Ikoi Tei by WIP, now a well-established name among Japanese cuisine lovers in Sri Lanka, has been serving up authentic Japanese food since its inception in 2015. A part of Hilton Colombo, Ikoi Tei is situated in the Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct and is frequented by locals and tourists alike. Well known for their sushi, this week, they are changing things up with the introduction of a special ‘Okonomiyaki’ menu that is on till 24 August.
Okonomiyaki, an authentic Japanese dish, is one that is still quite unfamiliar to the Sri Lankan palate. It is a grilled Japanese pancake translating literally to ‘grilled, the way you like it.’ Ikoi Tei is offering a range of okonomiyaki from vegetarian, chicken, seafood, chicken and corn and even a mixed dish containing pork shrimp and squid. Prices range from LKR 900 to 1700.
The restaurant and bar are set in an almost rustic setting with the signature ochre walls of the Dutch Hospital complex complemented by wooden furniture and iron fittings. The painted depictions of the Japanese coast add interesting splashes of colour to the walls. With seating being well-spaced, you are guaranteed privacy during your dining experience. The ambiance is calm, the welcome is warm and in terms of service, there was nothing to fault.
Food & Drink
Their drink menu is extensive, offering a variety of wines, liqueurs, fresh juices and hot beverages not forgetting a selection of sake.
If you are at a loss of what to order, please feel free to ask the staff as they are eager to recommend the most popular dishes and the dishes that are best suited for those who are only beginning to discover the merits of Japanese cuisine. I was told that the chicken teriyaki, the tempura, the Shoyu ramen and the chicken Katsu Don are must-tries for newbies (that is apart from the sushi of course). When I asked for the chicken okonomiyaki, I was warned that it would be very filling; yet in my determination to get the most of the experience, I also ordered the Chicken Teriyaki and a watermelon juice to help wash it all down.
What we tried: Chicken Teriyaki
The Teriyaki dish came first. Priced at LKR 900, the dish was a large portion of crispy fried chicken doused with teriyaki sauce with a salad on the side, garnished with edible flowers. With strong flavours and the classic combination of crispy, sour and salty, this dish left no room for complaint. Whenever the flavours became too strong the lettuce salad helped in dealing with the greasiness.
What we tried: Okonomiyaki
Then came the much-anticipated okonomiyaki. With Bonito flakes dancing on top, the first thing that hits you is its fishy aroma. It is practically an assault on the senses. The dish came topped with what I was told was traditional Tonkatsu sauce and Japanese mayonnaise sauce. Its pancake base is made up mostly of cabbage, though you won’t taste it unless you knew of it. The chicken is plentiful and you will get a mouthful in every bite. The flavours complement each other well to create a symphony of flavours in your mouth. The dish is extremely filling and more than enough for one person, priced at LKR 1190, it was well worth the price. However, the flavours are not for everyone and therefore do proceed with caution when ordering.
What we tried: matcha ice cream
Too full for anything else, I finished my meal off with a scoop of matcha ice cream. The flavour was subtle and not overpowering and can even be enjoyed by those who don’t usually like the bitterness of matcha. Their dessert menu, though not long, offers various Japanese delicacies with a twist that everyone can enjoy.
A chat with Chef Hikaru
While speaking to Chef Hikaru, the brains behind the menu at Ikoi Tei, I was told that okonomiyaki was a dish that is yet to gain popularity among Sri Lankans, largely owing to its lack of spice. In trying to make the dish more suitable to Sri Lankan taste buds, I learned that he does have some secret spices and sauces up his sleeve that he is ready to bring out if the customer were to request so. I was also told that the authentic Japanese version is usually made with pork or seafood and that the chicken and vegetarian options were introduced especially to cater to Sri Lankans. Further speaking on what people could try to ease into Japanese food, the chef suggested that they try the Teppanyaki table experience which can be fun and help customers pick out food that would suit their tastes.
Those with allergies and vegan preferences are advised to watch out, as you may find some surprising ingredients in your dish. That being said, the staff do have a good knowledge of the menu and will be happy to inform you if you ask. Those who are lactose or gluten intolerant need not worry as I was told that dishes could be altered upon request. If you are not very good with chopsticks, you need not fret either as the staff will provide you with cutlery to make your dining experience better.
Parking might be a hassle on busy nights as you are required to use the common parking of the Dutch Hospital complex and you are advised to come prepared.
All in all, the okonomiyaki experience is one that you must try, and I assure you, you will be pleasantly surprised.
So head on to Ikoi Tei at the Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct before 24 August to not miss a chance to try some new Japanese flavours.
For reservations please contact 2441275 or WhatsApp 077 6691757.
Review by Vashni Benjamin