When the need strikes for a bit of fish in your diet, you can't go wrong with Japanese. Be it raw or grilled superbly, Nihon Kai is a worthy addition to your list of dinner places. Relaxed, unpretentious and you get to dine with all walks of life in this little gem. Only problem is everyone wants to eat here too...
4-2, Jalan Telok Gadong,
Off Jalan Klang Lama,
Tel: 03 7982 3668
Daily: 12.00pm-3.00pm, 6.00pm-10.00pm
Consistent quality across their menu; raw and cooked items are of the same calibre.
Get there as early as you can – there is a wait even during weeknights.
How in the world did Old Klang Road suddenly become this rough where diamonds of Japanese restaurants could be found? First there was Sanuki Udon with its brilliant offerings of udon and yakitori. Not long after, a friend pointed me in the direction of Nihon Kai. We now find ourselves braving the evening traffic crawl to satiate our Japanese food cravings...
Just like Sanuki, you will not notice Nihon Kai if you are not looking. We reach the brightly lit corner shop a little after 7 o’clock, and already there is a wait for a table. The restaurant is a bit of a mixed bag of atmospheres: there are booths, counters and sidewalk seating. Diners of all variety are there too. When we are eventually steered to the tables upstairs, we had to squeeze in between a lively group of colleagues and a father out with his toddler daughter.
Wanting to sample a wide variety without busting our guts, we order a mixed sashimi platter, Nihon Kai’s special maki, and agedashi tofu. I had originally wanted to order shake atama (salmon fish head with ginger sauce) but they had run out, so a saba shioyaki (grilled mackerel with salt) is a great substitute
A rather kitschy boat of sashimi arrives first. When I say boat, I mean the platter is literally shaped like one. Thankfully, the sashimi itself is in very good taste. The tuna is so clean and tender, I immediately claim both slices. Many Japanese restaurants, even the higher end ones, tend to serve tuna that is a little stringy when pulled apart. The ones here darn near melt in my mouth! The salmon is excellent too, with a good bite. My dinner companion says the crab sticks smell a little off, which makes me glad I did not reach for any.
Nihonkai Special Maki is a little different from many makis I have had before. First of all, it is wrapped in what seems to be spring roll skins. I then proceed to dissect one on my plate to peek at what is inside. Little pieces of salmon nestled in julienned cucumbers, with random crunchy bits that taste like leftover tempura batter. All that, topped with mayo and roe. It is fresh, crispy, a little confusing, but delicious all over.
Agedashi tofu is a must order for me at any Japanese restaurant. Quiet comfort food, their version is not a standout, but does not disappoint either. What does stand out, is the grilled mackerel. Oh, where do I start? A gentle squeeze of lemon and that is all I need to lapse into one of my now-infamous foodgasmic states of bliss. Oh, mackerel. The skin is crisp, the flesh firm yet flaky. My dinner companion surrenders the fish to me, knowing he has lost the battle for mackerel. I thank him with a grunt and clean the fish out with my hands until there are only bones left. There are few things in life better than simply grilled fish. How great is it to know that my desert island dish of choice is realistically available on a desert island? The South East Asian in me wanted to tapau another order so I could have it at home with sambal belacan and rice, but I restrain myself.
The eventual bill comes up to over RM70. A little high, but entirely worth it for the occasional treat. Restaurants like this reaffirm my belief that mom-and-pop shops are your best bet for great, authentic cuisines of any kind. And for a humble, unpretentious restaurant off Old Klang Road, it does not get much greater or more authentic than Nihon Kai.
Opening hours: 12.00pm-3.00pm, 6.00pm-10.00pm (daily)