A few weeks ago, I was looking for a venue for a casual, relaxed mid-week dinner with a friend. I’d heard lots of good things about Ichiban, and when a work colleague told me they did fantastic spider maki (with soft shell crab – one of my favourite foods!), I was sold!
Ichiban (meaning ‘First’ in Japanese) is on Cowbridge Road East in Canton, probably the most multi-cultural road in Cardiff if you’re going by the restaurants it has on offer – with Indian, Italian, Japanese, Thai, Spanish and lots more. Ichiban offers Japanese cuisine – including authentic sushi and sashimi – and I have to admit to finding the menu options a little bit mind boggling as there were so many different options!
When we arrived, at around 6.30, the restaurant was fairly empty, but seemed to fill up very quickly and soon became extremely busy. To the staff’s credit, despite how busy it was, they didn’t mind us taking our time over the menu (we had lots of chat to catch up on, so didn’t necessarily give it our full attention as quickly as we perhaps should have) with the only proviso being we were welcome to take as long as we liked, but could they take away one of our menus as they were running low!
We decided to start with a few ‘nibbles’ whilst we had a closer look at the rest of the menu, and opted for the aforementioned spider maki, some edamame and steamed chicken dumplings.
The spider maki was absolutely delicious – deep fried, tasty crab, wrapped in the usual rice and seaweed, with avocado, peppers and cucumber into the bargain. It looked beautiful too. Wasabi and pickled ginger came on the side, but the maki was so tasty I didn’t think it was necessary to add either. The avocado gave a particularly nice contrast in texture and flavour, and I could have happily made a meal out of a couple of plates of this, would it not have meant foregoing some of the other delights on offer!
The edamame were well seasoned and plentiful and the chicken dumplings were good, moist inside but not soggy or stodgy on the outside. They came with a tasty dipping sauce, but I didn’t actually discern an awful lot of chicken in them, and would have preferred bigger pieces of meat, as it seemed to be mostly vegetables inside. There was also a very overpowering flavour in the filling, which I couldn’t really put my finger on – again, this made it hard to identify the chicken. This was probably my least favourite dish of the meal. Incidentally, there were five dumplings on the plate, not four as in the photograph. I just got a little carried away and dived in before taking a picture. Thank you to my friend for reminding me of my duties as a blogger!
In between nibbling and chatting, we managed to choose our next courses: a chicken katsu curry, and yaki udon noodles – again with chicken.
The katsu curry was lovely: crispy, tender crumbed chicken with a rich, tasty sauce that was spicy but not overpoweringly so, plus pieces of sweet potato and a mound of sticky rice.
The Yaki Udon was good too, flavoursome chunky noodles, with what appeared to be good quality chicken (I still get flashbacks to some particularly unpleasant chicken in a noodle dish that I had in an Asian restaurant in Scotland when I was about 14) in abundance. Both dishes were nicely garnished too, so looked more easy on the eye than is often the case with this type of cuisine where it’s difficult to make it look as if you’ve done anything other than stick it on a plate!
I enjoyed Ichiban. For me, it’s an ideal mid-week venue for a casual dinner with friends – especially if you have a big group so can do more than just scratch the surface of the menu as we did. If you’re a sushi fan, it has an excellent selection, and I’ve heard very good things about the sushi. The restaurant has a lovely buzz, and we felt more than comfortable taking our time over ordering and in between courses/dishes. We also noticed several tables of Japanese diners enjoying their food – which is always a good sign! Prices were reasonable, and the way the menu is laid out (once you get your head around the array of options!) makes it easy to try a variety of different dishes and cuisines. Service was efficient and courteous, and I’ll definitely go back.
Food: *** Service: *** Ambience: ***
Ichiban, 201 Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff CF11 9AJ