I have said many times that the best Japanese food outside of Japan can be found in Taiwan. Taiwan has been blessed with the best ingredients that are used for Japanese cuisine, and as a result of the colonization by Japanese produced an exemplary crop of Japanese chefs training locally. Thus they are more creative, break some of the rules and come up with atypical ingredients that are featured in their creations. Ichiban (there are many restaurants called Ichiban) was one that I found by accident that offered a good bento for lunch but transformed itself to Omakase restaurant in the evenings.
Omakase starts from NTD 800 (less than SGD 40, a steal compared to Singapore) and goes all the way to NTD 1500 (SGD 70) depending on the ingredients in the dishes. We went for the best (of course) since it’s a Christmas dinner for the family.
Started with a not-so-impressive trio of appetizers that included a braised peanut (seriously), edamame and pickled radish, it was not a good introduction to what was coming. I seriously regretted booking this place as the decor was quite old – did the bloggers who gave this place the thumbs up got it wrong?
Then the Omakase officially began with a Uni with Yamayimo 山藥海膽. The uni was sourced locally and was fat and creamy. Yamyimo was shredded into a soba and marinated with a yuzu dressing that complimented well with the salty-umami of the uni. The portion was quite generous compared to the classier Japanese restaurant. Now things were looking up.
Next came the sashimi. Thick cuts of salmon, tuna and swordfish were fresh and oily in a good way. But I did not appreciate such extravagance in terms of the size of the fish. You need to take two bites to finish which I always though was not meant for sashimi. So far -+-.
The main attraction of the night was the steamed Hokkaido Red Hairy Crab. The crab was so delicious and any sauce would have destroyed the natural umami. Although I would prefer the snow crab, but this was a creative alternative and right on season when we ate this. The crab shell was filled with creamy roe, a sure sign that it was fattened and harvested at the perfect timing. The waitress seemed to sense my doubt about the value of the price I am paying for the Omakase kept reminding us that this crab alone would cost NTD1500 if ordered a la carte. -+-+
After a yummy hot dish came the Fish course. The combination was a bit baffling – pan-fried foie gras and braised Saba (Sea Mackerel) with home pickled garlic. On their own, each part of the dish was delicious. The Saba was braised to perfection. And it was in season, autumn/winter was the time Saba was at its fattest. It came with really clean innards which I loved. Saba at other timing would come with a bitter, yucky innards. The foie gras was pan-fried nicely but came with a sweet plum sauce which I did not appreciate. And the garlic was totally out of place here. Foie Gras with Saba – not the dish I would recommend. -+-+-
Next up was another Fish dish – a Giant Grouper with Tofu. Giant Grouper 龍躉 is a rare catch. It needs to grow to over 100kg before they are caught sold. It could not be farmed and has to be caught in deep waters. Hence highly priced and highly sought after in Chinese restaurants. Japanese restaurant usually does not serve this fish because of its size. Chef Chen (ala Ah Bao) used this because it has a springy texture and wonderful natural sweetness that would rarely be found in other typical Japanese fish like Aki. So he steamed it a la Cantonese style and served it with pan-fried tofu and its jus. The remaining jus was used to make an omelette that was served later. -+-+-+
Then, we were served a non-fish dish. Grilled King Prawn with a Mayo Cheese sauce. Well, it was nice because the prawn was really fresh, but nothing to shout about. -+-+-+-
Final hot dish was a Giant Grouper Roe coated with batter and fried. It was not fishy and melted in your mouth like custard. Very generous with the portion and the leeks that accompanied the dish were spot on. -+-+-+-+
I did not know if it was on purpose or it just happened to be, you went on a roller-coaster ride for this Omakase with a low followed by a high for the last 8 courses. What remained was a chicken soup (-), the omelette aforementioned (+) and then Taiwan Oranges (-).
I did not understand why the service staff were so concerned about emphasising the value of the ingredients to us or trying to find out how we knew about this place. The place was relatively quiet for a pre-Christmas dinner, but mainly because it was in a part of Taipei not frequented by the younger set. You knew that it catered to a regular clientele as the Chef knew everyone that came by. I guessed if I came by more often I would fall into that category and perhaps the Omakase will be more tailored to my likings.
I am pretty sure the NTD 800 set would be similar,but at NTD 1500 I was expecting something more. But compared with Mitsui or other more atas locations in Taipei, this was value-for-money. But I would not entertain my clients there, just maybe a quiet spot for simple dinner with family.
If you are going for the top Omakase (at NTD 1500 per person), please call in advance and book ahead so that Chef Chen can prepare the ingredients.
Date visited: 24 Dec 2015
Ichiban Eatery 一番食堂
Yanping N Road Sec 2 No 91 台北市延平北路二段91號
Tel: +886 (02) 25588 488
Closed on Mondays