Among the plethora of Japanese and Korean restaurants on the second floor of K Village, Rainbow Roll Sushi gets instant credit for retaining its identity, despite being located in the depths of the community mall. And that applies to both the décor and the food. Emphasizing a more Californian style, Rainbow Roll is very modern and loft-like, with birch wood and large windows. No tatami or hand-painted banners here.
The buzz: Sure it’s a chain, but it’s a fancy chain and only has a handful of restaurants in select cities. Joining the little counter already at Siam@Siam, Rainbow Roll Sushi now has a full-on space at K.Village. Expect Japanese dining in sophisticated New York style: the décor is snazzy and reminiscent of Sex and the City, the people are rich and beautiful and the grub is comfort food made with high-quality ingredients and contemporary twists.
The décor: High ceilings, warehouse-style concrete pillars and an industrial feel, all softened by huge windows, a massive marble top table for large parties and blond wood shelves behind it. Some smaller tables are partitioned by nearly opaque glass dividers with swirls of bright paint.
The food: The simple business of American-style, inside-out maki rolls is elevated by some wonderful surprises, such as the hearty and textured maguro roll which contains not just shrimp, but also eggplant, tempura flakes, jalapeno and mayonnaise, topped with generous slices of tuna. The other standby, the spider roll, is embellished with the added crunch and bite of radish, which cuts through the fried crab nicelyAs an appetizer, don’t miss the slowly braised pork which is Thai-style three-layer pork, braised to mouth-melting perfection, served with crunchy okra on the side. Each dish contains a parade of esoteric Japanese ingredients, such as nitsume, sansho, yamagobo, et cetera, but feel free to ask and you’ll get a pretty detailed explanation.
The drinks: In addition to the obligatory bottled Asahi, Singha and Heineken draught, sake, shochu and umeshu (B250-10,000, depending on the type and the size of the bottle), they do a brief series of flavored mojitos: yuzu citrus, berry, ginger, starry and ume.
The crowd: Mostly hip, laid-back and moneyed Thais, some large groups of friends and some after-work diners. The place may ooze hi-so and cool, but don’t feel like you have to get dolled up to come here.
Reviewing BBQ joints can be difficult, after all, grilled meat is grilled meat. And we’ll be honest, there’s not really anything special to distinguish Gyu-Maru from similar yakiniku in Bangkok. Head up a small flight of concrete steps and enter a narrow space split into ranks of wooden booths on one side, with more informal low-level tables on the other. It’s all perfectly cozy, if not particularly inspiring. Then again, the décor is clearly not that important to the people who eat here.
Rakuza forgoes the old-fashioned woodwork, floral prints and a menu sporting the obligatory sashimi, tempura, donburi sections. These guys are inventive, in both the decor and gastronomic departments, despite some slight misfires in the latter. Flanked by glass walls, the dark furnishings here make for a very contemporary and romantic ambience. There’s a definite buzz on weekends, as people sweep in at dinnertime, which, it is worth noting, never keeps the staff from tending to your needs.
The buzz: Thonglor isn’t short on Japanese eateries, ranging from small ramen shops to Oishi mega-chain venues. But Rakuza, a Tokyo-style restaurant tucked away in the residential-slash-retail enclave Grass Thonglor, is different. The chef and key ingredients might be imported straight from the Land of the Rising Sun, they are seamlessly fused with Western touches in the ingredients and decor.
The decor: Rakuza is a two-story unit where the usual sliding wooden door is replaced with a dark, sleek, club-like entrance. The interior is decidedly European, with all-white table cloths, leather chairs and even a chandelier. Head upstairs for a lighter more spacious vibe thanks to high ceilings and glass walls, or there’s a small alfresco seating area for smokers who can stand the heat.
The food: Japanese with a European flair courtesy of Yoji Kitayama, a former chef at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo: fish fresh from Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo and Western ingredients like port wine and balsamic vinegar. Start off light and healthy with the super crunchy seasonal vegetable sticks with miso dip. Then skip the standard sushi in favor of the roasted scallop, sweet shrimp and sea urchin with caviar in Chardonnay cream sauce, served on a bed of crisp kombu seaweed. The surprises continue with grilled snow fish in miso sauce wedged between sheets of Japanese cedar wood. In the desserts department, try the citrus creme brulee or couverture chocolate pudding with fresh berries and vanilla ice-cream.
The drinks: Despite the bar, there are only cocktails. So either opt for beer, wine, sake or shochu.
The crowd: Japanese businessmen and well-heeled residents from the neighborhood.
Nagiya is Japanese community mall Nihonmachi’s most popular venue. It’s near impossible to get in on weekends, and you’ll be signing up on the queuing clipboard and waiting outside with chain-smoking salarymen even on weeknights. The izakaya (tavern) mood is perfect, even if the décor is minimal: lanterns hanging from ropes, Japanese kitsch plastered all over the wooden bar/kitchen, thunderous bellows from the all-male kitchen as patrons come and go, steam rising from the yakitori grill.
It’s near impossible to get in on weekends, and you’ll be waiting for a table alongside chain-smoking salarymen even on weeknights. The izakaya mood is perfect, even if the décor is minimal: lanterns hanging from ropes, Japanese kitsch plastered all over the wooden bar/kitchen, thunderous bellows from the all-male kitchen as patrons come and go, steam rising from the yakitori grill. Obviously, you’re here to knock back pints of draft Asahi or cups of shochu (the menu has two pages of the Japanese liquor by the glass and some bottles, too) but Nagiya’s food is no afterthought.
So will this place get you in the mood? Well, while it conjures up some definite affection, it never quite reaches the heights of full-blown love. That’s our response to this high-end sushi bar that takes its style guide from 1960s China, while getting its culinary inspiration from contemporary Japan. It mostly works, but it’s not always a perfect marriage. The lofty space is lovely, with soft lighting and cute floral sofas giving it a friendly intimate vibe, a vibe helped by the garrulous chefs manning the central sushi bar.
The buzz: In a city where the Japanese dining scene reigns supreme, it is a rare place that can serve raw fish and distinguish itself at the same time. But this new spot on the otherwise quiet front end of Sukhumvit 36 is at least packaging its raw fish in an original décor, designed in the spirit of Wong Kar-wai’s hit film of the same name, set in 1960s Hong Kong.
The décor: Sticklers who scoff at the Hong Kong versus Japan discrepancy will be silenced by the loveliness of the interiors. Between soaring loft ceilings, a glass front and aqua blue stone floors, one can picture Maggie Cheung gliding past the black glass walls and brown leather couches. There are wicker cage light fixtures over the bar, and the comfy armchairs with black and pink floral upholstery are reminiscent of her vintage dresses.
The food: Standard Japanese fare with a special emphasis on high-quality sushi and sashimi. We suggest skipping the rice and seaweed and getting the delicious fish straight up and unadulterated. If you must, one of their signature maki rolls is the Sweet 16 which is studded with chopped strawberries and comprised inside of crispy eel. The chef is knowledgeable and happy to share, so the omakase set that puts you in his able hands is also recommended.
The drinks: The sake list ranges from B900- 8,000 per bottle, but fortunately many come in more affordable carafes. As for the wines, there is a heavy bias towards George Duboeuf, though there are options from Chile, Italy and Australia. Also check out their long list of cocktails, many sake-based, ranging from B180-200.
The crowd: Definitely for grown-ups, though not as uppity as other Japanese places in this price range. A regular night involves couples on dates as well as small groups of moderately moneyed friends having a night out.
The buzz: This is modern Japanese fare with a bold, futuristic gimmick. Instead of human waiters, Hajime has a human-like robot taking over serving duties. And that’s not all: even the menu is computer-based, meaning the diners can order directly from the touch-screen device attached to every single table. When there is no order lining the cue, the robot stars as the eatery’s entertainer, dancing to Asian pop music.
We wanted to like Mai Izakaya. We loved the concept of an izakaya that is more contemporary than seedy and features more pine than bamboo. But we also expected more than a pricier version of Zen from a standalone venue in this hip location. First impressions are favorable: the long marble sushi bar, simple white tables and high ceilings give it an airy feel. Sadly, this impression is then a little spoiled by sluggish service, a weird music selection (from industrial to disco to jazz) and uncomfortable chairs.
A hip, affordable izakaya (read: sake watering hole) on the main stretch of Thong Lor, Mai Izakaya is a place where you can drink and dine like young professionals do in Tokyo. You can go for their sushi, sashimi and donburi sets, but save room for the non-Japanese tapas menu, involving Spanish chorizo, Galician octopus and their own version of paella.
Juju is a pedestrian but affordable neighborhood Japanese restaurant, convenient for Rangnam’s residents, probably best ignored by the rest of us. The owner is Japanese, and the waitresses can take orders from his countrymen without too much difficulty. But an authentic Nippon pedigree isn’t enough to guarantee quality. The food isn’t particularly fresh and the occasional misfires in the service can get annoying (no sake on one visit, a simple grilled dish that took forever on another).
Situated in a resolutely unglamorous neighborhood, across from the Phetburi Soi 7 slums, Kobe Steak House’s bright neon sign sure stands out. It is to restaurants what good motels are to hotels: efficient, affordable, no-nonsense but with zero charm. Like them, Kobe Steak House gets the job done—good cuts of properly cooked meat—just don’t count on fireworks. That’s not to say the place is dodgy or run-down.
Hidden under charming trees and vines, My Porch feels like a secret lair for the neighborhood’s Japanese residents. On a Sunday night, they are there in pairs, dining quietly, or as a large group of housewives, enjoying a mini-party on the coveted second-floor balcony. We might take this as a seal of authenticity, but the menu is almost entirely yoshuku, Japanese twists on Western dishes like soups, pastas and steaks.