Ichibuns, 22 Wardour St, Soho
WHAT? A new Japanese burger restaurant that’s not afraid of sounding like something that needs checking out at a sexual health clinic. The name comes from the Japanese “Ichiban”, meaning “number one” and “buns” as in the stuff on the outside of a burger.
London is incredibly well catered for in terms of Japanese cuisine, from the dainty little dishes in Engawa to the quality fast-food at Shackfuyu, but with décor consisting of blinking arcade machines and creepy Japanese dolls, Ichibuns looks set to carve out a niche as an over-the-top destination restaurant.
It’s at pains to show you how casual it is, with burgers served in cardboard boxes and cocktails coming in sealed cartons like the juice boxes you used to get in school (they’re made fresh and then sealed at the bar). But there’s real quality lurking beneath the fast-food veneer.
WHERE? Wardour Street, right in the middle of China Town: look out for the brightly coloured frontage, you can’t miss the place.
ORDER THIS… The menu is relatively concise. The pick of the “bites” are the panko (breaded) chicken tenders with smoky sauce. There’s a selection of maki rolls, including snow crab and wagyu, which are exceptional value at £5 for six pieces. There’s also a selection of harumaki (Japanese-style crispy spring rolls), one of which is filled with cheeseburger. While a big part of me hates that this exists, there’s a sybaritic pleasure to be had from eating deep-fried burger meat and cheese, only partly diminished by the knowledge you will hate yourself a little more in the morning.
For mains you could go for the ramen noodle soup, with its rich broth, soy marinated egg and a choice of wagyu or snow crab, but the main event should really be a burger. These 180g patties are sloppy and cheesy and guaranteed to collapse under their own unholy weight before they reach your mouth, but they are delicious, comfortably good enough to give Meat Liquor and Byron a run for their money. If you can stomach dessert after all that, you have a frankly terrifying appetite.
BUSINESS OR PLEASURE? It’s not exactly the kind of place you’d take a client to sign off on a big deal, but it’s a great venue to share a relaxed lunch with colleagues, or for networking drinks and snacks during the evening. The music is loud, but not so loud that you can’t speak over it, and the DJ keeps things relatively low-key; think after-parties on the beach at Ibiza.
NEED TO BOOK? Ha. Hahahahaha. Of course you can’t book, this is 2017 and you need to stand around on the street until there’s a free table. Although given that it’s set over three floors, you probably won’t have to wait too long.
THE VERDICT… The venue is fun and the food belies its meagre trappings with some real depth of quality. The faint air of a novelty restaurant is soon banished, although it’s not somewhere to take people you’re keen to impress.
ONE MORE THING… Deliveries and pre-ordering are going to be available soon, so you’ll be able to lug that delicious mass of carbohydrates and fat all the way back to your desk.