The second of the Sri Lankan restaurants on Asia’s Top 50 list, Nihonbashi http://nihonbashi.lk was founded in 1995 by Chef Dharshan Munidasa, who has both Sri Lankan and Japanese heritage. I had been very excited to visit Nihonbashi in order to see how this heritage would play out on their menu and after a delicious meal at Ministry of Crab (which Dharshan co-owns with the Sri Lankan cricketers, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene) expectations were high.
The restaurant is located in a non descript little side street just a stones throw from the Galle Face Hotel on Galle Face Terrace and has 7 private dining rooms and a yakitori garden – with an extremely generous happy hour between 6-8pm nightly – in addition to the main dining room where I was seated, the rain sadly having put an end to my plans to have a drink in the garden before dinner.
I don’t think I have ever eaten in a restaurant with a menu as large as that of Nihonbashi which seems to list every Japanese speciality going from Sushi and Okonomiyaki to Tskune Nabe, a collagen rich chicken broth with ramen noodles and daikon that has been poached slowly in the broth. I found it all a little bit overwhelming truth be told and in the end I decided to try one of their set menus (3250 Rupees – around $50) with a selection of sushi which I then augmented with a couple of their speciality dishes from the A La Carte that had caught my eye.
The first dish I tried from the ALC was the “Karapincha Tempura” (350 Rupees) their signature dish of Tempura Curry Leaves. I thought this was genius, so incredibly delicious and moreish especially when sprinkled with the accompanying mix of Sri Lankan black pepper and salt. Definitely something you should try if you visit!
Next up came the “Ten Sabi Temaki” one of Nihonbashis fusion creations, a hand rolled piece of sushi filled with sumeshi (sushi rice) a tempura Black Tiger Prawn and wasabi-mayonnaise. This was another huge success, the sushi rice was perfectly textured with a hint of sushi vinegar and the meaty prawn was a delicious filling.
Now onto the set menu proper, starting with a selection of cold appetisers; Edamame, Kani no Ponzu Soe ( Sri Lankan crab with a zingy ponzu dressing) and Gome ae (Japanese spinach with a sesame dressing) All of these were perfectly fine, I mean its hard to go wrong with edamame and gome ae, the crab was delicious, sweet and meaty just as i had enjoyed the previous evening at Ministry of Crab.
The warm appetisers were next; Maru Ebi Tempura ( Black Tiger Prawns in a light tempura and salt batter) Tsukune Tare Yaki (Minced chicken in a sweet, thickened soy sauce) and Daikon cooked in chicken stock. The prawns were served with a nice citrus salt although they fell short of flavour from the Prawn Temaki and I found the Tsukune Tare Yaki down right unpleasant as it was filled with bits of fat and cartilage. I know this is how it was meant to be served but it really didn’t do it for me at all. Thankfully the daikon rescued the course, it had been poached in Tskune Nabe, the collagen filled chicken broth I mentioned earlier, meaning that the chicken flavour had infused through the daikon whilst it still managed to retain its lovely natural peppery taste. Excellent, really very good!
The individual set menus offered a lot of different options for the main course, from Teriyaki Seer Fish to Blow Torched Salmon Sashimi with Crab Fried Rice or Tempura however the real test of a Japanese restaurant has to be the sushi and so I chose to go with the 11 piece Sushi Plate with miso soup.
Much is made of the fact that Chef Dharshan helps to personally select the Sri Lankan Tuna to Tskuji Market in Tokyo and Nihonbashi is unique in Sri Lanka (and indeed most sushi restaurants outside of Japan) in that they only use whole tuna at the restaurant, as opposed to simply buying tuna loins. Tuna is definitely not my favourite fish, however good quality tuna sushi or sashimi is a true pleasure and Nihonbashi did not disappoint. The tuna, whilst not the fatty toro variety (harder to find in fish nearer the equator I learned) was melt in your mouth delicious and the sushi rice – so important but often overlooked – was spot on. The squid nigiri was similarly good and I added a little of the citrus salt I had kept from the appetiser course for a little extra citrus hit.
Unfortunately the last 3 pieces of nigiri were very disappointing. The shrimp was woolly, the yellow tail appeared to have been cut incorrectly and was horribly chewy and the salmon was just too thick to really enjoy. Maybe I am being unfair in that salmon and yellow tail would never be my first choice pick in a sushi restaurant but they were so far removed from the quality of sushi I had at Sushi Hinata in Bangkok http://wp.me/p2spY3-2qn that I was pretty surprised. Thankfully there was more of the tuna in the form of Tekka Maki to finish but overall, a sushi course with more misses than hits.
I wanted to end the meal on a high note and so to finish I ordered a scoop of wasabi ice-cream which absolutely blew me away. Beautiful, creamy ice-cream with a real wasabi assault on the taste buds, really fantastic!
Overall my dinner came in at around $25 less than Ministry of Crab which was perfectly reasonable but in hindsight I wish I had been bolder and avoided the set menu as I think I would have had more success this way. They certainly have a lot of talent in the kitchen, but at these prices I would expect more, especially from the sushi chef.
No 11, Galle Face Terrace,
Colombo – 03, Sri Lanka
Tel – +94 112 323 847