Ichiban

We’re in the middle of the political silly season, with our rulers shooting attacks and excuses everywhere, typical among our governors and their opposition. But don’t worry, I didn’t change the topics of the blog, I just want to thank a certain range of politicians that made a lot more for Portugal than many of our own, and I speak about the Japanese Embassy, that with exception to the memorable master Yoshitaki, presented our country two of the greater banners of the Nippon cuisine in Portugal.

Firstly was Tomoaki Kanazawa – know preparing to leave to Japan again, to our misery! – and after was Masaki Onishi that substituted him in the embassy and who three years later headed to Porto to open this Ichiban.

As the name indicates (Ichiban means “First” in Japanese), the restaurant was the first space in the city to present a cuisine purely Japanese influenced and without the typical sushi-fusion-Brazil we used to find in 2011 and nowadays.

It must’ve been difficult this adaptation of the chef to the city and the guests to his purist approach, where he doesn’t seek to invent or reinvent but to perfect the already simple. A meticulous and detailed work, the Japanese way.

The restaurant, located in Foz do Douro, occupies a small space in front of the ocean, divided into three small floors, of minimalist decoration to the good Japanese style with light toned wood bringing comfort and coziness. Each room has its detail and each can fulfill different tastes, downstairs you can watch the work of Masaki Onishi in the kitchen (the chef puts the sushi making in the hands of his crew, dedicating himself to the Japanese cuisine dishes), on the ground floor you can enjoy all the bustle of the restaurant and the work of its Itamae, and it’s here in the counter we choose to stay; there’s also the upstairs floor, where we stayed in the last visit with the ocean views.

Already seated and with our orders made, they suggested a small snack (2€) as couvert, and usually travels between fish dishes and black pork stews, in our last visit we were awarded a light and tasty black pork salad, with thin slices of meat nicely combined with a light sauce and the freshness of the greens.

Tako Yaki (5,5€)
Tako Yaki is the Japanese answer to an octopus “patanisca“, small dough balls filled with octopus and specially prepared. Here particularly well done, crunchy on the outside, with a succulent and gourmand interior, even more, when combined with the sweet sauce and the Japanese mayo. Super worth it!

Seafood Okonomiyaki (16€)
The traditional Japanese pancake, made with a dough similar to the Tako Yaki, here nicely filled with vegetables, shrimp, squid, and scallop. A big dose, to share, that despite the excess of sauce, was at a great level, without the flavor of flour and the elements standing out in a good game of textures and sinful sweetness.

Moriwase Tempura (16€)
Moriwase means “chef’s choice”, so he is in charge of choosing the products we get. Among a variety of vegetables, highlight to the asparagus and also the shrimps, flawlessly fried in a thin and crunchy dough. Also good the sauce and freshness of the daikon and grated ginger.

Ryukyu Mackerel (10€)
A mandatory dish in each of my visits may even be one of my favorite on the menu. Kind of a mackerel tartar in larger cubes, prepared with the ryukyu sauce, typical of the region of Okinawa, freshened by the ginger, lemongrass, and chives.

Sashimi Moriwase (price according to the number of pieces) 
Is there any better way to enjoy the work of a sushi man than seeing his sharped knives going through the fish, there is! But we’re on to it! Sashimi with a great variety of fishes (always one of the strengths of Ichiban), where we loose the notion of how many white fish we tasted, some like pigfish, garfish, or the brill, we can’t easily find in other restaurants. Highlight to the thickest and purist cut that allows us to taste the fish in all its glory, as well as to the Tamago (omelet), that brings a sweet ending after so much fish.

Nigiri Moriwase (price according to the number of pieces)
And here it is! To see the ability of the chef molding the nigiri and then tasting his shari (sushi rice) is when you see his work in full! High score to the quality, flawless in every visit. Highlight to the good cut of the fish, some of them nicely complemented with toppings. When there are sardines and the remaining “blue fish”, you just have to enjoy!

Sea Urchin Gunkan (variable price)
There is when there is. One of the mottoes of those who choose the quality of the product and Ichiban is a good example of that. When there’s sea urchin – certainly not the big dishes full of it like in Hokkaido – we have to end our meal with this explosion of ocean and iodine in the mouth.

Accompanying was the usual Japanese green tea, seemed to me a kukicha, always the poor relative of the meal, not for its quality, but by the way it is prepared, the water is always way too hot, when it shouldn’t pass the 70/80º, burning the tea and losing many of the seaweed and fresh notes of the green tea. An area deserving of some attention!

The service flows between the shy Portuguese of the chef’s wife, always alert, and a young Portuguese team. Always friendly, not pretentious and not very technical, compensating with the knowledge of the menu and the available fish.

Final Remarks 
Masaki is a man of few words and to see him you need to peek through the glass of the cuisine, but the thing is every dish reflects his culture and personality – rigor, a bit of austerity, authenticity, and mystery.

That’s the feeling when we dive in the most typical Izakayas dishes or the most accurate Japanese dishes, an ocean of discoveries and balanced flavors, an interpretation of a nation and its culture.

Ichiban is fish and rice, it’s sushi in its purest and raw state, but in reality is more than that, it’s a restaurant with a serious and true cuisine, and for that, it won the award of Specialized Restaurant, in 2016 and in 2017, in the Flavors and Senses Awards. So we’re not talking just about a great restaurant in Porto, but also one of the best Japanese ambassadors in Portugal.

Take note:
If you haven’t discovered Ichiban’s cuisine yet, you can also choose one of the best menus in the city, with sushi and cuisine options, with prices among 17€ and 21€, accordingly to the day and the number of dishes.

Ichiban
Average price: 40€ per person, without wines
Avenida Brasil, 454 – Porto
226 186 111

Versão Portuguesa

Photos: Flavors & Senses

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