A half term trip to Ichiba – Europe’s largest Japanese food hall
Half term – a time to put the school run behind you, for lazy starts to your day and no more packed lunches to make! Yes, there maybe no homework to be done but let’s face it – half term is not always plain sailing (that’s a blog for another time!)
I was delighted to be invited to check out Ichiba – a huge Japanese food hall on a department store scale – at one of their biggest stores in Westfield, London for a guided tour followed by lunch. Me and J together with my friend Amanda and her son H, took the train into London and the tube across town and were soon just standing staring up at this pretty incredible shopping centre, as shopping centres go!! Having never been here before, I was blown away by this place. The stores reminded me of the great big shopping malls in America and the architecture and design of the place is something else. The boys soon noticed an interactive shopping map, which they really enjoyed (boys and their tech eh!) as we wanded through a tiny fraction of the place, to find Ichiba.
Ichiba is quite striking within its position in Westfield. Its bright exterior immediately invites you in and once inside, you’ll love its mix of contemporary and traditional Japanese design, all thoughtfully put together with feng shui in mind. A series of coloured fabric screens welcome you through the front door, a mix of oranges, reds and yellows signify the rising sun and in front of you, you’re faced with a really well thought out store layout that flows seamlessly from fresh sushi to a fresh fish and meat counter, through aisle upon aisle of Japanese produce and even some very high end sake! A selection of very healthy and freshly prepared Bento boxes were also available and were a very popular choice in the takeaway section. We all really loved hearing about the traditional Japanese diet and enjoyed browsing through row upon row of interesting products, most of which were unfamiliar to us, although H had seen and tried some of them before. The boys were really taken with the array of chocolate biscuits – in particular the “Hello Panda” range, which came in lots of different flavours. We were then shown the restaurant and all the different cooking stations. Fresh sushi is prepared daily with the morning’s delivery from Billingsgate market. The vibrant colours make for a very tempting selection and are very reasonably priced. I noted that it was cheaper than our local supermarket chain! Gyoza, Yakitori, Sake Bar, Ramen and Takoyaki, the list goes on and on….
The restaurant area was soon a hive of activity, having been relatively quiet when we arrived at 11.30am, the place was now buzzing as people filled the ample seating (a mixture of booths for 4, tables for 2 and 4 and larger tables for groups). Hot food takeaway is also available and I saw people ordering food to take away in brown cardboard cartons. The food choice was extensive, you’re given a large menu taking in all the expected choices – Ramen, noodles, curry and donburi bowls as well as a great choice of “small plates”. Between us we ordered fresh sushi, pork gyoza, chicken katsu curry (made in the traditional Japanese style, as opposed to the one we are more familiar with in the West) and Hirata buns. The food was delicious. The katsu curry that I had was really tasty and very enjoyable and for someone who doesn’t eat much, I actually finished the lot! My son J has put together a piece for the blog, which summarises his experience really well:
“I liked today because I got to learn all about the Japanese culture and all of the food from seaweed to green tea kit-kats! For lunch I had this squishy bun with pork and cucumber inside it – you could also have spicy sauce and Japanese mayo. Today was one of the best feeding frenzies I’ve ever had.” J aged 9.
Also available is a selection of homeware – beautiful traditional and contemporary Japanese ceramics, children’s stationery and an extensive range of Hello Kitty products! Vegetables and a bakery (with a takeaway section that was very popular) lead the way back out of the store.
After a thoroughly enjoyable lunch, the boys took some time to spend some pocket money in the shop, coming away with a selection of the chocolate biscuits they had enjoyed seeing on the tour and we headed back to continue exploring the rest of Westfield. We will definitely be coming back to visit Ichiba soon, as it ticks all the boxes for a healthy, affordable family lunch or a meal with friends.
Ichiba, you were awesome! Thanks for having us.
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Nina, Amanda, J and H, aged 9