Shunbo Sumibiyaki, 33/5 Sukhumvit Soi 11, Bangkok, Thailand
Nearest Train:BTS Nana
Opening Hours:daily 6pm-midnight
Like some secret society, the entrance of Shunbo is non-descript, while the interior is dark, stark and, most of the time, almost artificially quiet. Shunbo’s “secret,” which is known almost exclusively to Japanese, is a modest-sized menu of simple Japanese dishes that are brilliantly prepared in sometimes unexpected ways—and at prices much lower than you would expect. Though named after its specialty, charcoal-grilled food (sumibiyaki), Shunbo has a wider selection of small items that could classify the venue as an izakaya (“drinking restaurant”—nearly one whole wall is devoted to bottles of sake, shoju and whisky for regular customers)—albeit one for discerning adults and certainly the most stylish in town. The restaurant is small, with less than 20 tables divided among the main area downstairs and two rooms upstairs. The menu changes seasonally, and, be warned, items are written in Japanese with the Romanized versions of the Japanese words beneath—but not translated into English or Thai (and no photographs). Fortunately, the waitresses are willing to help with suggestions and translations. At Shunbo even some of the simplest dishes achieve the level of high art through a combination of carefully selected ingredients, skilled preparation and exquisite presentation. Hokkaido-fu Jagabutter is just a baked potato, butter and salt, but it’s so good it makes us laugh that we’re enjoying a potato so much. Normally we’re not fans of oden (stewed meat and vegetables), but Shunbo’s tasty Kyo no Oden has top-quality ingredients in a superb stock. The same goes for saba (mackerel): at Shunbo, the “grilled” saba—Shimesaba no Aburiyaki—is elevated above the cheap and common. It’s a half filet of mackerel that has been sliced sashimi-style but not all the way through so it’s still in one piece. Your waitress prepares it at your table, grilling the skin side with a blowtorch until it’s crisp, then she dresses the ceramic plate with seaweed, pickled ginger and quality wasabi and gives the fish a squirt of lime. The result is amazing. Another perfect dish is Koebi no Karaage, a dozen or so crunchy deep-fried whole (and unshelled) sweet shrimp coated with just a brush of batter and plenty of salt. Not all the food at Shunbo achieves such greatness, however. For example, while we love the theater of the Shunbo-fu Salad, which is tossed tableside in a plastic tube then topped with delicate bonito flakes and sesame seeds that are ground before your eyes, it’s a fairly pedestrian salad. And then there are more controversial creations like Maguro Toro Katsu, five big chunks of tuna prepared “katsu”-style (coated with panko breadcrumbs, deep-fried and served with tonkatsu sauce), and Mochimochi Suigyoza, savory mochi filled with meat instead of the usual sweet bean and served in soup, that will certainly displease purists. But not us. Note: Smoking is allowed in the dining room.