A First Real Look at Ichiba Japanese Market
When in Manila, Ichiba Japanese Market blew up social media when they held a bloggers’ lunch and a VIP dinner on the same day. In an instant, Ichiba was all the rave as your favorite food bloggers and celebrities like Tim Yap and Maria Ozawa posted elaborate blogs and dazzling photos praising what’s touted as the first indoor Japanese seafood market in the Philippines.
Well, in this article, there will be none of that.
This is an honest-to-goodness look at Ichiba Japanese Market, served straight up just like any other restaurant review I would write. And just like our feature on Gastro Park Kapitolyo, please consider this list as nothing more than a friendly advice for first-timers; try whatever tempura, ramen, or donburi you feel like trying; because your taste is as good as mine.
1. Uni Sashimi
What’s a Japanese seafood market without a fresh selection of sashimi? Ichiba’s uni (sea urchin) sashimi is one of the best uni I’ve tried. Served on a hollowed lemon half, each serving is considerably generous.
Just like oysters, the taste and quality of uni deteriorates very quickly. You would smell and taste the difference between a freshly opened urchin along the beach (one of my fondest experience was trying a fresh catch of urchin at White Island in Camiguin) and one that has been shelved for days or weeks at a Japanese buffet restaurant in Manila.
Ichiba’s uni sashimi is one of the freshest you will find in Manila, hands down. If you’re not as adventurous, their unagi (broiled eel) sashimi is equally delicious. Some netizens are swearing by Ichiba’s hotate (white scallop) sashimi, but it was out of stock when we visited. This is something I would definitely try on our next visit.
2. Chicken Karaage
Ichiba’s chicken karaage is definitely not your average Japanese fried chicken appetizer. Deboned chicken thigh hand-rolled into balls, deep-fried according to specification, resulting in golden chicken goodness that’s crispy on the outside and absolutely juicy on the inside. (If you’re thinking Jollibee, no, FAR from it.) Served with Japanese mayonnaise and a squeeze of lemon, Ichiba’s perfectly balanced karaage – tasty, juicy, zesty – is the result of several iterations by the product development team led by Ichiba CEO Bryan Tiu himself.
The takoyaki at Ichiba is also worth mentioning. At PHP 105, you get six takoyaki balls – generously stuffed with octopi – topped with nori and freshly shaved katsuobushi, dancing to the heat of your takoyaki.
3. Gyu Kushi
Izakaya staple gyu kushi (skewered beef cubes) is unsurprisingly one of Ichiba’s bestselling offers. Having tried these in several establishments, I would rate Ichiba’s as comparable to Izakaya Kikufuji in Little Tokyo and even better than my neighborhood’s izakaya Shonantei along Mindanao Avenue. (Sorry, Takeshi-san, you’re still my favorite Japanese chef!)
I also liked the fact that Ichiba does not publicize their gyu kushi as wagyu beef. It would be an absolute waste of real wagyu beef if you’re going to grill it on top of burning coal until it’s well-done – even charred. My theory is, most if not all izakayas and Japanese restaurants in Manila use faux-be beef or imitation wagyu for their gyu kushi.
A tip: Especially if the eating crowd is not overwhelming, drop by the yakitori stall as your order is being prepared. From the counter, you can monitor and control how done you like your gyu kushi to be.
Other must-try yakatori offers are Ichiba’s tori kawa (chicken skin), which they fry first before grilling, and tanuki (shiitake mushroom with minced chicken) as the shiitake were exceptionally sweet.
4. Ichiba Roll
If you’re planning to attach your restaurant’s name to any food item, better be sure that stuff is REALLY good!
Ichiba’s eponymous makimono is right on in this regard.
Ebi, mango, and crunchy salmon skin rolled, cut, then generously topped with kani salad, the Ichiba roll offers something new without being too far out in terms of its flavor profile. You still taste and appreciate the contributions of each ingredient, the hallmark of what makes Japanese food appealing to so many of us.
For those who enjoy a little heat in their sushi, Ichiba’s dynamite and spicy salmon rolls are crazy good as well.
5. Grilled Salmon Robatayaki
Salmon sashimi or grilled salmon?
Personally, it’s almost automatic for me to choose the former over the latter. But, Ichiba’s grilled salmon made it a very difficult choice.
I generally don’t like cooked salmon offered in restaurants because people have a habit of ruining the fish. Think Conti’s baked salmon. It’s big. It’s expensive. It’s overcooked. That said, Ichiba’s was grilled perfectly. The marinade was minimal, allowing the salmon’s unique fatty flavor to shine. It’s cooked just right so that the salmon starts to become flaky, but inside the unique taste of the fish in its raw state still lingers. For those who for one reason or another do not eat raw fish, this one’s for you!
Elephants in the Room
Now, for those who have been reading customer reviews before stumbling upon our little blog – or conversely, for those of you who have the tendency to read every available review of a restaurant before dining (and rightfully so!) – you will find mixed reviews of the restaurant.
I think, most of the negative reviews were a backlash of how grandiose bloggers tend to present a new restaurant. It’s like every new restaurant is the Restaurant of restaurants. And it’s sad when diners, excited as they are, line up for an hour or so before being seated, select a couple of items, wait for another 15 minutes or so, then find that not everything they ordered is as they expected.
So let me put it out there: Especially during peak hours, you cannot stroll around, sit in one stall, then move to the next as in a real Japanese food market. Yet. Until the insanely long queue lines subside, Ichiba will continue to operate more as a sit-down restaurant than anything.
Not everything in Ichiba’s menu is great. But isn’t that true for almost every other restaurant? If unsure, this Fave 5 list is a “Safe 5”. The waiters are also there to help. Before opening, all employees sampled the food items Ichiba had to offer, so they would have a rather good bearing of which items are worth trying.
And last, food at Ichiba is not cheap. But it’s not expensive also. It is competitively priced. CEO Bryan Tiu did his due diligence scouting direct competitors to ensure that Ichiba’s price range will hold against other Japanese restaurants of similar quality.
We’ve shared our Fave 5 with you. Now, it’s your turn to try. Check out Ichiba Japanese Market on Facebook. Tell us if you agree, and share with us your favorites!