Chef Kaori Simpson runs Harajuku Kitchen in Edinburgh’s Bruntsfield. The Japanese bistro opened in 2013 and was awarded its first AA Rosette earlier this year.
Kaori was born in Hong Kong and learned to cook in her mother’s restaurants; her family have a long tradition of running one of the most famous fine dining restaurants in Japan.
After moving to the UK, Kaori continued her chef training including a stint at The Kitchin, Tom Kitchin’s Michelin-starred restaurant in Edinburgh.
Street food origins
Kaori was then appointed private chef to the Consulate General of Japan, in Edinburgh. Her entrepreneurial side was unleashed when she was given the opportunity to host a stall at the Stockbridge Market in Edinburgh.
Together with her husband, Keith, they started with Japanese gyoza dumplings and udon noodle stir fries. Harajuku Kitchen evolved from the stall at the farmers’ market.
Harajuku Kitchen runs regular offers on 5pm. For example, today you can enjoy two courses from the lunch or pre-theatre menu for £12.95 when booking in through 5pm.
Can you describe the style of food served at the restaurant?
KS: We serve authentic, wholesome Japanese comfort food! It is the type of cuisine we Japanese would pop out for if we fancied something delicious and heartening.
Is there a most popular dish for your customers?
KS: Yes our agedashi tofu which is pan-fried tofu with ginger and spring onions and sunomono moriawase. It is a selection of seafood and seaweed in a sweet vinegar sauce.
What got you into cooking to begin with?
KS: I grew up in a Japanese restaurant. I am from a third generation Japanese restaurant-owning family, which started with my great grandfather. He was the sixteenth generation of the Nakanishi family of Samurai who served for Kuroda-Han Nakanishi Kunitaro. Once he retired, he opened up a Japanese restaurant with the estate he was given by the Shogun.
Where did you first start working?
KS: Yokatei Japanese restaurant, my mum’s Japanese restaurant.
You have a magic wand. What one thing would you change about Scottish restaurants/produce available etc?
KS: If I had a magic wand, I would ensure that all the produce comes from reliable local resources and would definitely be free range.
Is there any food you hated as a kid but love now?
KS: I hated sea urchin whenever my mum gave it to me at the restaurant. However now I find that its moist, nutritious and rich texture just mesmerises me and I love to eat them whenever they are available.
What is your favourite ingredient to work with?
KS: I love working with Japanese herbs and spices. My favourite is Sansho pepper.
What do you like to eat on a night off?
KS: I do crave a comforting noodle soup with good quality won ton dumplings in it.
Which chef has inspired you?
KS: My mother. She is my mentor for all the recipes I create in my bistro.
Is there anything you don’t like cooking with?
KS: I don’t like cooking fish as I believe it’s best to eat them raw when they are at their freshest.
Is there anything you couldn’t eat?
KS: I can eat everything!
What has been the most exotic thing you have eaten?
KS: I once ate a traditional duck egg chick in its shell in the Philippines. It is a local delicacy there. It was like a chicken soup in an egg shell!
What gadget/utensil can’t you work without?
KS: My Evernote and cooking chopsticks
Ketchup or Maldon sea salt?
Definitely Maldon sea salt if the ketchup is not homemade.
You can get anyone in the world to cook you a meal. Who will it be?
KS: Thomas Keller from The French Laundry
Have celeb chefs been a good or bad thing on the whole?
KS: I think it’s a bit of both. It’s good if the chef promotes sustainability and healthy food and teaches people to cook wholesome food at home instead of ready meals. At the same time though, because of celebrity chefs, other chefs and restaurateurs who are just as talented have their restaurants overlooked.
Who cooks at home?
KS: Me! I love cooking and doing different cuisines like Italian, Filipino and Spanish food.
You’re cooking a special meal for your partner. What’s cooking?
KS: Definitely scallops and sashimi!
What is in your fridge at home?
KS: Not much! Organic vegetables from Phantassie, tofu and natto which are fermented soybeans.
What has been your most memorable meal?
KS: Eating crepe Samurai in the Inter-continental Hotel Manila as a child.
Tell us your daftest customer complaint?
KS: That our tuna sashimi was raw and they wanted it to be cooked…
Also someone once asked for a poppadom as a starter, and we said ‘We don’t have poppadoms because we are a Japanese restaurant’. The customers said ‘But Japan is Asian isn’t it?’
What is your best piece of printable kitchen slang?
KS: Bakayarou. (Look it up yourselves, Ed.)
Who would win in a fight? Heston Blumenthal or Gordon Ramsay?
KS: I think Gordon would win at the shouting, but Heston is younger and bigger… so probably Heston!