Friday, 30 October 2009


Gerrard Street, the colourful, noisy thoroughfare which runs the entire length of London's Chinatown, is known and feared in equal measure for its intense concentration of Chinese restaurants, ranging from the deeply authentic to the shamelessly touristy and the cheap 'n' cheerful to painfully pricey. Every Londoner has their favourite (mine's Imperial China, FYI), recommended to friends and tourists with a knowing wink and a tap of the nose to underline how privileged this information is, a falsehood exposed the minute they arrive to find that every table is occupied by diners sent there by someone similarly in the know. Some of the places on the strip have been in business for decades, and alluring tales - probably apocryphal - of outrageously rude service, and secret menus featuring 'proper' Chinese food, only given out on request, ensure that the restaurant industry in this part of town will ride out every economic twist and downturn. What might come as a surprise is that in addition to the dizzying array of Chinese eateries, there's also a smattering of food joints of other origins, and it was to one of these - Japanese, Thai and dim sum specialist Ikkyusan - that my banker pal Patsy took me for dinner last night.

It's a very nice space, a cut above what one might expect in this area; the long ground-floor room is decked out izakaya style with lots of foliage and subtle lighting complementing dark tiling and walls, while upstairs there's an authentic ryokan-style dining room with tatami matting and low-level tables for cross-legged eating. Pats and I being rather larger of frame than your typical Japanese gentlemen went for the western option, and ate downstairs at a traditional table more suited to our heights.

The menu - which in common with even some fairly high-end Oriental places features pictures of the food, rather to my chagrin - is diverse but not to the point of being overwhelming. There's a good choice of sushi and sashimi (prepared before your very eyes at an open sashimi bar at the front of the restaurant), dim sum all day, noodle soups every which way you could possibly wish for and a long list of bento box options. It's from this latter that Patsy and I both chose the delicious sounding Surf 'n' Turf bento, promising tempura prawns and teriyaki beef in addition to the usual white rice, miso soup, salad and pickles for a very reasonable £12.50.

We certainly weren't disappointed; our boxes were huge and made up of excellent component parts. The steak used in the teriyaki was perfectly tender, and the tempura included a generous serving of giant prawns in a light, crackling batter just as it should be. There were some pieces of vegetable tempura added to the mix - a very welcome extra - and the rice and miso were both of good quality. My only minor gripe was that the salad was a bit boring, just lettuce, carrot and sweetcorn rather than the more usual combination of mixed leaves and radish say, but the rest of the box made up for this slight flaw by being so good.

We washed everything down with a bottle of house white - I didn't note the name but recall that it was Italian, dry, not in the least unpleasant and about twelve quid - but could have chosen from a better selection of beers, juices, soft drinks and sakes than I've seen in many other pan-Oriental joints. Our bill for bento boxes, a bottle of wine plus an extra glass for Pats and 12.5% service came to just over £20 a head, which felt about right.

With further research it transpires that Ikkyusan is part of the ever-expanding and well-respected Hi Sushi group of restaurants, which rather explains the better-than-average quality (that said, I was massively underwhelmed at the launch of their recent Covent Garden outpost Hi Sushi Izakaya, so they don't get everything right). Purely because I tend only to go through Chinatown on my way to or from Soho, rather than as a destination in itself, I don't think I'll necessarily be back at Ikkyusan any time soon, but that's certainly not to say that I wouldn't recommend it. In fact, next time you're asked by someone for your insider-knowledge recommendation of where to eat in Chinatown, I'd encourage you to surprise them with your contrariness and send them here.

Ikkyusan, 39 Gerrard Street, London W1D 5QD Tel: 020 7434 0899

Ikkyusan on Urbanspoon

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