Apart from one experience of sushi several years ago which left me a little hungry, I hadn't tried any Japanese dishes before visiting Edamame. A one-room restaurant situated on Holywell Street, it offers 'Japanese home cooking', with sushi only available on Thursdays. Given Edamame's petite proportions and its popularity, it's a good idea to arrive early: 6pm may have seemed a tad keen, but when we left an hour later would-be diners were queuing out of the door. Earlybirds G and I had no such trouble, we were seated straight away on a little communal table. With its low ceilings and duck-egg blue walls, Edamame feels a little like someone's living room: relaxed and intimate.
The evening menu (available on Fridays and Saturdays) offers a choice of meat, fish and vegetable dishes (available either cooked in fish stock or vegetarian), as well as salads and side dishes. We ordered a portion of Edamame beans (podded green soy beans, £3) and some morokyu (cucumber sticks served with miso and Japanese plum pastes to dip, £3) to munch on while we waited for our mains. So far, so easy: no chopstick action was involved to polish either of these off. The cucumber sticks were well complemented by the nutty miso and sweet plum pastes, whetting our appetites for the main event. As I watched the couple sitting opposite us tucking in with their perfectly manipulated chopsticks, I started to question my choice of dish. Surely beansprouts and chopsticks were a match made in hell?
When my yasai tofu itame (vegetable stir fry of beansprouts, mange tout, baby corn, carrots and tofu cooked in fish stock, £6) and rice (£2) turned up, I bravely (but cackhandedly) got stuck in. Nobody else I could see had asked for a fork, so I was going to get this dish down my neck somehow. I can't say I exactly experienced chopstick enlightenment or ate particularly elegantly ('you have tofu on your lip', G informed me at one point), but it tasted so good that I ploughed on regardless: and half an hour later, I was done. I often find that stir fries can be oily, but this little number tasted light and fresh, slightly smoky and given substance by the tofu (a slippery customer when it comes to chopstick capture, by the way). The sticky rice was a good accompaniment, leaving me happily but not uncomfortably full. G's choice of Saturday's special, yaki niku beef (stir fry of thinly-sliced beef steak marinated in garlic, spices and sesame, £7.50) was so tasty it didn't hang around on his plate for long.
With fresh-tasting, high quality food on offer in a convivial environment, Edamame is well worth a try. I'd even put myself through a second chopstick trauma to sample more of the very reasonably-priced menu. Who knows, maybe it gets easier with practice?
Edamame is at 15 Holywell Street, OX1 3SA. No reservations. Check website for opening times and arrive early.