The list of Japanese restaurants in Bangkok is staggering, enough to fill an encyclopedia, which isn’t surprising given that over 50,000 Japanese expatriates call Bangkok home. With this clientele and demand, it is natural that hundreds of new spots open up each year, but some really stand out for their fresh ingredients and preparation just like in Japan.
Of course leading the list are the top sashimi and sushi joints, all of whom fly in their fish from the prestigious Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, with deliveries to Bangkok several times a week. Mugendai Penthouse is at the top of this list, with some amazing creations such as their Unagi eel foie gras and their Matsuzaka beef sushi. On their tails, Honmono and Maru also get fresh cuts of tuna and other delicacies, and you wont be complaining about the bill if you are feasting on the top bluefin and fatty tuna slices that are melting in your mouth. Non-traditional sushi rolls have become all the rage but can be pretty hit and miss, but one place that stands out is Isao, which has to be the only restaurant in Bangkok with a line out the door 365 days a year!
Not that it has to be all sushi either. Bankara Ramen is also high on the expat list, with humongous bowls of traditional ramen keeping their tables packed through lunch and dinner. The tonkatsu stewed pork belly is made with the pork bones dissolved completely into the soup broth, extremely pungent and rich. For creative nouvelle Japanese try the new Kom-Ba-Wa or else the creative and sumptuous Zuma.
The listings of Japanese are so numerous, one could probably just stroll down Thonglor night after night and pop in to a new eatery for months and not go wrong.
Actually two restaurants, Tsu is the sushi bar and Nami is the teppanyaki grill, so take your pick. Certainly not cheap, but visitors often remark that it is the best Japanese food they’ve had outside of Japan at this upscale affair in the Marriott Hotel, partly due to the fact that the restaurants use extremely fresh high end ingredients, with fish flown in from Japan regularly. Standouts include hairy crab, the extremely fresh otoro sashimi, oysters with ponzu sauce, and any of the teppanyaki grills. You get a lot of personalized attention from the chefs here, and they are well used to dealing with celebrities and VIP’s who flock to Tsu & Nami for their Japanese imported fish cravings. The dining room is elegant, with a long wooden art piece resembling a wave, the restaurant’s namesake, commanding attention across the room. Oddly enough, the restaurant opened just after the tsunami of 2004, yet kept its name, and it still delivers a powerful wave of fresh food today.
This is the first international branch of the famed Ikebukuro ramen house, and boy is it authentic. The interior and decor,along with all the ravenous Japanese expat regulars make one feel like one is in Tokyo, and even more genuine is the food, which features huge portions of the four signature ramen dishes that Bankara puts out. You can choose from the original Bankara ramen, Tonkatsu (stewed pork belly), Tsukemen (cold noodles dipped in soup) and Miso Ramen, and you can personalise your dish by choosing additional toppings such as egg, pork, seaweed, etc. Individual garlic presses are given to each diner, so you have a lot to say as to how your dish will taste. The gyoza dumplings are superb and make an excellent compliment to the ramen, and there are other dishes on the menu as well, but the ramen bowls are so huge and filling, you will be hard pressed to find the extra space.
Zuma, the posh Japanese eatery with branches in London, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Miami, and Dubai, is just as successful at their Bangkok location, serving truly superb and creative Japanese cuisine. Based on a traditional Japanese izakaya, yet with a very sophisticated and elegant twist, and designed by Noriyoshi Muramatsu, the renowned architect and design head of Tokyo’s Studio Glitt, Zuma features some of Bangkok’s freshest and most innovative Japanese cuisine, in an immaculately planned urban setting. Signature dishes include the gyuhire sumibiyaki karami zuke- spicy beef tenderloin with sesame, red chili and sweet soy, as well as the gindara saikyo misoyaki, a fine black cod marinated for 3 days in miso and served wrapped in a hoba leaf.
Thank goodness for shoulder injuries. Masaharu Morimoto was all set to become a professional baseball player in Japan, when an injury ended his career. Instead, he took up cooking, studying sushi and traditional kaiseki cuisine, and followed a stint in Japan by moving to New York, where he became an acclaimed television star Iron Chef, as well as opening top notch restaurants in the U.S., Mumbai, Tokyo, and elsewhere. The Bangkok branch is no exception, serving fusion creations like hamachi tacos and katsu burgers alongside of sashimi, sushi, and daily omakase chef tasting menus with 6-7 courses. There are also creative cocktails paired with the food, and the setting up in the snazzy Mahanakorn Cube, next to Bangkok’s new highest building, the Mahanakorn Tower, matches the elegant food coming to your table.
Kom-Ba-Wa leads the new wave of artistic nouvelle Japanese joints that are springing up right and left in Bangkok. Set in a fine dining shop-house adorned with 1920 photos on the wall and brass chandeliers, the restaurant serves both as a sushi bar along with some experimental high end Japanese. They advertise themselves as “serving traditional flavours and ingredients with modern cooking methods,” and feature dishes like wagyu steak covered with ponzu jelly or squid ink ramen with Maine lobster, along with plenty of sashimi imported from the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. There are also premium sakes, beers, and creative cocktails like the Hokkaido Bellini, made with artisan peach sake and Prosecco. Acclaimed restaurateur Fred Meyer, of Issaya Siamese Club and Namsaah Bottling Trust fame is behind this project, so expect good things.
Fusion Japanese food is always hit or miss, and fortunately for intimate Isao, it is a home run night after night. This small eatery just off of Sukhumvit is always packed with discerning diners coming to try out creations that just aren’t available elsewhere in Bangkok, and is surely the only restaurant in town with a line outside 365 nights a year. The owner at Isao studied under the chef at Green Tea in Chicago, and obviously brought back some creative expertise. Try out some of the signature fusion specialties here such as the Volcano, a baked scallop in cream sauce served in its shell resembling orange molten lava, spicy and taste tingling. Or how about the Jackie, a caterpillar shaped sushi roll with egg, boiled shrimp, roe, and tempura, or the Chicago Spicy Crazy, which features salmon, tuna, white fish and vegetables. A most pleasant change from your average tuna and salmon sushi joint, and nobody ever walks out of here disappointed.