Monday, 9 January 2012
Situated only a stone’s throw from my new place of work, it’s easy to miss the inconspicuous door tucked down a narrow staircase that is the entrance to Ichi-Riki, the fantastic-yet-tiny Japanese eatery. The Boy loves sushi and, with his first visit to the Big Smoke imminent, I was keen to indulge my beau. I’d walked past the restaurant several times to check out the stalls on Strutton Ground and had mentally marked it as pending on my list of places to try.
Once down the stairs (not too steep or numerous if you struggle with steps or have had a few pre-sushi sakes), the door is opened for you by a smiling waitress who ushers you to your table. This is a truly miniscule establishment (seating around eighteen at a real push - be ready to get friendly!) but it’s all the cosier for it. Due to its capacity, it’s recommended that you book a table by telephone to avoid disappointment with the upside being that, wherever you sit, you’re likely to have a view of the sushi chef at work and slabs of high grade fish behind the bar. It’s unpretentious; modestly decorated with simple pine furniture and an open view of the chefs at work. This is a world away from the colourfully sparse Yo! Sushi’s and contemporary slick independent’s out there.
The service was attentive and friendly without disrupting our intimate catch up session. We based our order on their set menu with The Boy going for a Jo Nigiri and me opting for the Udon Set. Of course, we had to start with Eda Mame and couldn’t resist Pumpkin Goroke when we saw it on the menu. Both of which were good though I must admit that I missed a scattering of chunky sea salt, rather than a liberal sprinking of table salt as we had here, that I've become accustomed to when having Eda Mame elsewhere. After a long train journey, The Boy was understandably in need of a cold beer (we were recommended Asahi as the house's favourite) while I chose to sample the house tea which was an intriguing mix of green tea and toasted rice. It was lovely and warming – a welcome relief from the chill outside – with the added bonus that I had a few free refills (great value for a mere £1) from our ever smiling waitress.
First up, we feasted on sushi. The Boy’s Jo Nigiri was effectively a fish of the day sushi platter comprised of eight pieces of nigiri while my Udon Set started with five pieces of nigiri, all of which were beautifully presented. Each neat rectangle of rice was topped with a different fish; eel, salmon and tuna to name a few. I tried squid nigiri for the first time which was tasty though it had a strange smooth texture on the tongue while The Boy had an unusual flying fish nigiri which he enjoyed.
Next came a cup of umami-tastic miso, part of The Boy’s Jo Nigiri, and a crisp hand roll, included in my Udon Set. Both were fantastic. The miso was deliciously sweet and salty with strands of silky seaweed and cubes of tofu – unlike anything that I’ve tried elsewhere! The hand roll was expertly folded in thicker nori and stuffed with salmon and avocado. It stayed together well, despite being passed across the table between bites while we umm-ed, ahh-ed and enthused over the gorgeous contrast between the crunchy seaweed and soft rice, salmon and avo combo.
Finally, we shared the final dish in my set menu – a tasty vat of tender udon noodles floating in a savoury broth with (I think) shredded spring onions and pickled dakon on the side. We slurped to our hearts content, happy as clams, though the troublesome noodles did challenge our chopstick skills. Greed got the better of us and, with the noodles not long gone, we ordered Ebi Tempura, which were good though a little greasy. I'd be curious to try their vegetable tempura on another visit (mental note: their fried dishes are only available in the evenings).
Our meal was just what we needed – the atmosphere was perfect for a quiet meal and was made all the better by the fantastic food. It was pretty good value too as, with drinks, we paid £45 for two of us and we chose some of the pricier items on the menu. We lingered over our food but I will be returning to try their lunch service as the food was quickly prepared and delivered so I doubt I'll have any trouble in returning to my desk within the hour.Truly a hidden gem!
Ichi-Riki can be found at 17B Strutton Ground, London, SW1P 2HY next to Crusssh juice bar. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Friday. Closed on Sundays. Telephone 020 7233 1701 for reservations.