Food review: Eastern delight at Ten Ichi

Andy Richardson discovers weekend customers are slow to return despite the excellent food and service at a Japanese restaurant.

Sushi roll with spicy mayo
Sushi roll with spicy mayo

Little wonder Japanese food is enjoying a boom in popularity.

Healthy and full of flavour, simple and bang on trend; it is the original fast food.

The West Midlands is spoiled for choice with stunning Japanese restaurants, most of which are located in and around the Second City. Birmingham offers a wide range of Japanese cuisine, from bao buns to teppanyaki, from sashimi to sushi.

There are outlets to please most guests.

Otoro Sushi, for instance, has just six seats and is located in a tiny, indoor market. Offering great quality of freshly made sushi, it’s an insider’s top tip.

Ten Ichi

Dominic Simmonds, formerly of Purnell’s Bistro, offers great noodles and bao buns in a cosy Caroline Street restaurant called Lucky Duck while Great Western Arcade and Grand Central are other locations in which diners can get their fill.

It’s no surprise that Birmingham’s China Town also has one of the city’s best outlets.

Ten Ichi offers high end delights, from top grade Japanese A5 wagyu beef to king crab claws. Ten Ichi is all about modern fresh Japanese food and sushi with a twist.

The menu focuses on the very best Japanese food with an array of fish, meat and vegetables available. The restaurant is all glitz and glamour, having recently been renovated to a high standard to provide a stylish modern setting.

There’s a wide range to choose from, including zensai, a range of fresh soups and salads. Tempura and agemono features seafood or vegetables coated with light, super-crunchy batter. Robata yakimono are grilled skewers of meat, seafood and vegetables.

Ten Ichi

Nigiri sushi is sushi rice combined with fresh fish or vegables; temaki sushi is similar but wrapped in crispy seaweed while makimono sushi are sushi rolls with a variety of fillings.

Then there’s plenty of sashimi, a selection of raw fresh fish; a range of bento boxes, each one containing a complete meal that is served with miso soup, salad and steamed while there are also menrui ramen dishes, featuring thin Noodles in miso-flavour.

A modern restaurant, high quality food and a city centre location – on Saturday lunchtimes you’d expect it to be packed. But this is the post-Covid era and Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out To Help Out has packed up its discount voucher and gone away.

And so when my partner and I visited, expecting a busy service, the restaurant had just four parties eating. Take that, bottom line, and don’t tell the accountant.

The confidence people needed to get out was provided by Eat Out To Help Out, people realise it’s safe. But they’re just not buying.

Soft shell crab sushi

While villages and smaller towns are doing well, bigger cities are struggling to survive.

It’s a safe bet than 12 months from now, our gastronomic landscape will be nothing like the one of March 2020.

Good restaurants will have been wiped from the map, venues will have been replaced by charity shops or other forms of retail and people will be eating at home more and more often. These are the harshest of times.

Against that backdrop, it’s survival of the fittest, and you’d hope that Ten Ichi will last the course.

Birmingham’s China Town is a source of regional pride with exceptional restaurateurs, authentic dishes and fast service. It just needs customers…

On a Saturday at the end of summer, the city centre felt like it does at 8am on a Monday morning. There were few shoppers, no office workers, no tourists and a small number of people out for the day.

Tempura prawns

Which is a pity, because food and service at Ten Ichi were excellent.

Polite staff, fast service, deliciously fresh food and innovative flavours at a competitive price made for a good experience.

Tempted though I was by an offering of lobster, oyster and A5 wagyu, my overdraft thought better of it and we restricted ourselves to nourishing bowls of miso soup, a variety of sushi and sashimi.

The quality was excellent from beginning to end.

I started with sweet prawn sashimi and yellow tail sashimi with plenty of pickled ginger, soy and fresh wasabi. Served on a bed of ice, it was magnificent.

Yellow tail, also known as Hamachi, is a firm fish with a high fat content, making it excellent for sashimi. Buttery and desirably bold, with a slight tang, it was augmented by the hot, umami-rich condiments.

Sashimi platter, with yellow tail and sweet prawns

The sweet prawns, meanwhile, were precisely that. Clean as a whistle and as fresh as though just landed, they were gone in moments.

My partner’s miso was delicious. Salty, tangy and savoury, it had sparse accompaniments and provided an excellent start to her lunch.

My main was prawn tempura, which dazzled. The batter was sensational; crunchy like a brick snapping through thin glass, it held the plump, sweet-salty prawn within. Served with a piquant dip, they were a treat.

My partner, meanwhile, was enjoying a soft shell crab sushi roll. The crab was deliciously tender, the batter crisp and ‘snappy’, the sushi soft and delicate.

A separate platter of sushi was equally good. Tender rice, umami-rich soy, a spicy mayo, more salmon caviar than the counters of Fortnum & Mason made for enjoyable eating.

Service was first class throughout. A helpful waitress ferried drinks, answered questions and provided polite and attentive assistance over a happy lunch. Her restaurant manager was similarly skilled, providing courteous assistance.

Miso soup

The issue with Ten Ichi isn’t the food, service or environment. All score highly, as does value for money. The issue with Ten Ichi is the one facing the entire hospitality sector.

As Eat Out To Help Out is over and people are reluctant to head into our cities, where does it go from here? Does it spend money it doesn’t have on marketing? Does it drop prices to incentivise? Or does it sit tight and hope that people gradually pluck up confidence to return to old habits.

These are uncertain times and as good as Ten Ichi is, answers may not emerge for some time.

Sample menu

Starters

Miso soup, £2

Edamame, £3.50

Ebi gyoza, £4.80

Zensai

Pork katsu, £6

Kimchi, £3.50

Cold soya bean curd tofu, £4.25

Nigri sushi

Sea bass nigri, £3

Cooked sweet tofu, £3

Salmon nigri, £3

Contact information

Ten Ichi

70 Hurst Street,Birmingham, B5 4TD

0121 622 4559

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