"This is not like any other Japanese restaurant," claims the Pathumwan Princess’s general manager, Stanley Pao, of the hotel’s new Nabe-Ya. "This is a trendy, contemporary restaurant, where you can have the fun experience of cooking by yourself."
I can see straight away that Nabe-Ya is a beautifully-designed and elegant restaurant, all sleek curves and innovative divisions of space that allow this 160-seat restaurant an unusual degree of intimacy.
But to cook myself? Isn’t that defeating the purpose of going to a restaurant in the first place? I’m sceptical, but then the waiter brings out a huge plate of fresh colourful vegetables and mixed seafood and sets out a pot of fish stock on the table’s in-built electric hot plate. As the stock starts to simmer and I catch a whiff of just the stock, I prepare to perhaps be convinced.
It turns out that "cooking by yourself" is a fairly loose term. At Nabe-Ya, your waiter will actually cook the house speciality chanko-nabe – a special kind of hot-pot – for you as you watch. We’re served the Takarabune, which includes Alaskan king crab, mud crab, prawns, scallops, clams, bream, chicken, pork and a good mix of vegetables, followed by udon noodles just in case you aren’t already full by the end of all that. And it’s delicious.
In older times, junior sumo warriors would prepare the hearty chanko-nabe every day for their masters. But you won’t be transformed into the size of a sumo by this sort of food – although the servings are huge, this is a truly healthy dish where the flavours of the food are allowed to speak for themselves. Individual dipping sauces – one sour with radish and shallots, one sweet made from white sesame, and one spicy, specially developed for Thai palettes using a pineapple base – add extra taste if you wish.
For this top-of-the-range dish, market prices are charged, but on average, expect to pay around Bt500 per head for a meal, perhaps more if you’re drinking. There’s a selection of sake starting from Bt250++, or try the sweet Japanese plum wine for 230++. If you’re teetotalling, there’s also a good range of teas.
Nabe means pot or pan, so unsurprisingly Nabe-Ya serves a variety of Japanese hot-pot dishes, including shabu-shabu (from Bt350++/portion), sukiyaki (from Bt320++) and a selection of kama-meshi, or rice hot pots. We tried the Sakeoyako-Kamameshi (Bt200++), which comes with salmon and ikura – and it’s a meal on its own.
There’s also a standard a la carte menu featuring typical specialties such as sashimi, sushi, yakimono and agemono. We started our meal with an exception mixed sashimi (from Bt280++).
Desserts start at Bt60, but if you’d like something special, call in advance and order the baked Fujiyama, a spectacular Japanese version of the French bombe glacee, ignited with a flourish at the table.
Pao believes that the Japanese food scene is here to stay. "First we had the fast food outlets and they did a good job by introducing a lot of people to Japanese food," he says. "Now we’d like to take it from there by offering a little bit of culture and tradition, dishes that are more tedious to prepare so that people will appreciate Japanese food a bit more."
We certainly left knowing more about Japanese food, and eager to return for a second lesson.
2nd Fl, Pathumwan Princess Hotel, MBK Centre
444 Phayathai Rd, Pathumwan
Open daily, 11-14.30 and 18.00-23.30
All credit cards