The Japanese pub focuses on sake but has the freshest sashimi in town. By Lien Hoang. Photos by Fred Wissink.
After I heard that a chef at one of my favourite Japanese restaurants said Nippon Izakaya had the city’s best Japanese food, I thought that was a good reason to try it.
Nippon Izakaya feels like a part of the Japanese ghetto lifted off of Le Thanh Ton Street and moved across the bridge to Binh Thanh District. Japanese customers fill the place, with little English spoken and few westerners around, probably because it’s an obscure location.
Decorations are minimal in the windowless downstairs. The walls are mostly bare, except strips of paper that announce different menu items in Japanese, hanging elegantly from the wall like laundry. They list items like the seabream sashimi (VND 120,000). You probably can’t go wrong with any sashimi here, it seems to be the freshest fish available and is usually full of flavour. Of course, that comes at a cost, so the food tends to be pricey and comes in small portions.
You also can have the seabream in a set meal (VND 600,000), which changes daily and includes seabream in another form. The simmered variety is a whole fish, which tastes nothing more than normal until dipped in the sauce pooled around it.
More interesting, though perhaps less healthy, ideas are the deep-fried meats on skewers. Bite into the salmon and cheese (VND 50,000) or the oyster bacon (VND 55,000), and you get a surprising burst of flavour and creativity. If you’re going to justify eating such heavy, fried foods, these are a better option than the deep-fried chicken, which doesn’t need the lime that comes with it and is quite fatty. Then again, that’s the point of an izakaya, to give you a bit of food while you drink. In snacks like these, the oil absorbs sake well, which is really what brings patrons here. In other words, this is not so much a place to have a meal, as much as to drink and nibble on appetisers.
For that reason, the noodles are smaller than the hefty bowls sold outdoors. But the cold udon with poached egg (VND 110,000) is fun to eat as you break up the egg and mix it together with all the noodles and sauce. And, with all the sake bottles lining the wall, fun seems to be the idea here.