Japanese and Korean cuisine isn’t something that Aberdeen is renowned for, but when you look beyond the surface, a few jewels can be found.
Yorokobi by CJ has been a favourite of mine since moving into the city centre four or so years ago.
It is unassuming from the outside and thanks to the pandemic, is now just as unassuming inside too, with half of their decorations removed to make way for transparent screens and sanitising stations to help keep customers safe.
Not to make it sound like a hospital ward, this venue is quaint and secretive. It is intimate with all ages welcome.
Many would not to think to take their children here, what with sushi, raw fish and other delights on offer, but when you delve deeper into the menu, you’ll see why the odd child who is treated to a meal here is taken on a palatable journey of discovery.
I would have loved to have come here as a child, but I am lucky to get to appreciate it and all it has to offer an adult.
My best friend Lauren loves her sushi, so when she mentioned about grabbing a bite to eat, I phoned Yorokobi that Friday afternoon and had their last table for two secured for 8pm that night.
There was a queue when we arrived spilling out onto the street which is always a good sign.
Greeted at the door, we were asked to sign in with Track and Trace and shown to our tables where we used a QR code to access the menu online.
I was feeling spontaneous so decided to order myself some sake to go with my meal, Lauren opted for a glass of house white.
She is one of the only people I’ll share a meal with, so we chose a few dishes each and debated them before our server returned with our drinks and water for the table.
It was busy, but still very intimate, with families, friends and partners all out to indulge together.
On the menu it states that Yorokobi means “joyous bliss” in Japanese. That was very much the feeling.
Two shakes of a lamb’s tail later, our drinks were in hand. Our order read; avocado maki, sakekawa maki, edamame beans, chicken gyoza, soft shell crab and a crunch roll.
The food is cooked fresh so everything arrives at different times, giving you time to work your way through everything.
First to grace our table was the edamame beans (£4.20). The outer shells held the soft beans inside them and we popped them like sweeties. One after the other we tore into them, dragging the skins through our teeth to get the goodies inside.
I couldn’t help but think a sprinkling of sea salt wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Quickly followed was the soft shell crab (£7.90). This was one of the stars of the show and is a dish you rarely see around Aberdeen. The deep-fried crab tore apart easily and while the legs were nice and crisp, we enjoyed the meatier body far more.
The six pieces of avocado (£4.20) and sakekawa maki (£5.30) – also known as crispy salmon skin maki – were next. The avocado was wrapped in rice and nori (dried edible seaweed) and the crispy salmon, which was packed with flavour, was wrapped the same.
On the special rolls front we opted for the crunch roll (£12.95) with tempura prawn and salad housed inside.
The roll was then covered with chef’s special mustard and katsu sauce and tempura batter. Chef’s kiss to the person responsible for that sauce as it was incredible. The prawns inside were perfectly cooked, juicy, but crisp, and the batter on top added a delicate crunch to the dish.
I admired the names of the other rolls on the menu; Aberdeen, Titanic, Legend, Paradise and Volcano, wishing I had more space and deep enough pockets to explore them all.
The roll was a touch act to follow and the chicken gyoza (£5.70) held up standards set by its predecessors.
They were hot to the touch but that didn’t stop us diving in with our chopsticks and dunking them in soy sauce. There was four Japanese style dumplings and each one was as good as the last with plenty of chicken filling inside.
My sake had been a welcome addition to the meal as it was light and more savoury in flavour to my friends soft, fruity and sweet white wine.
We were verging on the edge of full but reckoned we could handle one last dish between us. Our server threw a curve ball at us and recommended we try the chicken karaage (£13.50), a house special which they’d already sold 30 portions of that day.
Deep-fried chicken with chef’s special sauce on top of a mixed salad, it didn’t jump out at me on the menu, but I put faith in her, hoping we’d be rewarded. And rewarded we were.
A large plate of fried chicken pieces arrived with that same mustard and katsu creamy light yellow sauce on top. It was sensational. So simplistic but packed full of flavour, this was the dish of the night.
Sake finished, plates empty and bellies full, we passed on our compliments to the chef, settled up and made haste for our taxi which was waiting outside to take us home.
If you are going to go out for sushi or other Japanese and Korean dishes, Yorokobi by CJ is the one.
The service is fantastic, with the team comfortably and confidently making recommendations, and the food is excellent. It is no wonder it is recognised as a Michelin recommended restaurant in the Michelin Guide.
The venue is open Tuesday to Saturday and the lunch and early bird (5.30-6.20pm) menu looks just as appetising, although I have to admit it is very much an evening venue for me.
Address: 51 Huntly Street, Aberdeen AB10 1TH
T: 01224 566002