For the large majority of restaurants in Tokyo, you pretty much know what you’ll get from just looking at the place. Whether it’s a ramshackle ramen shop with hand-written menus, a fancy tempura restaurant where you’re greeted by a kimono-clad hostess, or a chain izakaya that you can see, smell and hear from 50 feet away, it’s usually easy to tell what type and quality of food you’re about to eat.
However, Umibatake—a mid-priced restaurant near Ikebukuro station—does not follow this trend. Located a couple of minutes from the station’s new Echika shopping arcade, Umibatake is nestled among apartment buildings, convenience stores and other restaurants. The exterior is humble and the decor understated. The soft lighting, natural tones and wooden furniture feel very welcoming, but the layout isn’t quite Western nor distinctively Japanese.
Just like the interior, Umibatake’s food is difficult to categorize. The meal begins with a handsome otoshi, which includes boiled whelks, avocado paste and fish soup. This restaurant is known for its seafood, and prides itself on procuring fresh fish from all over Japan. As such, there is a decent sashimi menu that offers sets of three (¥1,500), five (¥2,300) or seven (¥3,500) varieties of seafood.
It’s not only raw fish that Umibatake does well, though: the organic vegetable and grilled seafood “chan-chan” (¥950) was a tasty mix of hearty vegetables and large pieces of salmon, sizzling on a cast iron plate. Similarly presented was the colorful “Genovese-style” vegetables, stewed tomatoes and chicken dumplings (¥820), which was an excellent mix of textures: crunchy cabbage, firm chicken and mushy tomatoes.
A good match for all the juicy veggies was the freshly fried, crispy seaweed tempura (¥620) and succulent Ise chicken with mentaiko-cheese sauce (¥880). Salty dishes like this need to be washed down with a drink, and we found the mango liquor from Okinawa (¥480) a fantastic thirst quencher.
In fact, Umibatake’s drink menu is as varied as the food, with interesting cocktails like tomato liqueur and orange (¥580) and the Hypnotic (vodka, tropical fruits and cognac; ¥530), in addition to basics such as beer (¥580) and fruit sours (¥550-580). There’s also a sizeable shochu list, but the unfortunate lack of an English menu makes ordering difficult for newbies.
On the Monday evening we visited, Umibatake was empty save for a few after-work drinkers and couples on dates. Probably because of this, our orders were dished out with haste by eager and enthusiastic waitstaff. Large groups and parties are welcome and, thanks to the 8am closing time, this Ikebukuro eatery is as suitable for a quiet meal with a friend as it is an after-club binge.