izakaya-Style Dining, with Harajuku Kitchen at Cabaret Voltaire
One restaurant that I've had on my list to visit ever since we moved to Edinburgh is Harajuku Kitchen, a Japanese bistro that's widely renowned for serving the best Asian food in the city. However, with so many restaurants in Edinburgh, and Harajuku Kitchen being located on the other side of the city to me, we'd just never quite managed to get around to it. So when an invitation popped into my inbox, alerting me to a pop-up in Old Town, I jumped at the chance to finally get to sample some of Harajuku Kitchen's famously tasty wares.
Harajuku Kitchen have collaborated with Edinburgh institution Cabaret Voltaire, to launch an izakaya-style residency (an izakaya is a Japanese gastropub, FYI) inside the Cafe area of the bar. Popping up on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from 5pm-11pm, the menu features a varied list of delicious Japanese treats with a 'pub-food' twist, making them great for informal gatherings, sharing over a few glasses of something refreshing, or as a perfect way to finish off a night out in the Old Town.
I was invited along to the launch, to sample the menu for myself, and I couldn't wait to try the dishes on offer. I took Lewis along for a second opinion (and as the perfect way to kick off a Friday date night!), and together we munched our way through as many of the dishes as we had time to try.
The pork yakisoba (stir-fried noodles) was zingy, refreshing and surprisingly light - often fried noodle dishes can be heavy or greasy, but this felt light and fresh, packed with vegetables and tasty pieces of tender pork. The scattering of pink pickled ginger atop the noodles was a very welcome addition too, adding plenty of vibrance to what is definitely one of the 'safer' options on the menu. It's exactly the kind of dish I would order when I just wanted to know I was going to enjoy it - no risk, no fuss, just a great plate of food that delivers on taste and satisfaction.
A chicken katsu bao bun was a revelation; I'd not tried bao buns before but I am officially a total convert. If you plan on heading along to the Harajuku Kitchen pop-up, I insist that you order this (and probably go for the pork belly rafute version too, why not?). A soft, deliciously doughy bao bun, packed with crispy panko-fried chicken, crunchy lettuce and a lightly spiced sauce - comfort food with a sparkling twist. I didn't want to split this with Lewis, but seeing as he was the one who chose it, I felt that, begrudgingly, it was only fair. It was seriously, seriously tasty.
Finally, we had to order the Korean spiced chicken wings - when there's wings on the menu, there needs to be wings on my plate. The chicken wings were actually the highlight of the experience for me, I don't think I've had better. Tender, juicy and falling off the bone, with crispy skin and a generously-spiced glaze - just lovely. I'd go as far to say they were scrumptious. The glaze in particular was really special; spicy, with plenty of chilli flakes still visible, but not hot - tastebuds definitely still intact after eating!
Other interesting-sounding dishes on the menu include the schichimi French fries, flavoured with Japanese seven-spice, the pork gyoza and the edamame with schichimi salt - sadly we didn't get a chance to try them all at the launch, but it's given me an excuse to head back there ASAP...
Overall, the experience was a really fun (and very tasty!) one. Harajuku Kitchen itself is known for being a bit special - somewhere you'd go when you want to make a night of it, get dressed up and have a sophisticated dining experience that's oh-so Instagrammable. But sometimes what you really want is a fabulously fun, laidback night with friends, all perched around a table and digging into plates of great food, with a few glasses of wine to ease the way, of course. And for that, the Harajuku Kitchen Cabaret Voltaire pop-up is perfect - I'll certainly be recommending it next time our friends come to visit us in Edinburgh!
The Harajuku Kitchen izakaya pop-up is located at Cafe Voltaire (Cabaret Voltaire), 36-38 Blair Street, Edinburgh. Book your booth here.
I was invited along to the launch night and dined free of charge, however all of my opinions are my own, as ever. Huge thanks to Charlotte & Joseph PR for the invitation.