If you’re in a high-spirited mood…
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
The centuries-old Japanese izakaya concept has always been my cup of tea, or in this case, cup of sake – literally “stay-drink-place,” it’s the epitome of the spirit of camaraderie; the kind of watering hole that draws in people from all walks of life to share the universal love of good food, drink, and company. Usually the kind of after-dark haunt that one can find on street sides and hole-in-the-wall dives, Ki Izakaya embraces the concept while elevating it – literally. On the ninth floor of the urbane Sindhorn Kempinski Hotel Bangkok, the restaurant brings in the elegant design, luxe furnishings, and impeccable service that is quintessential to the property, while still embracing the relaxed and convivial atmosphere unique to an izakaya.
‘Ki,’ I’m informed, is a Japanese word that simultaneously means ‘mood,’ ‘flavour,’ and ‘positive energy,’ and to that end, the atmosphere of the space is carefully curated to encourage a good time with friends and family, where the food, drinks, and conversation flow freely. Newly-opened and touted as one of the only izakayas in a luxury hotel in Thailand, I was especially keen to visit the restaurant and sample what it had to offer.
When you step through the outsized doors of the restaurant, you’re immediately enveloped in a sense of warmth created by the sophisticated wooden furnishings, plush seating in sunset palettes, and variety of chic and unique lighting fixtures throughout the space. End-to-end windows allow for panoramic views of the verdant Langsuan district, while my eye was immediately drawn to the wall of art pieces in contemporary Japanese styles, from the expected The Great Wave off Kanagawa print, to cheekier renditions of pop culture references in a riot of colour. Drawing from the spirit of the 80s and 90s, even the staff uniform of jeans and plain black t-shirts reflects the decades’ laid-back vibes.
An homage to the renowned Hozenji Yokocho and Shinjuku Golden Gai izakayas found in Osaka and Tokyo, respectively, the space echoes the vision of an after-work joint for ‘salarymen’ to congregate, and the eclectic seating reflects that. Able to seat 60 yet deceptively cosy, the restaurant is designed for a variety of groups to sit together, from elevated yet comfortable chairs for couples, to intimate booths for four, to a carved wooden table that stretches across half the room; a work of art in itself.
FOOD AND DRINK
“Our menu concept is basically small sharing plates for groups to share; almost like tapas in the European style,” I’m informed. Looking through their menu, curated by award-winning Chef Hiroyuki Yokoyama, I’m bowled over by the variety and magnitude of dishes on offer, from appetisers (zensais) and snacks to the expected sashimis, tatakis, and gyozas, to their specialities, skewers and grills on charcoal.
We started off with a refreshing glass of beer, a requisite when visiting an izakaya. They have six draught labels to choose from, including three from Japan: the Suruga Bay Imperial IPA (THB 490), the Kirin Ichiban Malt beer (THB 350), and the Rising Sun Pale Ale (THB 490). I’m not a beer connoisseur, but the latter was especially well-balanced, light, and still complex, the perfect start to any meal.
I was told that after a beer, the expectation is to follow it with sips of sake, highball, or whiskies, all of which their menu had in abundance – almost 95 percent of their beverage selection hails from Japan, with more than 40 labels of sake alone. While intrigued by the array, we instead chose to pair our meal with some of their signature cocktails: The blossom (THB 450), composed of Suntory ‘SUl’ gin and Yoshino Monogatari shiso, was deceptively simple, yet packed a punch and went down like a dream. The Ume-cha (THB 380), on the other hand, is named after a play on its ingredients: made with umeshu, rose lemonade, and peach blossom tea, its floral notes will soon have you taking a rosy view of the entire evening.
To begin our meal, we shared a round of appetisers. The Truffle edamame (THB 130) was moreish as edamame is wont to be, especially with the addition of truffle salt; while the Eihire aburi (THB 140), charcoal-grilled stingray fin, was extremely flavourful, a surprise as I’d often considered stingray meat to be quite bland. Perfectly prepared, make sure to pair it with the mildly-spiced Shichimi togarashi mayonnaise. The best surprise of the night came in the form of the Burrata (THB 290) appetiser, one that I did not expect to find in a Japanese joint. Served with heirloom tomatoes, dashi, scallions, and bonito flakes, it had the expected silkiness of good burrata, but was elevated by the Japanese flavours to create a wholly new and yet delicious treat.
Of course, as a keen fan of seafood, I had to sample their sashimi, and the Hamachi sashimi (THB 350), made with yellowtail fish, is served on ice and was fresh in the extreme, with the slightly sweet aftertaste characteristic of the fish. For those who don’t prefer their seafood raw, the Satsuma age (THB 95) is a delicious deep fried fish cake with a hint of heat from the grated ginger served with it. Finally, we tried their famed skewers, which arrive sizzling hot on top of a carved mini charcoal-holder, complete with Japanese kanji scrawled on the sides. The Chicken yakitori (THB 170 for two skewers), made from herb-fed chicken thigh, was both tender and savoury, with citrusy notes from the yuzu salt; while for those who prefer beef, the Beef kushi (THB 220 for two skewers), made with Australian wagyu beef ramp, melts in your mouth and is prepared with ponzu sauce and shiso to cut across the heavier flavours.
Finally, replete with food and drink, we tucked into their desserts. The Matcha sponge (THB 100) is recommended if you’re a fan of green tea, with chocolate and raspberry to elevate its distinctive taste. Our unanimous favourite of the night, however, was the Iced yuzu & chilli dessert (THB 100), a beautiful and zesty confection served with coconut snow and topped with a strawberry gel; the perfect note to end a night of elegant revelry.
The Hotate kani negitoro don (THB 450). Comprised of scallops, snow crab, negitoro, salmon roe, and sushi rice, it’s an indulgent dish that packs all my favourite seafood flavours in a single bowl, both toothsome and filling at the same time.
9th floor, Sindhorn Kempinski Hotel Bangkok, 80 Soi Tonson, Lumphini, Pathumwan, Bangkok, 10330
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 5pm to midnight
Tel: 02 095 9999