Restaurant review: Kanpai, Edinburgh

Sushi fans can be obsessive. I love sushi, but my friend Mercy loves it even more.

Sushi fans can be obsessive. I love sushi, but my friend Mercy loves it even more.

On our designated Wednesday for visiting Japanese restaurant Kanpai she sent me a series of e-mails.

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At 10:36am, a photograph of sushi made from Lego bricks popped into my inbox.

At 11:03am, an image of a knitted bento box.

12:06pm, a Boston terrier dressed up as a nigiri.

I took the hint. At 12:31pm, we headed along to this place, which opened last year and, just a few weeks ago, won Newcomer of the Year at the Scottish Restaurant Awards 2012.

Straddling each side of the entrance are two faux cherry blossom trees.

Inside, you’ll find a sushi bar made of stacked cedar blocks, a smart private dining area and struts of wood along the walls and ceiling, reminiscent of shoji screens. Created by Edinburgh design agency Four-By-Two, it’s a stylish and grown-up space.

When it came to the hardback menu, I let Mercy be mummy.

Our order of takoyaki octopus fishcakes (£5.20) arrived first, after around 30 minutes (fine at dinner time, but we were on our lunch hour).

However, they were worth the sweat. This option consisted of five puffy balls, with a crispy coating and a centre of minced pale octopi. Coated with a mustardy and smoky canary-yellow mayonnaise, with a thatch of powdered green laver (seaweed), these offerings were topped with bonito flakes.

They were good, but so intensely flavoured that we were relieved when the waiter whisked away our pungent plate before the sushi arrived, in case it interfered with the subtle fishy flavours.

The first to land were the Kanpai special rolls (£9.90) – my faves, with six rice parcels containing neatly wrapped segments of firm prawn, creamy avocado, tamago (omelette) and folded lettuce (superfluous and too fibrous, according to Mercy, but this old rabbit wasn’t too bothered by the additional shrubbery). These were parcelled up with sheets of bubbly sweet bean curd, which was as compulsive eating as crispy chicken skin.

Another set of rolls – the Dragon versions (£13.90) – featured beautifully presented whorls of rice, containing avocado and king prawn tempura segments, with a delicately layered avocado armour.

The business end of the dragon – at the top of the wooden board and the end of the eight-piece sushi trail – was a confused-looking and boggle-eyed prawn head, upended in a blob of wasabi.

Our grilled eel nigiri (£5.90 for two) was another winner, with sticky sweet and warm shards of fish strapped onto mirin-ish rice blocks boasting seaweed seatbelts.

However, before we tucked into our tuna nigiri (£4.20 for two), we thought we should ask the waitress if the tuna was yellowfin or the over-fished bluefin variety.

“It’s pink,” she said, after checking with the chef.

Oh dear, I think she thought we were colour-blind, rather than attempting to be ethical diners.

We ate it anyway, and loved the tongue-shaped pieces of raspberry-hued fish. Fingers crossed it was yellowfin.

Our final two dishes were grilled aubergine in sweet miso sauce (£5.90) and bean curd gunkan (£5.50).

The latter pair looked like bejewelled crowns (despite the fact that gunkan means battleship) with bases of starchy rice topped by milk-tooth-sized nibs of raw scallop and surf clam. All of this was cinched into a bean-curd corset and flecked with sesame seeds and tobiko.

The vegetarian dish featuring a toasty hot aubergine, splayed open and cut into mulchy soft scales, was as sugary as a pudding. Brushed with miso and grilled until caramelised, it was so naughty, yet so good.

As was the milky ice-cream (£4.20 each) – a fresh green-tea flavour for me and the peanut-buttery sesame for my dining partner.

We’d eaten a lot and Mercy, in her enthusiasm, had managed to order an excess of this almost-faultless food.

What a shame. It was way too much for just two lunches. I let her have the doggy bag, which contained enough to keep her quiet for another few hours.

5pm, an e-mail: “That sushi tastes just as good as it did four hours ago”. Jealous.


8-10 Grindlay Street, Edinburgh (0131-228 1602,

How much?

Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £58.90