The arrival of Tokyo’s unique restaurant brand Sushi Ichi to Bangkok marks an introduction of flair and flavor to the capital’s international palate.
by Richard Mcleish
Although Japan has a sizeable expat population in Bangkok, the culture’s cuisine still remains underexplored for many diners in the city. In a sign of maturity for the scene—straddling the ubiquitous sushi bars of Sukhumvit, chain ramen outlets, and overpriced hotel venues—is the new Sushi Ichi restaurant (LG/F, Erawan Bangkok, 494 Phloenchit Road, Bangkok, BTS Chidlom; 02 250 0014).
Don’t be fooled, however, by its basement shopping mall location. Indeed some of the best sushi places in Japan can be found in public spaces such as markets (Tsukiji) and train stations (Ginza’s Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten, made famous by the “Jiro” film documentary). As you enter through the wooden doors, you can feel the chaos of the city recede and your palate tingle.
Both the location and immersive ambience in Sushi Ichi are no accident. Its loyalty to traditional tendencies is courtesy of the scrupulous Japanese team behind the project, who have painstakingly recreated the “omakase” concept from the Tokyo branch in Singapore, Shanghai and now Bangkok. The meticulous man at the helm of the operation is Michelin-starred executive head chef Masakazu Ishibashi. After all, if you’re going to trust a chef to provide a personalized meal, such an awardee is a good place to start.
While the concept of omakase—which in Japanese literally means “I’ll leave it up to you” (or perhaps more aptly to the chef)—has a long tradition in Japan, it is new to Bangkok, particularly in Sushi Ichi’s signature style. Typically, a sushi restaurant will allow diners to order and eat their own selections and tendencies. Instead, Sushi Ichi’s omakaze leans towards “kaiseki”, a degustation-style method of eating in which every nuance of a meal’s flavor culminates in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
With two entries from the dimly lit Erawan Bangkok’s lower level, the modestly dimensioned restaurant is divided into two rooms, one of which hosts 10 diners and the other 12. Inside you will either share with other diners or have a room to yourselves if your party is big enough. The décor is dominated by minimalist touches, all designed to effortlessly provide a true Japanese ambience.
One thing immediately noticeable on entry to Sushi Ichi is the meticulous service. On quick inspection, the diligent chefs observed one of our party as being left handed and consequently placed his sushi in front of his left side. They also monitor your drinks, in our case a fruity sake, and orchestrate the meal around not only the flavor pairing but the level of consumption. Without being intrusive, such a personal exchange in a small room facing each other directly ensures a personal interaction between customer and chef. This level of service is largely unseen in Bangkok, in a culture that gleams with smiles but sometimes lacks attention to detail.
For our visit, we opted for the Botan set (THB 3,000++), which includes an appetizer, assorted sashimi, one dish, eight pieces of nigiri, miso soup, and dessert. The description in the menu lends no more information, as the selections of each set vary almost daily, depending on what is available from Tsukiji market in Tokyo (the restaurant is closed on Mondays and the day after Japanese public holidays for a distinct reason – to follow the market’s schedule). Our day featured a huge and live-looking awabi (abalone), various toro (tuna), saba (mackerel) and some delectable uni (sea urchin) – all melt-in-the-mouth moments that taste like they have been hand-delivered from Tsukiji by Learjet. The crescendo of the meal being a delectable slice of o-toro (fatty tuna) that needed neither ginger nor wasabi, or indeed anything else to change your world for those few delectable seconds. It is that moment alone that will keep you coming back to Sushi Ichi.
The comparable pricing point to the flagship outlet in Ginza is no mean feat as Chef Masa must not only select the fish from the market in Tokyo every morning, but also transport it 4,500 kilometers. True to the set-serving nature, dinner choices range from the Sakura Set (THB 4,000++) to the Sushi Ichi Set (THB 10,000), while value can be found for lunch when sets range from Tsubaki (THB 1,200) to Omakase (THB 4,000). A hand-picked selection of sake is available (180 ml, THB 390–2,500), as well as a selection of shochu, wine, whisky and Asahi beer.