After a couple years of being the beacon for American BBQ in Hangzhou, Charcoal has undergone a complete transformation into a classy Japanese restaurant. You may wonder what the connection is and why they’ve decided to make the jump to an entirely different food continent, but let’s not trouble ourselves with details. At the end of the day, we can happily report that the change worked out.
Stepping through the door, we were greeted by a loud shout of “Irasshaimase!” to welcome us to the restaurant. The interior has a Japanese look with paper screens and light coloured wood. There are some long tables in the main dining room where customers can have a quick, casual meal. To the right and in the back are tatami rooms for private discussions.
To the left still stands the beer brewing vats. Sidle up to the counter and the brew master will chat with you about his latest brews and offer you a sample. I tried Hold Your Horses brewed with Sichuan peppercorns, Official Poet with osmanthus flowers and the reliable Wetland IPA.
At the back, separated from the main dining room by a screened divider is a sushi counter and this is where I would spend most of my time. Sitting at the counter, watching the chefs expertly prepare sushi for you, and eating it piece by piece is one of the pleasures in life. Charcoal Japanese restaurant offers omakase meals from 500, 1000 and 1500RMB, reservations are required 2 days in advance. In an omakase meal, the chef decides the menu based on what ingredients are in season and serves you the meal a piece at a time.
We had a small sampling of that omakase experience by way of 3 pieces of tuna nigiri sushi, from leanest to fattest. Akami, the lean red flesh glistens like a jewel. Chutoro, the medium fatty part of the tuna belly has a sweet taste and buttery soft texture. Then comes otoro, the fattest part of the tuna belly and the Holy Grail for sushi lovers. Normally, the sublime way that the tuna melts in your mouth and the clean, sweet taste is enough to make angels sing, but here the chef ups the ante by flame torching it and sprinkling it with Italian black truffle salt. My only quibble is that the rice tastes neutral and not sweet and vinegary, but that was intentional on their part to appeal to more people.
The chef has 18 years’ experience working in the finest sushi restaurants in Shanghai, training under 5 different Japanese sushi masters. He came to Hangzhou last June to open Sushi Ichi a swanky new sushi place on Manjuelong Road and now here at Charcoal Japanese, their goal is to offer a high standard of Japanese dishes but at affordable prices.
For the lunch crowd, there are quick set meals such as ramen noodle soups for 42RMB or Pork Katsu Rice Bowl for 42RMB. A la carte sushi rolls range in price from 18-68RMB, tempura between 28-56RMB and grilled items for 28-218RMB.
Stop by at Charcoal Japanese to see the transformation that happened and stay to have some fine Japanese food that won’t break the bank.