Ichibuns — London, UK
Entering Ichibuns – a pun on the Japanese term for ‘number one’ – is a little like stumbling into a hallucinogenic Japanese version of Alice in Wonderland.
The brainchild of Robin Leigh (New York’s Bondst and Nobu Tribeca), the restaurant in London’s Soho quarter confounds on several fronts. The first is its eye-popping interiors, which Tokyo-based Studio Glitt has conceived on paper as a genuinely Japanese mash-up of American diner, and the 50s and 60s by way of Tokyo’s genre-bending subcultures. Fully realised, this translates into three floors of theatrical drama – practically every surface, including the ceilings, is festooned with an energetic magpie collection of memorabilia, manga comics, cushion covers made of kimonos, period film posters, old coal stoves repurposed as washroom sinks, and a montage of origami paper magnified as wall panels.
As it turns out, the theatricality is almost a diversion, because in the kitchen, executive chef Brendan Fong executes an equally eclectic spread that takes in burgers of Australian wagyu and British grass-fed beef – paired with sautéed shitake mushrooms, white truffle oil and blue cheese fondue, or encrusted with panko flakes – alongside steaming bowls of ramen with king crab, snow crab maki, and milkshakes spiked with sesame ice-cream, maple syrup and peanut butter.