You’d think I’d have learned my lesson about long queues for new restaurants after my post on the Queue for Bubblewrap. Yet there was something about Ichibuns which really aroused my appreciation for all things Japanese. This became clear not just from the exterior’s blatant cultural themes or my iron will of surviving the one hour queue, but from what this stunningly wrapped gift to London’s Chinatown holds inside…
The upbeat design of this restaurant spoke to my inner nerd in many ways: ceilings plastered with the faces of anime characters, a staircase walled with manga, awesome bar tunes in the background, manga pages filling the bar ceiling, TV’s displaying retro shows and anime and pachinko machines cleverly used for decoration. Could this be heaven? Hell yes for me!
But I’m not here to talk interior design. I’m here for the food, my main objective being the deluxe wagyu beef!
So for starters we had the wagyu cheeseburger and snow crab harumaki rolls, wagyu maki, kale crisps and chicken tenders. The tenders were as the name suggests, with a slightly crisp skin of batter. Rather intriguing were the kale crisps, since alone they’re the reason why children are forced to eat their greens, but add a little sauce and they become very moreish! The wagyu maki was the first signs of that ‘melt in your mouth’ quality taking global precedence over the standard beef, its fatty taste standing out from the varying flavours of the small maki roll. Finally the harumaki rolls, the wagyu literally a cheeseburger stuffed in a spring roll forming a gorgeous snack, whereas the snow crab wowed me! Its divine ocean flavour gracing its way through the rest of the roll.
Then we get to the main meals of the evening, two Ichiban burgers and a panko meatball. Note that the patties are made with Australian wagyu beef and British grass-fed prime cuts. The Ichiban translates to ‘number one’, which is probably right when it houses a whopping 180g beef patty with the traditional salad relish and bbq sauce. I was told it was really good, but I wanted to try something a bit less safe…
My panko meatball was a messy yet flavoursome burger containing a panko crumbed beef patty topped with slightly tanged Japanese pickle and cabbage, before being bathed in sweet umami curry ketchup and spicy yoghurt. Not only was it mouth-wateringly good, it managed to stay intact!
Even if you’re not a fan of Japanese food, Ichibuns is a place where you should bring your friends, just to say you’ve been there and done it. You’re entering a place uniquely inspired by pop culture, plus being served by very friendly staff, as well as getting ‘fast food style’ access to a luxury meat only recently unbanned from being exported to other countries. It’s a cool experience that brings some animated and youthful fun to Soho, and I will certainly remember it for a long time!