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Indulging the Japanese way

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Ikoi-Tei greets the New Year with fresh lunch options and monthly specials

By Uditha Jayasinghe

There are few cuisines in the world that combine the drama and subtlety of Japanese food so seamlessly and nowhere is this better showcased than at Ikoi-Tei. 

The cosy restaurant has become a staple for people seeking high quality Japanese food in a relaxed atmosphere. Ever ready to offer new options to diners the restaurant has had a recent face lift providing a secluded private dining area for about a dozen people, which is also ideal for corporate events, and a portioned off teppanyaki grill with a seating area for the more performance oriented aspect of Japanese food. 

The changes have been infused into the food as well with a new lunch menu introduced by Japanese Master Chef Hikaru Takahashi. The bento lunch boxes come with several options each with the tempura and sashimi versions including two kinds of side dishes, steamed rice and miso soup. If you are in an indulgent mood the menu also allows a selection of salmon, seer and other meat cooked in several different ways as mains to be paired with side dishes of your choosing. 

Teppanyaki performance 

The Teppan Lunch selection with its chicken, salmon, seer and prawn options is especially indulgent as it comes with a cascade of flames. The teppanyaki grill has been in use by The Hilton since 1987 and the seasoned metal plate gives incredible flavour that a mere frying pan could never match.

Guests are whisked behind a discreet partition where a chef will give a spatula juggling, eyebrow-searing performance as he sets fire to Australian beef doused in brandy. The simple selection of veggies, steamed and tossed in a tiny pat of butter, is a perfect accompaniment that is light and filling. Both the beef and the salmon, the latter complete with crispy skin deserve to be had medium rare as anything less would be a disgrace to the excellent ingredients.

Another homage to quality ingredients is the Hot Night Roll, which is the first of designer specialties chef Takahashi is rolling out each month this year. This tuna sushi roll is generous and spicy, perfectly tailored to local taste and superbly presented. It will be followed by a “Sushi Burrito” in February, which Chef noted was derived from a Japanese custom intended to bring good fortune and would be an uncut sushi roll that could be unwrapped and eaten in the style of the popular Mexican dish.

Ehomaki, as it is known in Japan, is a long sushi roll eaten on the night of Setsubun (a Japan-wide religious festival welcoming the beginning of spring), filled with seven different ingredients to represent the seven gods of happiness (Shichifukujin).

Clean and fresh   

Despite the teppanyaki theatrics, simplicity remains at the heart of Ikoi-Tei food with delicately spiced fried chicken, comforting ramen, layered Katsudon, Nigiri platters and even burgers dotted across the menu pages. Meals are preceded by small bowls of edamame beans sprinkled with salt and can be wrapped up with homemade matcha or green tea ice cream, sticky rice-flour dumplings and sake paste soufflé.

Having spent more than a dozen years in and out of Sri Lanka, Takahashi is deeply familiar with the preferences of locals and he marries this familiarity with authentic Japanese flavours effortlessly. Old favourites of tuna, sushi, sashimi and soba noodle bowls are laid out in the simple but thoughtful menu with helpful photo illustrations to help the customers pick their favourites. The holistic menu also pays special attention to vegetarians with many dishes and even desserts catering to a wide range of dining preferences.

Clean and fresh eating is at the heart of the menu and is demonstrated by the two selections of Carpaccio. Fish, sourced from Negombo, is thinly sliced and sprinkled over with a tart dressing and a few squares of bell pepper and herbs for texture and seasoning. The result is a refreshing dish that leaves an almost palate-cleansing feel.

Typical of Japanese cuisine, seafood plays an integral part in the menu, with tuna sushi and sashimi lending elegance to the intricately plated selections. In fact, the Spicy Tuna Roll is one of the top dishes and perfectly matches local palates. 

Tempura is another favourite amongst local diners and Ikoi-Tei delivers on all fronts with special attention to a large helping of fried vegetables with a dipping sauce that even a dedicated meat-eater would find appetising. The filling bowls of noodle soup, with pork, chicken or soft-boiled egg, give satisfaction with none of the guilt associated with an indulgent meal.

Continental curry 

Sri Lanka’s obsession with curry is to be complimented with a curry promotion by The Hilton where British chefs will showcase the European version of the staple. To align with this event Chef Takahashi is also planning to provide new curry accompaniments to the menu. 

“Japanese curry is very like British curry because it is roué based and uses cream or milk instead of coconut. Spices such as cumin, turmeric and cardamom are used but it is markedly different from the traditional Sri Lankan version,” Chef explained. Authentic and accessible, Ikoi-Tei brings together all the best elements needed for an enjoyable meal. Whether it’s an intense working lunch or a laidback meal with family and friends, the restaurant, with its iconic landmark and warm setting, provides the perfect setting to create food memories and plenty of reasons to keep coming back.

Pix by Ruwan Walpola

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