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Yoi Izakaya review: An eager-to-please Japanese-style restaurant in Dublin 4

Yoi Izakaya has an impressive range of tasty dishes – and hot sake

Yoi Izakaya
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Address: 71 Mespil Road, Dublin 4
Telephone: 01 598 1799
Cuisine: Japanese
Cost: €€€

It’s a bit like the cast from Silicon Valley has descended on Yoi Izakaya, a crew of international geeks yielding MacBook Pro laden backpacks, and not a woman among them. Actually, there are a few token women in the sitcom, but for now in Dublin 4, it’s central casting, with discussions on disruptions, pivots and angel investors, peppered between orders from a substantial menu written in Japanese open source code. Pictures of food to you and me.

There are plenty of mid-week customers in the long bright dining room, which has a few nods to its cuisine. A red maneki-neko waves its feline paw, a few paper lanterns cast diffused light from the ceiling and a shoji screen, with its white translucent panels, sits along one wall of the room. But mostly, it’s bistro-style chairs, there are no tatami mats or expectations that dining cross-legged might enhance the experience.

Yoi Izakaya is heart-warming and fun, a restaurant that allows for the joyous art of conversation

The elevator pitch for Yoi Izakaya is probably something along the lines of “entry level, unthreatening Japanese-style food with other familiar Asian choices for a mainstream market”. They describe it as tasty Asian tapas, a consequence, I would imagine, of our lack of foreign direct investment from Japanese companies with the sort of expense accounts to support top-end Japanese dining. So, most definitely not the sort of Japanese joint you’ll find in London where the prices will inflict more pain than rubbing your eyes with wasabi after laser surgery.

It is a menu that is eager to please, with smaller dishes such as sushi and tempura, alongside teriyaki, soba, poke, teppanyaki and ramen. And the prices are reasonable. A small glass bottle of hot Sawanotsuru sake is €8.50 or for the same price, and 170ml rather than a 180ml pour, you can get Hakutsuru, a “superior sake” which is served in a traditional ceramic flask.


I love hot sake – I’m a total gaijin (n. 1. Barbarian; 2. foreigner) when it comes to rules around not having it with sushi or rice dishes – and am happily sipping from a diminutive ceramic cup when two pieces of unagi nigiri sushi (€4.20) land. The smoked eel, glazed with soy sauce and sitting on a thumb of rice is tasty enough, although the rice is cold rather than body temperature. To be honest, I would have been surprised if it had been otherwise – see note above about searing prices associated with this skill level.

There’s an abundance of salmon on the sushi and sashimi menus, which I always avoid in Japanese restaurants, as invariably it’s farmed and not great quality. And I would definitely be putting a bit of distance between myself and the smoked salmon and cream cheese norimaki. But each to their own. A small plate of sashimi with five precisely cut pieces of fresh tasting raw tuna for €8 is pretty good. The tuna, of course, is farmed, but this is typical, it is imported frozen to ensure it is sushi grade.

The homemade grilled gyoza (€7.50) arrives steaming hot, stuffed with porky meatiness, and although I’m well aware that the pork is not free range, they’re really delicious.

Soft shell crab is one of those delicacies that delivers in taste and texture, because you eat the whole crunchy thing, and when it’s deep fried in tempura batter and stuffed inside a thick, fat futomaki spider roll (€16.80) packed tightly with avocado and asparagus, it is worth the ungainly jostle required to eat it. It is substantial, eight pieces, so definitely a dish to order for a group, but being just two people, our ability to dig much deeper into the menu is somewhat curtailed. Well, apart from an order of prawn tempura (€7.50) and vegetable tempura (€7.30) in batter that is more robust than lacy.

Dessert options such as New York cheesecake, tiramisu or profiteroles, while inexpensive, are uninspiring, so we inquire about the ice-cream (€3.50), hoping that green tea may be one of the available flavours, and settle for a scoop of mango and strawberry, which is an efficient palate cleanser.

Yoi Izakaya is a place to go with friends, work colleagues, scaled-up boot-strappers, or on your own. It is not, nor does it claim to be, home to an itamae who spent his formative years sweeping the floor for his sushi master. But it is heart-warming and fun, a restaurant that will not intimidate, and allows for the joyous art of conversation. Even when there’s a term sheet on the table.

Dinner for two with three sakes was €80.30

  • Verdict An impressive range of tasty, Japanese-inspired dishes
  • Facilities Clean and perfunctory
  • Music Mournful tunes from the likes of Rhys Lewis and Eloise
  • Food provenance Not a strong point, commercial suppliers, and chicken and pork are not free range
  • Vegetarian options Plenty of choice, including vegetarian futomaki, tempura, rice dishes, teppanyaki and ramen. Vegan options include tofu teriyaki, soba and ramen
  • Wheelchair access Room is accessible and there is an accessible toilet
Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly restaurant column