Exquisite skills, deeply cultivated sensibility, and a touch of playfulness to set guests at ease. Ichiu has just opened, but offering traditional Japanese cuisine and sushi – a combination sought after by every visitor to Japan – it feels like it is already on a steady road to success.
Ichiu has arrived on a corner of the romantic Kagurazaka district serving guests a wonderful course of sushi and Japanese cuisine. Every dish is created at the hands of a highly skilled chef whose enviable pedigree includes Michelin-starred Akasaka Kikunoi and Sushi Senpachi in Kumamoto. This location is just a few minutes from Iidabashi – a major interchange on above-ground and multiple metro lines – but set one street back from the main avenue, it immediately wafts of Kagurazaka charm. The entrance is adorned with a series of jute ropes fashioned like a roof, a bespoke creation by Kyoto specialist Kawasaki Rope. The name Ichiu means "one universe", and represents everyone gathering under one roof in a comfortable atmosphere conducive to good times. The chef’s individuality shines through in his choice of a restaurant name rooted in a philosophy rather than based on his own name, as is so often seen in Japan. And while guests may be accustomed to seeing a beckoning cat at commercial establishments around Japan, take note before you cross the threshold here of the antique ceramic figurine of a bulldog!
The “under one roof” motif continues with a roof-shaped ceiling inside the main restaurant space, where guests will be enveloped instantly in the relaxing aroma of Horikawa incense by longtime Kyoto incense maker Shoyeido. For the chef, this aroma reminds him of his first training ground, making him stand tall and give his best effort. The ceiling and some wall panels were varnished personally by the chef, and the shikkui plaster walls have an arashiage rough finish achieved using traditional techniques. The counter is a splendid single plank of hinoki cypress with eight comfortable seats in a row.
Once seated your eyes will be drawn immediately to the small but highly unique decorations behind the chef’s workspace. For an August visit it was something evocative of a summer festival replete with a red lantern and those super bouncy rubber balls children love to play with. While this space is often reserved for a single flower or tableware at traditional Japanese restaurants, Hamano’s playful decorations range from a spring picture of a bird taking flight to a hip flask to celebrate Father's Day. And during rainy season, an objet d’art combines a cloud pregnant with rain with a teru teru bozu traditional handmade doll decorated with a wish for clear skies.
Exquisite skills and deeply cultivated sensibility
Ichiu cuisine is an omakase course commencing with ikkon, a traditional welcome drink. With the mood now set, diners will be wowed with five or six impeccable dishes of Japanese cuisine before the chef changes tack completely to serve twelve sumptuous nigiri sushi bites and two desserts. Guests who come with no prior knowledge of the course content may be quite surprised by this shift to sushi midway.
The early courses are a selection of warming dishes for your belly based on the chef's flavorful dashi, lovingly made from Shizuoka Prefecture hot spring water, Hokkaido makombu kelp, and bonito flakes shaved fresh each day at Toyosu Market in Tokyo. The delicious umami shines in the chef’s savory egg custard with softshell turtle, and white eggplant tempura with spaghetti squash and sake-steamed fat greenling fish. These intricate dishes require a multitude of preparation steps beyond the tsumami appetizers you typically find at sushi restaurants. This is clear in the vinegared dish of shako mantis shrimp and mozuku seaweed topped with mountain yam noodles and grated bitter gourd. Floating in the sanbaizu vinegar are pickled miniature melons that emerge in the process of fruit thinning. Akashi madai sea bream sashimi is topped with ponzu-infused creamy monkfish liver and accompanied by grated daikon and wasabi. In a lacquer bowl arrives a satisfying dumpling of hairy crab and edamame alongside ingredients that speak of the season, like baby melon, yuzu and junsai watershield plant.
When the nigiri morsels begin, guests will find the rice is steamed al dente and flavored at first with a blend of two akazu red vinegar varieties. Then, out of an awareness that some diners tire of akazu’s distinctive tartness, Chef Hamano blends in plum vinegar for a refreshing finish in the latter half of the sushi course. Guests are guided through an array of sushi morsels, some more familiar than others, including shibudai star snapper, miso-dressed shaku mud shrimp, aji horse mackerel, and tuna akami. The climax is Hamano’s signature dish of tuna noten — an extremely rare taste of flesh from the crown of a tuna’s head that the chef smokes over straw before marinating. The latticework scoring of the tuna flesh makes for an incredibly sumptuous, melt-in-the-mouth bite.
Dessert is also bound to leave a deep impression with fascinating ingredients adding a twist to the traditional Japanese sweet of yokan, gelled sweet bean paste. Chef Hamano made a slippery smooth mizu-yokan combining matcha and bitter gourd, whose bitter flavors provided welcome refreshment in the heat of summer. Other popular versions include gelled white bean paste infused with Nepalese Timut pepper, and another whose sweetness gains exotic flair with the addition of lemongrass.
Most of the seafood at Ichiu is sourced from Toyosu Market, but some is sent direct from Tasaki Market in Kumamoto Prefecture, with which Chef Hamano has maintained the ties he developed during his time training there. This allows him to secure shipments of akauni sea urchin, hamo daggertooth pike conger, shaku Japanese mud shrimp, watarigani Japanese blue crab, and kohada gizzard shad, among others, all of incredible freshness and quality not available in Tokyo.
Hamano uses a rice variety called Jindai Akitakomachi selected by Suzunobu — a specialty rice shop in Nakane, Meguro Ward, Tokyo – and he is especially fastidious about the firmness of the rice upon steaming. For his delicious dashi, he uses extremely soft, Kannon hot spring water from Okushimoda in Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture, combined with makombu kelp from Hokkkaido and bonito flakes shaved fresh every morning at Toyosu Market.
Many of the eye-catching tableware pieces at Ichiu are the works of Ryuta Fukumura, an artist from Hamano’s generation who works at Nichigetsu Kiln in the town of Yoshii, Ukiha City, Fukuoka. He is known for his unique application of silver glazes, intriguing colors, and uneven surface design. Each piece is simple yet has outstanding presence. Hamano visited the kiln while training in Kumamoto and was so impressed by the works of Fukumura that he determined to have them in his collection when he went independent. His wish came true, and guests can now enjoy Fukumura’s tableware as they reach for a morsel of sushi, pour some delicious soy sauce, and devour accompaniments from an array of small dishes.
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000