Sushi, tempura, shabu-shabu, tonkatsu and steak restaurant Mugendai made a big splash when it opened in 2011, and was immediately considered one of the city’s top Japanese restaurants, both by those into more casual places like Honmono and by purists drawn to the refined delights of a classic like Aoi.
Situated on the 7/F of the building at the back of Grass Thonglor, its views of the neighborhood add an urban twist to the otherwise traditional décor. And some dishes are stunning to look at. More importantly, the quality of the produce is impeccable—Mugendai was one of the first to claim its fish flies in from Tsukiji Market, in Tokyo, five times a week, back when twice a week was still the norm.
In re-assessing Mugendai, though, we can’t help but feel it hasn’t done much to keep up with the times. It’s still cranking out identical orders of signature sushi dish Aburi 7 (an assortment of seven partially grilled sushi at B2,400) to nearly every table, a (once) creative lineup of blow-torched slabs of fatty bluefin tuna, snapper, halibut fin and Matsuzaka beef (among others) topped by dabs of shredded garlic, crab eggs, ponzu or miso. The first time you have it, the combinations and charred notes are interesting. But are they better than dipping raw fish in soy sauce? Not really.
One thing that could markedly improve the dish is if you had it at the counter, and asked to have the sushi served one by one, as opposed to a giant plate where everything just end ups lukewarm after the first couple bites. The menu also has a full page of outrageous maki such as the decadent Unagi Foie Gras Roll, which combines eel with duck liver (B1,500). But for something much more affordable, the crunchy roll (shrimp tempura, avocado, B370) is nearly just as fun and the crispy batter doesn’t taste or smell of oil.
On our last visit, we were most impressed with the simplest of dishes: sashimi. The slabs of fish were gargantuan and bursting with flavor. At B2,700, the sashimi set 2 (15 pieces of fish, two shrimps and a plump scallop) also seems like a much better deal than the Aburi 7 or the sushi set 2 (B2,000, eight sushi, three maki). Mugendai remains a totally dependable address for ordering high-end produce like fatty beef and tuna, even if its creative twists seem to woo more Thais than Japanese expats. But given how crowded the market is, we wish they would continue to innovate (and perhaps even redecorate), rather than rest on their laurels.