Experience Japan In This New Restaurant In San Juan!
In an unpretentious spot in Annapolis, Ichō Japanese Restaurant stands on a land where a condo-showroom-turned-dim-sum-place used to be. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls and bamboo frame it from the rest of the neighborhood, while a gingko tree (ichō in Japanese, where the restaurant is named after) and the word “welcome” in Japanese script painted on wood greet anyone who enters, along with a staff wearing a yukata-like uniform or a more casual version of a Japanese kimono.
All these will remind you of Japan, but the full experience of Ichō’s food and interiors will make you feel like you are indeed in the Land of the Rising Sun minus the pricey airline tickets.
Since its soft opening in April 2018, Ichō has taken over the hearts of many foodies in Metro Manila because of its authentic Japanese restaurant experience. The Grey Project made this one possible with its 360-design approach in collaboration with the resto’s hands-on owners: from its branding, interiors, the plates you’ll be eating from, and even the staff’s uniform. The project took only 3 months.
According to Paolo, the owners wanted to make Ichō upscale but not too intimidating, so he kept the design minimal—an unmistakably Japanese aesthetic. “Minimal lang ‘yong design niya. So, I focused more on contrasts actually. I made use primarily of wood and concrete, since wood is warm and concrete is cold,” Paolo explains.
He adds, “The design features woodworks with concrete background. So I used adobe as accents to add texture to the smoothness of the wood veneers, while still staying uniform to the color of concrete. So three colors lang siya: wood, concrete, and black. Very minimal and very zen.”
Zen it is, upon entering. From the foyer, you’ll get a full view of the interiors. To the left is the bar which is connected to the cashier, while to the left is a special kind of seating area called horigotatsu, a type of traditional Japanese table in a tatami area that’s low to the ground and has a recessed floor beneath it so that people can stretch out their legs.
Paolo shares that it was supposed to be a koi pond, but considering the safety of children dining with their families in the restaurant, they opted for what it is now. He adds, “Noong una akala ko magiging display lang siya. Pero noong opening, dyan umupo lahat ‘yong mga tao. It really made the restaurant more experiential.” Paolo shares that the idea of the horigotatsu, incorporating the latticed wall (a common feature in Japanese homes), is to make the diners feel like they’re no longer in the bustling Metro Manila.
In the middle of Ichō is a robatayaki, a traditional Japanese style of coal grilling, back-to-back with the sushi bar. Paolo says that he actually started designing from the robatayaki then eventually went to the other seatings like the bar, the horigotatsu and the VIP rooms. He also shares that the owner wants to have a robatayaki in the restaurant to introduce something new to the clientele, but since robatayakis are normally along the walls, he suggested to put it in the middle to make it a focal point and emphasize that it’s a main feature.
The robatayaki also features traditional Japanese art-inspired paintings, which is another detail that Paolo made sure to incorporate in the interiors. Other artworks can also be seen in the VIP rooms and the foyer. The Grey Project commissioned muralist Rolly Manlulu and their in-house graphic artist John Michael Tan for these artworks.
But Ichō doesn’t just look Japanese; it also tastes authentic Japanese. The restaurant has a true-blue Japanese chef and a Filipino chef with an expertise in Japanese cuisine (he’s been cooking Japanese food since two decades ago!). During CondoLiving’s visit to the restaurant, we were able to meet the Filipino chef, who they fondly call Chef Ico.
Chef Ico shares that Ichō’s menu course is a fusion of the traditional and the modern. He explains, “Kailangan natin sabayan ngayon ‘yong trend. Pero hindi ‘yong sobra sa twist, na nawawala na ‘yong traditional aspect.”
He also says that while the menu will stay the same throughout the year, there will be special menus every weekend, since they source their ingredients from Japan, which fly in every weekend. He even says, “Kung ano’ng season sa Japan, pwede rin kaming sumabay. Kaya lang since nagsisimula pa lang kami, dahan-dahan muna.”
The chef also dishes out that their Ichō Roll (their house specialty maki sushi rolls) and Spicy Tuna (spicy tuna sushi with a crunch) have become two of their best-sellers. And then there’s their spicy tofu salad, which has a kimchi paste taste to it. He also admits that there’s one dish that he finds a bit complicated to prepare: their Aburi Sushi, because its sauce needs to be specially made from miso.
But what makes their menu extra unique is that they serve sea bass. According to Chef Ico, sea bass isn’t served in other Japanese restaurants here since it’s already rare.
Paolo concludes, “With every restaurant that I do, since I’ve been designing restaurants, I want it to be really experiential. Like this one, inaral ko talaga kung ano ‘yong traditions ng Japan. Para ‘pag kakain ka dito, complete package siya. Babalik-balikan siya hindi lang dahil masarap ‘yong pagkain, kundi dahil na-feel mo rin na parang nandoon ka sa Japan. So you don’t need to go to Japan to experience it.”
Ichō Japanese Restaurant is located at 6 Annapolis Street, Greenhills, San Juan. For reservations, you may call 579-0227 or (0917)134-6027.