Review: Ichi

1 December 2015

As mentioned before, I had a very busy afternoon after that excellent lunch at Sushi Masuda. But then I got myself ready and headed back to Roppongi for dinner. I have a love-hate relationship with the area. I can’t stand a lot of the brain-dead foreigners that meander around there like headless donkeys, and the subway station is annoyingly deep; but I love the restaurants in this area — like the fabulous Sanda last night.

Tonight’s dinner was at Ichi — a kaiseki place that I hear little about despite its Michelin star. BTW this is NOT the sushi place in Ginza, don’t confuse the common names!

I got to the restaurant and was given a very comfortable seat at the counter. They invited me to look at the Michelin guide (!!) as they just got the 2016 guide that just came out — and their single star was renewed. They were actually happy with being in the guide!

I chatted with the staff about tonight’s dinner and one of them actually hand-wrote and hand-designed a menu for me in English. How wonderful! And I asked them about sake and they had some recommendations — even had me taste four of them! I then asked what works with tonight’s menu, and Chef Yuichi Tanaka, with a slight smile in his stern face, suggested a pairing of his choice. My server asked me, “are you strong with sake?” And of course I answered in the affirmative… Oh, this is gonna be a fun night I can already see!

They poured more sake as the meal began, first off with a wee starter — a salad of winter parsley from Chef’s family farm in Nagano, graced with bonito flakes.

01-winter parsley

Mmm, you wouldn’t think winter parsley would be good but this was fabulous. Rich and flavourful, with the bonito adding that extra touch. A good start! Then they poured a different sake and we moved onto the big start. Wow…

02a-starting

I don’t even know how to describe this… I was just overwhelmed. There was everything from salmon shirako pickled in sake lees (!) to barracuda sushi, from grilled hairtail (tachiuo) to a fish and oyster cake with burdock roe, from grilled makomodake (wild rice stem) with pork to a marinated chrysanthemum (shungiku) salad…

02c-starting

I really was beyond overwhelmed by this most beautiful and diverse set of treats…it was like some divine appetiser that I could never mentally comprehend before seeing it… Wow. Beyond blown away… After that fantastic start we moved into the next item — with another different sake, of course — oyster.

03-oyster

Wow, this was a nice big juicy one. It was beautiful, so glad I am in Japan during the season! Fabulous! Then they bring out the traditional grill with bintochan, and I sense something exciting. And certainly was — a huge mantis prawn!

04b-mantis prawn

Oh this was beautiful. They brought out a different sake for me to enjoy as I watched this thing grill…

04d-mantis prawn

It was beautiful watching this, and the aroma…wow…

04g-mantis prawn

It was shelled and…goodness this was good. I love these things, so hard to find them outside of Asia! Just beautiful…mmm… I had to take a breath after all this. This has been an amazing start! I am sensing this could be one of the best meals of the trip, if not the year!

A bit more of a different sake and then the next item was presented — the sashimi course.

05-sashimi

Mmm, this was excellent, as good quality as anything at a sushi place. We had (left to right) fabulous meji maguro (young tuna) pressed in seaweed, tasty kinmedai (goldeneye snapper), rich saba (mackerel) marinated in vinegar, the superb kawahagi (filefish) with its own liver in ponzu, and aori-ika (cuttlefish) with salt. Oh my…this was just fantastic…

What a fabulous meal so far! And then we got a surprise next up. Not as simple as it looks…

06a-shirako roll

Not just a typical spring roll despite the nice plating, but it’s actually full of cod shirako! Oh my, this was good!

06b-shirako roll

Look at it, just fabulous… This is clearly now the best meal of this trip! Then they brought out yet another different sake for the next dish, the beef — on a houba (Japanese magnolia) leaf…

07a-beef

Then they brought the traditional grill out again to finish the dish. Chef looking intense as the bintochan worked its magic…

07c-beef

Then it was plated and…wow…

07g-beef

This was utterly delicious. Amazing quality beef, just melted in my mouth… Oh, what a wonderful treat! This is indeed the best meal of the trip, if not the top 3 of 2015! Just nearly perfect! BTW I love how they drew this in my special personalised menu that showed me where the “ichibo” cut came from… :))

07f-beef

I relaxed with more sake. This “pairing” has been pretty amazing. I barely caught my breath when the next item was presented — with more sake…

08c-sandfish nabe

Oh. My. Goodness. Look at this fish, the hatahata (Japanese sandfish) and the roe flying out of it! I nearly cried with this dish. Fabulous fish, just crazy fantastic with the roe… Just totally spectacular. I was dying at this point…

I was happy. Very happy. I know I will come back here next time in Tokyo, no matter what. This is amazing. Then I knew we were near the end as Chef showed me the rice pot…

09a-rice finale

Wow. This looked amazing. You see the sakura shrimp, but there’s tons more ingredients in the stock that made the soup, from crab to clamb, from oyster to fish. They scooped me a bowl and then also a very nice bowl of miso soup. I got to work and asked for a refill. And another, until the rice pot was empty. The burnt bits were so nice… None of that was going to waste! Oh goodness I was full, tipsy and happy!

I chatted with the staff a bit more and then a nice dessert of soymilk cream and almond jelly. A sweet and fitting end to this amazing meal.

10-dessert

Then a last beverage, lol…

end sake

After that I was spent. Beyond happy, but knackered and full — and yes, tipsy. I thanked the staff profusely and headed out. Amazing that this was not very expensive either (under USD 100 for the food), which was another amazing surprise — even with the amazing quality stuff from Chef Tanaka’s family’s farm and elsewhere, and the amazing sake pairing.

I think I have a new Tokyo favourite restaurant.

Ichi* [いち]
7-10-30 Roppongi, Minato-ku
Tokyo, Japan

PS: This was pretty much the “perfect” day, with the amazing sushi lunch and this fabulous kaiseki dinner. And to top it off, I spent a good part of the late evening at the cocktail mecca Bar High Five with the legendary Hidetsugu Ueno mixing my drinks almost as a personal bartender… Indeed, the perfect day…

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8 thoughts on “Review: Ichi

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