One of the things in Japan that always amazed me is how the Japanese is able to maximize the limited space for business.
Ichirin is a hole-in-a-wall uni specialty restaurant off the noisy, bustling Shinjuku that seats around 20 pax on the first floor. However, these seats are mainly counter table seats and thus groups of 4 or more will be led to the "private rooms" in the basement via a long deep staircase.
Yet it wasn't as "private" as the two off-shoes tables were merely divided by a curtain. I thought I was about to enter a dark, sleazy bomb shelter but it wasn't the case as the basement had perfect ventilation with well-maintained seats.
Having visited the sister restaurant for the Uni Ramen, I'm curious to try the signature Uni Shabu Shabu, the second weirdest hotpot after the green tea hotpot. There was even a Japanese pictorial guide to show you how to enjoy the pot.
Before shabu-shabu (parboiling) any of the seafood, the raw sea urchin had to be added into the orange broth, followed by the Mizuna and spring onions. The hotpot set is charged by pax at quite an affordable price of ¥1680. You can order the hotpot for 3 pax to be shared with more than 3 persons but there will only be 3 prawns, 3 scallops and fish. Quite stingy, I say but there is always the option to top up any seafood, meat and vegetables.
That said, the broth was sweet and brimming with umami goodness. The flavors were more robust than the green tea hotpot and we had to resist slurping too much to save it for the final 炊飯 stage, in which the staff will collect any remaining soup and prepare hot porridge for everyone. This was my favourite part of the hotpot and it would be perfect to mix an egg with the rice.
However, other Uni speciality dishes did not seem to make a good pitch that night. The Uni Chawanmushi was overcooked and resulted in curdled texture when it should be smooth and silky. Meanwhile, the Uni Gratin (above) was a mighty display of cheese and potato. It was rich, cheesy and creamy but slightly too salty. For non sea-urchin friends, there is plenty on the menu to choose from as this options here are quite extensive, ranging from sushi, salads, seafood and meats such as the smoking hot Salt-Grilled Chicken.
Reservations are highly recommended as it took me several calls before I could snatch up a good timing. If you are a hotpot lover, this place is worth a try regardless whether it is winter or summer.
Shinjuku 5-12-1, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0022
Daily 6pm -11pm
Reservation tel: 050-5797-6626