THE first, last and only time that I had tried to eat at Edamame cafe in Oxford before this month was five years ago.

Katie and I, having heard amazing things about the Japanese eatery, went investigating one lunchtime only to find a queue stretching down the street.

After 15 minutes waiting we found more pressing needs and chickened out completely.

This was despite the fact that both of us are big Japanophiles, and last year spent two weeks in Tokyo and Kyoto. In other words, we managed to get to Japan before we got to Edamame in Oxford.

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This fact, although entirely our fault, fits with the aura of mystique around this stand-alone Oxford establishment.

Firstly, its opening hours: closed completely on Monday and Tuesday, it then opens on Wednesdays – but only at lunchtime – then Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays lunchtime and dinnertime – but dinnertime is only 5pm to 8.30pm. On Sundays it’s 12pm until 3.30pm.

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Secondly, the seating: you cannot book a seat at Edamame. Because the seating is almost entirely communal around shared tables, seats are offered on a first-come, first-served basis – hence the queues.

The final fold in this origami of idiosyncrasy - and I have been asked to stress this - is that Edamame is not a sushi restaurant: it is a Japanese home cooking eatery which serves sushi one night a week – Thursday.

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Thus it was that after the eatery recently won the highest marks from the council’s hygiene team, I decided the time had come for us to return to Edamame, on sushi night, and damn the queue.

So, last Thursday, Katie and I – having pushed and shoved through the rush-hour traffic – arrived in Holywell Street at 6.30pm to find a queue of no fewer than 14 people waiting to get inside.

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Thankfully, the queue is not as bad as it seems: we wait for 15 minutes and then suddenly we are being warmly greeted by owner, co-founder and manager Peter Galpin, wearing an apron and the Japanese air of the humble host.

After wiping down the wooden table himself he ushers us to sit down, provides the menus and leaves us to peruse, promising to return and explain.

At our table we are sat with students with American, English and Asian accents, chatting about everything from their friends’ annoying boyfriends to 19th century literature.

Peter later tells us that this style of dining (common in Japan) was a major part of his and his Japanese wife Mieko's vision: strangers becoming friends in a cosy ‘home away from home’.

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In that spirit, when he returns we ask him for two Asahi beers then hand the menus back and put ourselves in his hands.

He starts us off with the traditional bowl of salted edamame beans, steamed in their own pods, which you pop in your mouth to suck the beans out of.

Next he brings two bowls of salty, warming miso soup as good as any I had in Japan.

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Finally Mr Galpin sets us up with a selection of the evening’s specials: four salmon sushi; two unagi nigirizushi (slices of boiled freshwater eel topped with a sweet soy sauce strapped to a ball of rice with a ribbon of seaweed); two scallop nigirizushi with delicately chopped spring onion, and four tuna and avocado makizushi rolls – chopped fresh tuna marinated in a savoury sauce with avocado, wrapped with sushi rice in dried nori seaweed.

Alongside all of this is a communal pot of soy sauce, a pile of pickled ginger thinly sliced and a pot of punchy piquant wasabi paste.

Everything is delicious: succulent fish, sticky sweet rice and chewy umami seaweed. However the star of the show for me is the salmon – silky slices of flavourful fish with the genius addition of a tiny sliver of raw orange on top: this citrus strip is the perfect foil to the oily fish, cutting through and bringing the whole mouthful magically to life.

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I mention this to Peter later and discover it’s one of his favourites too – despite the fact that many diners are rather baffled by it.

My only regret at the end of the night was not having twice as much of everything, and at £42.35 for the whole meal, next time I will.

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As sushi goes, this is probably as good as you’ll get in England (the restaurant has official Japanese government accreditation), but that’s not why you should go to Edamame. You should go to Edamame so you can tell your children and your grandchildren you went.

Go there, wait in the queue, sit next to a stranger and have some food you’ve never eaten before, whether it’s sushi night or not: this is the most real dining experience you will have in Oxford, and you don’t want to miss it.

Edamame, 15 Holywell Street, Oxford, OX1 3SA; tel 01865 246916;