Lindsay Harrison reviews the Japanese restaurant Ichiban on Atlantic Rd
Ichiban, 58A Atlantic Road, SW9 8PY, 020 7738 7006
Reviewing a Japanese restaurant like this really shouldn’t be a challenge. They are everywhere and many of them offer similar food at a similar level. In Brixton, two of them, Ichiban and Fujiyama, are less than 500m from each other. There was a period of about six months where I practically lived at Fujiyama, so I’m pretty fluent in the menu of places such as these. Surely this should be straightforward.
And yet not so. It’s easy to write about something you loved and even easier to write about something you hated. But in the case of Ichiban, I’m neither here nor there. It was good, but I had hoped for something to differentiate it from its neighbour.
Ichiban does care a great deal about serving quality sushi and sashimi. The menu pivots around what’s available and (hopefully) sustainable. But then again, other offerings are pretty standard: tempura, spring rolls, katsu curries, donburis, stir-fries, etc. No surprises here. No differences either.
We started with a variety of things to try – Agedashi Dofu (fried tofu served with spring onions and dashi sauce), Sunomono (a tiny salad of pickled cucumbers, seaweed and crab) and Ohitashi (cooked spinach with a soy sauce dressing and sesame seeds).
The tofu was pretty good – lightly fried bean curd, served in a nice brothy sweet-salty sauce. The sliced green onions added decent flavour. Sunomono was disappointing as the advertised “crab” was actually crabstick. But despite this, the flavour combinations of the salty, vinegary pickles, seaweed and cold fish resulted in a sharp, clean little salad. Next came the Ohitashi, serve cold, as is traditional, which surprised me as I’d only had it warm before. It came as a dense little roll of cooked spinach, the end dipped in sesame seeds. The soy sauce dressing was almost non-detectable making the whole slightly bland. I imagine it’d be a better dish to have in the blazing summer rather than mid-September as the weather begins to turn, but it really needs a bit of dipping sauce on the side, traditional or not.
For mains we shared tuna sashimi and a beef donburi. The sushi options were quite limited to standard rolls, which I kind of liked, but I wanted to taste the quality of the fish without its flavour being distracted in a roll. The tuna was buttery and clearly very fresh; dipped in a bit of wasabi-laced soy sauce gave it fantastic flavour. The beef in the donburi was decent, as were the combination of stir-fried vegetables served with it. Ichiban adds thin glass noodles to their donburis, a dish that is served on rice, so it made it a bit heavy.
Ichiban serves good food, but it’s not amazing. The staff were nice too, though our waiter was new and understandably less able to answer our questions about the menu. Perhaps the glaring difference between Ichiban and Fujiyama is the fact that at Ichiban, you can sit and enjoy your food leisurely. The menu differences are slight, but the atmosphere is far more welcoming and less hectic. A bit of sake and a bit of sashimi whilst watching Atlantic Road go by: not bad.
Lindsay Harrison blogs at www.blondevsbland.com