Ichiroll & Sake Ichi Oden: A Hip Osaka Backstreet on Shanxi Lu

By Sophie Steiner, January 17, 2024

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The Place

Restaurateur Henry To and business partner Michael Tao have opened not one, but two new venues in the last month, expanding their Sake-X Group Japanese-leaning foodie empire.

Riding on the coattails of the success of their Dagu Lu outpost Sake Ichi Yakitori (酒一烧鸟酒场) (that opened four years back, yet still garners quite the crowd) the duo opened Sake Ichi Oden (酒一关东煮酒场) at the beginning of November – a dimly lit, all wood-outfitted space on Shanxi Nan Lu doling out steaming bowls of Japanese comfort soup (called oden) just in time for winter.

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Sake Ichi Oden, Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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Oden, Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Opening that same week, and just next door, is Ichi Roll – a casual alternative to the high-end sushi and omakase houses – serving maki-style hand rolls and sashimi in a pleasantly bright and contemporary setting.

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Ichi Roll, Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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Maki Hand Roll, Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

So, while the two venues are inherently distinct – a classic retro soup and sipper hangout and a straightforward, modern sushi roll spot – together they form a symbiotic relationship that belongs on a backstreet of Osaka’s trendiest neighborhood, each enhancing the offerings of the other, while simultaneously sharing a wall.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The Food Part I: Ichi Roll

Let’s start our Japanese food expedition at Ichi Roll since its open day into night, while Sake Ichi Oden is just a dinner-into-the-wee-hours-of-the-morning kind of haunt. 

The back-to-basics menu here centers around the aforementioned hand rolls – of which there are 19, spanning veggie to seafood to meat fillings – with a few small plates and sashimi also available. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The Black Tiger Prawn Roll (RMB38) sports chopped tiger shrimp tossed in a shrimp head and shell-infused aioli (an umami prawn mayo of sorts) finished with tobiko roe.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Named after a region of Guangdong that is famous for Chinese 'sashimi,' the Shunde-Style Sashimi Roll (RMB38) incorporates all the elements of said dish enveloped in a crisp nori wrapper.

Think shaved slices of raw halibut, julienned kaffir lime leaves, carrots and ginger, all tossed in sesame oil and vinegar, crowned with fried taro chips for added crunch. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Owner Henry’s favorite sashimi cut takes center stage in the Seared Halibut Skirt Edge Roll (RMB38), a torched slice of this often overlooked part of the fish, one that showcases the ideal balance of fat and flavor, augmented by a lingering smoky char. 

DSC04524.jpgTuna Toro Roll (RMB68)Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A name that says it all, The King of Roll (RMB198) sees a stack of tuna toro, Botan shrimp, uni and caviar – all piled high as one gigantically glorious indulgent mouthful. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The dashi-laced rice-to-filling ratios are on point across the board, each roll with its own individual character.

All rolls are served with pickled ginger, wasabi, homemade yuzu kosho and the team’s proprietary dipping sauce that proffers a blend of several different soy sauces, kombu, dashi, and bonito.

Other popular rolls include Avocado Roll (RMB12), Mentaiko Zucchini Roll (RMB22), Seared Crab Roll (RMB38), Kabayaki Eel Roll (RMB38), Cheese Lobster Roll (RMB58), Foie Gras Roll (RMB48), Uni Roll (RMB128)... and the list goes on. 

It’s worth a repeat visit to try ‘em all is what we’re saying. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Can’t decide which a la carte rolls to order?

Don’t sweat it, there are four predetermined sets to choose from depending on if your slimming, trimming, bulking or hulking, ranging from the Three Roll Set (RMB78) and Four Roll Set (RMB128) to the Five Roll Set (RMB158) and Six Roll Set (RMB188), with the latter three also including your choice of Matcha or Milk Red Bean Pudding (usually RMB15-18) in the set price.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Diners can round out their meal with a smattering of small plates, like homemade Squid Ink Sausage (RMB28) – a traditional pork sausage casing filled with a mix of both pork and squid meat (plus squid ink that lends its distinctly onyx hue) fired under the salamander grill before serving.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Or Yellowtail with Vinegar Miso (RMB35) – a homemade sticky paste that layers citrus and savory notes to the supple, grated yuzu dusted-fish.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

And Seared Salmon (RMB35) – torched on one side for a delectably juxtaposed mouthfeel, and presented marinating in a puddle of sweet ponzu with Fujian-sourced yuzu.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

There are also nine sashimi cuts to choose between, from Salmon (RMB48/3 pieces) to Botan Shrimp (RMB68) to Scallops (RMB68/3 pieces) to Uni (RMB148), and more. 

DSC04627.jpgPictured left to right: Ichi Roll Special Cocktail (RMB68) – coconut infused highball with coconut water; Roselle and Kumquat Sawayaka (RMB48), Yuzu Basil Soda (RMB30). Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Bonus: There are Tokyo draft beers, house-blended cocktails, and sake all on tap – as well as sours and sodas – to wash the seafood down with. 

The Food Part II: Sake Ichi Oden

Moving into the night, we walk out the Ichi Roll door and into the Sake Ichi Oden door less than a meter away.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

If we hadn’t pre-arranged the visit, the steaming broth wafting plumes of kombu and dashi-laden smoke onto the street would have pulled us – and many a passers-by – into the venue regardless. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

While the conventional vegetable-based stock is on the menu, so is an unconventional chicken broth, one that repurposes the 'waste' from the group's Sake Ichi Yakitori joint into a soul-warming stew that simmers with Iberico pork bones for eight hours.

Bowlfuls are filled to the brim with diners’ choice of tofu, braised vegetables, fish cakes, seafood, and more. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Another distinctive element is the offering of yakitori skewers cooked directly in the oden broth – not the most traditional of oden accoutrement... but we're listening. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

So how does the ordering work? Simple.

First, pick your broth – vegetable dashi or chicken. 

Then, select your add-ons, broken down into: 

  • Vegetables (RMB10-15) – like Shiitake (RMB10), Corn (RMB10), Konjac Noodles (RMB10)or Daikon (RMB15)

  • Seafood (RMB15-35) – like Fish Cake (RMB15), Mozzarella Fish Roll (RMB18), Baby Cuttlefish (RMB28)or Snow Crab Leg (RMB35)

  • Chicken (RMB13-18) – for the chicken soup option only – like Chicken Heart (RMB12), Chicken Neck (RMB13), Chicken Breast Soft Bone (RMB10) or Chicken Leg with Leek (RMB15)

  • Soy Products (RMB12-15) – like Old Tofu (RMB12) or Rice Cake Fudai (RMB15)

  • Beef (RMB32-48) – like Beef Tongue (RMB32) or Beef Tendon (RMB48)

A nod to omakase, the menu also offers a chef's choice of five add-ons for RMB68, eight for RMB98, or go wild and order as many a la carte as you please. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

We highly suggest the daikon radish (that absorbs all the soup’s flavor and melts on the tongue), the springy fish cake, the rice cake fudai (aka a gooey mochi cake wrapped in a tofu purse), the supple chicken wing, and the tender beef tongue.

But it’s really a 'choose your own adventure' setup, one that’s impossible to mess up. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

While comfort food can mean something different to everyone, we’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that doesn’t crave a warming soup on a winter day.

It’s universal soul food, at once nostalgic and ingenious. 

DSC04783.jpgYuzu Ponzu Chicken Gizzards (RMB25)Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

DSC04791.jpgSake Steamed Clams (RMB38)Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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Feather Weight Chicken Ramen (RMB58). Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Aside from oden, there are appetizers (many of which see crossover with Ichi Roll) and some carb-forward dishes, like Chicken Ramen (RMB58-98), with the price based on protein quantity – from chicken breast and chicken meatballs, to the addition of chicken wings, cuttlefish and abalone – in original or spicy miso varieties.

The substantially rich broth (that uses the chicken oden as the base) comes with the customary jammy egg, silken egg noodles, sprouts and wakame salad.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The drinks are no afterthought – a standout lineup of inventive, pocket-friendly highballs, shochu sours, chuhais, and Japanese ingredient-leaning cocktails designed by owner Henry himself, who cut his teeth working in food science R&D for Maxim’s in Hong Kong.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The refreshingly tart Tomato High (RMB42) uses a housemade tomato syrup, while the Perilla & Peach High (RMB42) owes its jewel-toned shade to perilla leaf tea, finished with a galangal plum powdered rim.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

As for heavier libations, the ZanZan’s Godfather (RMB88) sees Ghana cacao nibs steeped for weeks in whiskey and Disaronno, resulting in almond aromas followed by a chocolaty finish – a cocoa play on a Manhattan.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

An appetizer in a glass, the 7/11 (RMB68) is a savory concoction of dashi broth, shochu, shiro dashi and yuzu juice, adorned with a tied scallion ribbon. 

The Vibe(s)

While a lot of everyday sushi houses find their home in a shopping mall with minimal vibe, a lack of a cohesive concept and questionable value, Ichi Roll is the antithesis to that trend.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

It’s an approachable, fast-casual place where diners can enjoy a modest meal made with high quality seafood at affordable prices, all with the backdrop of 90s and early 2000s gangster rap – a genius pairing. 

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Sake Ichi Oden. Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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Sake Ichi Oden. Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

On the other hand, Sake Ichi Oden passes out bowls of comfort in a more traditional looking izakaya setting, with unfinished wood, hanging paper lanterns, sake bottles lining concrete walls – and Japanese bangers from the 70s and 80s providing the beat to which employees ladle, pour, scoop and sear. 

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Sake Ichi Oden. Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Both venues seat 25-35 guests, most of the spots encircling the open kitchen, where streamlined snacks (be it raw sushi or bubbling broth) entice diners through both sight and sound, filing the tummies – and hearts – of all who enter.

Price: Ichi Roll: RMB128-228, Sake Ichi Oden: RMB68-188
Who’s Going: The Japanese foodie contingency, soup aficionados, sushi fiends
Good For: Japanese food craving satisfaction, casual evening hangouts, highball exploration that won’t break the bank

Sake Ichi Oden & Ichi Roll, 35 Shanxi Nan Lu, by Jinxian Lu 陕西南路35号, 近进贤路.


Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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