A sushi set at Ichiban. Photo: Jennifer Wong
A sushi set at Ichiban. Photo: Jennifer Wong

Few sushi restaurants in the world enjoy as perfect a location as that of Ichiban. Situated in the upmarket Foz de Douro area of Porto, in Portugal, the warm light and wood overtones of the split-level restaurant exude a sense of tranquillity and modern elegance. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, it has been serving top-notch sushi and Japanese cuisine for two decades.

Onishi Masaki (left) and Akiko Masaki Photo: Jennifer Wong

Founded by Onishi and Akiko Masaki, Ichiban sets itself apart from many other sushi restaurants in town with its authentic cuisine and an insistence on the freshest ingredients. Considering that the chef has worked for the Japanese embassy in Portugal before setting up the restaurant, it is not difficult to understand how they can maintain such an excellent culinary standard.

Tempura. Photo: Jennifer Wong

The wide range of choices on the menu reveal the chef’s repertoire. Other than sushi and sashimi, there is an impressive variety of cooked dishes at Ichiban, including tempura, okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancakes) and even shabu-shabu (Japanese hotpot). Dishes like Takoyaki (octopus-filled balls – a popular street-food snack in Osaka) highlight the readiness and freshness of ingredients available in Porto.

Deep fried tofu (left) and Takoyaki (right) Photo: Jennifer Wong

One of the must-try dishes at Ichiban is its deep-fried tofu in fish broth. The fresh tofu slices are coated in potato flour, deep-fried, then served in a delicious broth laced with mirin and soy sauce, and topped with bonito fish flakes.

Fermented soybeans (right) with a raw quail egg. Photo: Jennifer Wong

Natto lovers will be delighted to find these fermented soybeans on the menu. Beautifully presented with a raw quail egg, they are served with chopped spring onions and soy sauce for the most authentic flavors. Rich in vitamins and calcium, Natto has long been considered one of the most nutritious superfoods in the Japanese diet.

Handpicked by the chef based on what is in season, the nigiri sushi set (Moriwase menu) cannot be faulted. From the most delicately flavored to the richest, the sushi pieces are arranged in perfect order. You can taste the sea in the finely-cut fish. The rice (shari) is also of an impeccable quality, in contrast to that found in many other sushi restaurants in Portugal, where it tends to crumble easily.

Lemon meringue tart. Photo: Jennifer Wong

Ichiban’s desserts are far more Westernised than the main courses, ranging from banoffee pie to chocolate fondant and lemon meringue tart. I tried the latter, which had a refreshing, zesty taste, although visually it was not so attractive.

Ichiban is located in Foz do Douro, in Porto. Photo: Jennifer Wong

Ichiban also offers a very strong set lunch menu. Priced from 17 euros, it includes a choice of sushi, sashimi or cooked dishes, as well as miso soup, dessert and coffee.

And for the most discerning diners, kaiseki cuisine (an exquisite multi-course meal using seasonal ingredients) can be prepared if booked in advance.

On the day I visited, there were quite a few young families. As Akiko explained, the restaurant has succeeded in capturing a very loyal following and takes great pride in upholding the quality of traditional Japanese cuisine. As Ichiban demonstrates, friendly service must go a long way in winning the hearts of customers. It is also no surprise that the restaurant was awarded best ‘Specialized Restaurant’ by Portugal’s Flavors and Senses blog, in both 2016 and 2017.

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês (12.30-3pm, 7.30-11pm), Av. do Brasil 454, 4150-153 Porto, Portugal, +351 22 618 6111, ichiban.pt