Kanpai, Edinburgh


8 - 10 Grindlay Street, Edinburgh EH3 9AS 

0131 228 1602 www.kanpaisushiedinburgh.co.uk

Kanpai Dragon Sushi

The Bill

Leaving aside selection plates, prices range from

£4.50 - £22.50. We paid £50 for two, excluding drinks and tip.

The Score

Cooking  6.5/10 | Service 2/5

Flavour  4/5 | Value 4/5

TOTAL 16.5/25

Lost in Translation. If I remember correctly, this was a film starring Bill Murray with a lot of moody settings in a very tall Tokyo hotel. I got back from Japan last month, staying latterly in a very tall Tokyo hotel. Arranging one of our regular lunches with Ms Zen I had a yen for some more Japanese scran. So off to Kanpai we went.

Meeting Ms Z is always a pleasure. An aperitif was called for. Despite the place having a fully stocked bar, our bewildered Japanese looking waitress said they couldn't make a negroni for madam. Never mind, two decent G & Ts arrived. Kanpai, I exclaimed. That's Japanese for cheers, you know. A little learning is a dangerous thing. No, said our host, the not at all Japanese looking manager. It literally means bottoms up. An ungainly way to take a drink. I would meet him half way and agree that it means empty cup. Translation, eh?

On our recent trip to the country L & I managed pretty well. If venturing east I commend to you Dr Google's Translate App. The only major faux pas was down to human error, involving an incident outside the gents' toilet in Kyoto's Botanical Gardens, but we'll move swiftly on.

Both Ms Z and I had eaten here years ago and been impressed. I came in the middle of the Festival with a boisterous group of food loving chums. The joint was jumping, a stark contrast to the sepulchral space encountered on a dreich Wednesday. Not their fault, of course, just another example of why Atmosphere is a daft judging criterion for a reviewer.

The menu is huge. I've seen smaller glossy brochures in furniture shops. There are photographs of everything. Normally, I would find this naff; however, in Scotland we're not terribly familiar with the food of Nippon. Ms Z was calm - she was with her resident expert, she said, and bade him order for the table. No pressure then.

Nigiri Sushi

We went for snow crab vulcan, fried dumplings (that's gyoza to you), prawn tempura, aubergine and some sushi. Despite my new found expertise, I much prefer nigiri to makizushi. Nigiri involves sticking rice on the bottom of some wondrous piece of raw fish or seafood as opposed to wrapping it in seaweed. Here we came to the tiniest of disagreements. What the bleep is the point of grilled nigiri? (The present Mrs J, of course, would approve. She spent much of her time in Japan muttering that a good grill pan would have improved most of her meals.) Anyway, Ms Z and I came to a compromise and ordered one grilled and one raw, tuna and mackerel respectively.

An (important) afterthought as I was giving our order to the bewildered one. Does rice come with it? Of course not, stupid boy. A Japanese meal without rice is unthinkable, usually a vat of the stuff. A £3 bowl was ordered. When I say a bowl, I wasn't quite prepared for the tea cup which arrived. More was required. I called for another bowl. It arrived promptly - and empty. Lost in translation. We sighed, and attacked with great gusto the food which had arrived with great alacrity.

The snow crab thing was a pleasant enough salad, mostly onion and radish. I don't think I found any crab. Ms Z did, and said it tasted of nothing. A bad start for £8.90. The dumplings were fine, but no more than that. King prawn tempura were similarly OK, but it had been a while since they came out of the fryer. The portion was bulked up with something green. That's 30 quid spent so far to be seriously underwhelmed. But if that's a cloud, it turned out to have a silver lining.

Aubergine with Miso

The nigiri were a delight. I'm not sure I could have noticed that the tuna had been grilled, such was the lightness of touch. My elegant companion had never eaten raw mackerel, but another wowzer was in order. It faded to a mere echo when the aubergine was tasted. Memories of the last visit cascaded back, to when I first sampled it. I have absolutely no idea how they produce this dish. The flesh is scored and smothered with a sweet miso. It is soft and unctuous, but somehow the skin is crispy. If you go to Kanpai and fail to order this, you are missing out on one of Edinburgh's earthly delights.

How to sum this meal up? Do you have any easier questions? It must be said that we both left with a feeling of disappointment. The place was flat: the service poor and rushed. Yet none of the food was bad, and some of it was very good indeed. The food bill in total was £50. I would happily go back for a plate of nigiri with, of course, an aubergine on the side.

Who would be a restaurant reviewer, eh?


  1. Lizzie Bruce on 17th November 2023 at 7:12 pm

    I’m glad you found things to like. Kanpai is a favourite of mine. I’ve made a mental note to try the aubergine next time though.

    • Tom Johnston on 17th November 2023 at 8:30 pm

      You really MUST sample it. Sensational.

Leave a Comment