Izakaya. I learned to appreciate the Japanese version of tapas very much in Japan. In Tokyo, there are entire streets marked by the countless small and highly diverse iazakays. Whether in Shibuya, Shinjuku or Yurakucho, restaurants vie for patrons and often have very different specialties and focuses. In addition to beer and sake, many small plates gradually arrive at the table to be shared and tasted together.
The anticipation was accordingly great when I heard that the second branch of the currently rapidly expanding Izakaya Restaurants was opening in Hamburg. This week, the branch in Ibiza joined, Milan and Munich will follow in the coming months, the parent company is based in Amsterdam. Modern Japanese cuisine with strong South American influences is the overarching theme.
The really beautiful new Sir Nikolai Hotel on Nikolaifleet houses the restaurant in two interconnecting large and bright rooms. One area opens up with beautiful views of the Fleet and city panorama, while in the back a modern-opulent look and retractable glass roof define the setting.
The reception during reservation and welcome is professionally friendly, our request for a vegetarian menu is noted directly during the first phone call.
The menu is extensive, English and rather difficult to handle in its tripartite division at the small tables. The repertoire ranges from small snacks to sushi and sashimi, ceviche, tempura to a wide selection of grilled dishes. Prices vary between 15 and 48€ per dish. In addition, a 7-course tasting menu (85€) is possible.
The tasting menu was especially recommended to us after a brief explanation about the house, which, however, primarily referred to the great expansion plans and the so successful parent company in Amsterdam. The menu, they say, lets you get to know a wide cross-section of cuisine. That sounded good, a vegetarian expression was noted again – and we started the evening with a glass of Perrier-Jouët Blason Rosé.
Irritation right from the first dish, the Oyster Filo with wasabi and Oscietra caviar. Especially with the service, which was a bit perplexed with the plate at our table. Not sure if the shellfish was really meant for us. This clear uncertainty unfortunately dragged through the whole evening. This may be understandable for a restaurant that has only been open a few weeks, but it is not ideal for the guest. Inquiries that went beyond the memorized phrase for each course were rather difficult. Just like the ideal handling of the various plates that gradually accumulated on the small table. Most of them lightly touched at best.
The first sharing plate for two came in the form of a tataki of zucchini with soy sauce and yuzu, dried garlic and green onion. Despite beautiful aromatics unfortunately quite pale and rather unspectacular.
The next course was served on two plates following the vegetarian preferences of one side of the table: A salad of baby spinach and grilled shrimp. The fruity citrus sour dressing was heavily flavored with truffle oil. When asked, we were told that many guests did not like the intense aroma of fresh truffles so much and that’s why they rely on synthetics. Perhaps it is similar with the shrimp, I felt they were overcooked and had a mealy texture.
Spicy Tuna Roll and Chimi Churi Beef Skewers followed. The latter, unfortunately, were already cold when they reached our table, moreover, clearly overcooked. The sushi rolls left little of the tuna tasting good due to the strong chili mayonnaise and additional Seven Spices seasoning applied. Additionally incorporated vegetable julienne also resulted in a somewhat disconcerting mouthfeel. But at least so far the first plate that we did not have to return completely.
The next two vegetarian courses were very pretty, but extremely subtle in flavor, so after the first few bites, the suspense was lacking. Very positively noted, however, the freshly grated wasabi.
Really exciting and really good then the Grilled Corn Robatayaki with spicy Shiso Butter Ponzu. Strong, aromatic, hot – perfect. In addition, there was a Roasted lamb rack, glazed with Gochujung, the fermented Korean spice paste. What role Quranic cuisine plays in the Japanese-Peruvian concept, however, remained open.
Unlike the bill, which amounted to 240€ for the evening at Izakaya, the dishes shown, two glasses of champagne and a bottle of wine. Unfortunately, this is not in good proportion to the quality and flavor of the dishes. We let the majority of the aisles go back partially or completely, but this only occasionally gave rise to brief inquiries. Only the Beef Skewers were taken off the bill and so the sum of the individual prices was calculated instead of the menu price.
In fact, I observed courses at neighboring tables that looked considerably more interesting than the components of our menu. But even there, looks may be deceiving. It would probably have made more sense to try some of the house’s signature dishes instead of choosing the menu, the service staff agrees with us afterwards. Hindsight is always 20/20.
It was a difficult start with the Izekaya – and I’m not sure I’ll make another attempt in the near future. At the same time, I would have loved to go back to the great Japanese tapas tradition. On this evening, however, it just didn’t work: Partly the product quality was not okay, partly the concepts of the courses were not comprehensible to me, partly the execution was not okay – but the biggest point of criticism was the composition of the menu. Certainly, it’s harder to accommodate a vegetarian preference at the table in a sharing concept. If the individual courses had been coherent for it, I would have also gladly fully engaged in this variant (and perhaps ordered the one or other course with fish or meat in addition)…
Phone +49 (0)40 29996669
Note: Subsequent to the publication of this article, I spoke with the restaurant management and was informed of an error in communication: In fact, on the Saturday of our visit, the menu was indeed shown on the menu and we were also offered a tasting menu by the service. However, this was a free compilation of sharing dishes from the menu. The proper omakase menu has only been available since this week.