CHECK OTHER REVIEWS FOR THIS PLACE:
Ichiban Cuisine: The Metn Welcomes a Decent Japanese Restaurant
A New Concept: Rice Free Sushi Rolls at Ichiban
One can’t deny the success story that is Ichiban. Ichiban, which started with a tiny little shop on the Zalka highway more than 10 years ago, has now expanded to 17 different branches around the country, and its crown jewel is the cuisine restaurant on Dbayeh highway.
Innovator and creator of new pieces, which many others have copied, Ichiban has ventured into a new segment by revisiting maki rolls. The special Ichiban rolls are a really first class items, with ingredients like foie gras, local fish, parsley, fig jam and others.
I was publishing an article about sushi around the world when I suddenly remembered Ichiban. If so many countries identify themselves with their unique rolls, why don’t we in Lebanon export ours to the world? Sushi has come a long way from its traditional origins and many countries, including Lebanon, have included Sushi into their own cultural food trends. For example, France came up with a sushi cake while Scotland mixed sushi and haggis together...
Visiting Ichiban, I was introduced to the new rice-free section with Lebanese flavors, as well as conventional mixes mastered to hold together without rice.
Those rolls are new and bizarre, but when you come to think of it, the idea of having the chance to enjoy those Japanese rolls without rice, only the fish and rich ingredients… No rice means less carbs, less filling ingredients covering the original taste of fish.
Last time I was at Ichiban was more then a year ago, and I remember eating tasty Japanese rolls like the Beirut Tokyo, the Green Samurai, Tropical Aloha, Black Belt, the Dynamite Spicy Extreme and many others. Today, other than the Lebanese signature rolls, lunch was an exclusively rice-free meal
- Two huge wooden dolls in kimonos welcome you as you walk in
- A reflective black wall faces the entrance
- Large burgundy leather sofas in half moon shapes surround square tables that can host four people
- Black leather chairs fill in the space around black tables
- Real wood aged parquet adds the fine touch we expect
- High glass facades have an open view of the sea
- A reflective Barylux ceiling with lit wooden holes, painted in burgundy color
- The wall on the left, which is the main design element, is made up of small triangles in three different colors (grey, burgundy, white)
- Two black columns in the middle of the restaurant divide it into a more intimate dining space
- There's a large bar on the left that prepares your orders live,
- Right next to that you'll find a coffee bar
- A Soothing music
- A dimmed ambiance, but with well-lit tables
- To top it all, a high ceiling relaxes your senses
The things that caught my attention:
- The desserts have improved since the last time, as I suggested in October of 2013
- Tables have fabric napkins to match the high-end standard of this eatery
Let’s have lunch:
- Lunch started with the tempura foie gras. Six individual rolls of rice and Philadelphia cheese topped with avocado sauce and a ball of fried tempura foie gras. Lychee adds an endnote of finesse. Different textures combined into a creation that’s up to fine dining standards. A crunch, an aroma and a sweetness towards the end that accompanies you for a long time.
- A salmon tartare followed. Five thick slices of salmon sashimi layered one next to the other like a tartare, served alongside a tartare of salmon. The tartare is prepared the Ichiban way, with a bed of rice below. Loved the freshness of the mix, the way it is served cold and the note of olive oil covering the salmon.
- Tempura, the usual, tempura is crunchy and oil-free, served with soy sauce on the side.
- The crispy sushi is a rectangular portion of fried rice topped with a mountain of fresh tuna and another of shrimps. Bizarre to say the least, but prepare yourself for a new experience. Sticky rice, cold fish, a tender feel… that’s enjoyment.
- The crab salad: You might think that all crab salads taste the same because crab sticks are synthetic, but I believe not. Those salads differ thanks to the quality of crab, the quantity and the ugly cabbage mix usually left under it. Today’s portion was generous, fresh, cold, with light mayonnaise and, most importantly, crunchy.
- Salmon on ice, or better called marinated salmon, is the queen salad or even the king order. Been here, done that more than a hundred times already without a bad experience.
- Now for the rolls. Each roll is unique in its shape and design. Your appetite will be peaked the minute they land in front of you with their beautiful colors and shapes that will keep you wondering what awaits you. To be honest, the first impression may seem bizarre. We are used to eating rice, chewing rice, feeling a certain texture, which is imprinted in our heads of what a sushi roll should be like. Try having rolls without rice, just two of them and come back to the normal one and believe me you will notice as soon as rice touches your palate. I’m not saying that I won’t be eating rolls with rice, I’m just preparing you for something different that might be awkward for the first time.
- Mexico with jalapeños, chicken and curry. Fish and chips, rock tempura, quinoa shrimps, orange and salmon, bizri fish caviar, tarator, edamame in a roll, fetta cheese, Parmesan… or the crispy crazy without rice… Just imagine; ingredients never used before in Japanese rolls, or should we call them, Japanese rolls the Lebanese way?
- Since Ichiban is still preparing to launch the rice-free experience, I will leave you with these mouthwatering photos until we visit again in a month or so when the menu will be printed officially.
- Chocolate fondant using fine Callebaut chocolate: A must try!
- The banana fingers are awesome: Bananas wrapped in crepe-like bread, covered with caramel and served warm. Yum!
- Mousse au chocolate: That’s surely my favorite… Flavors of my childhood in every bite. A smooth texture and strong flavor of chocolate with orgasmic enjoyment every time your tongue presses the soft mix under your palate.
Some personal notes:
- Ichiban rolls contain a bit too much sauce and mayonnaise. They lack lightness in my opinion, which leaves you feeling heavy after a meal
- Some inventions are way too complicated and might feel bizarre; it took me three visits to understand them
- I won’t recommend you order only rice-free rolls, just get used to them at first
- Ichiban Cuisine is completely different from Ichiban Express found in malls around the country. Come here for some fine flavors
- Don’t miss the chocolat mou
I left with a smile on my face hoping to be coming back for more in the weeks to come.