Now, I might not be able to truly revisit an experience like this without travelling some 10 hours to the former Japanese capital and waiting it out in a side street restaurant, but Diamond Cliff Resort & Spa’s Japanese restaurant, Kiko, brings elements of traditional Japan to Phuket, and flies as close as possible to emulating them without seeming gimmicky.
A sakura tree from Japan takes centre stage in one of the dining areas – the trunk and branches real and alive, the mock cherry blossom petals individually handcrafted – and grazes the ceiling while fanning out in a beautiful display. The private rooms, a more intimate affair for group dining, feature sunken horigotatsu seating and sliding doors with rice paper-style panels that let in natural light. Tall torii gates – that typically mark the entrance to shrines – line a stretch of gravel that’s carefully combed in the style of a Japanese garden. And the attentive waitresses wear colourful kimonos with wide obi sashes.
This attention to detail extends to the restaurant’s hefty menu of Japanese specialties, all delicately prepared and served in a mismatch of lacquered wooden bowls, deep ceramic plates and even decorated sushi boats, the different sizes and patterns turning the table into an abstract but pleasant culinary display.
As one of the first Japanese restaurants on the island, Kiko has had time to perfect its art so it can serve these delights to 60 diners at a time without compromising quality. That the restaurant is often enjoyed by the resort’s Japanese guests is testament to this.
A trio of classic appetisers kick off proceedings. The tsukemono mori, or assorted pickles, are crunchy and punchy, and it’s a good idea to hold a few back as a sour garnish to complement the main courses to come. Chuka wakame, or seaweed salad with sesame oil, a subtly sweet yet healthy dish, and salted edamame follow soon after.
Nanasyu mori, assorted sashimi, arrives in a decorative boat. Slices of tuna and salmon as well as scallops in a shell sit in the hull and a healthy daub of wasabi can be found at the bow. The scallops are imported from Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido where the cold seas give them their sweet flavour and firm texture. Hotategai, seared giant Hokkaido scallops, are also on the menu and go well with smoky garlic rice, as does the lean wagyu sirloin which arrives at the table still sizzling from its time on the teppanyaki iron griddle.
Kiko also offers a range of bento boxes, each featuring rice, fish, meat, pickled and cooked vegetables and soy sauce. The variety and functionality of these compartmentalised, lunchbox-style meals have stood the test of time, their history reaching as far back as the 1300s. The bento salmon set at Kiko is a particular highlight, showcasing sweet teriyaki-glazed salmon, crispy strips of chicken, sticky rice, sashimi and salad. Ranging from B510-B620, the boxes offer great value for money as well as a lunchtime alternative.
Whether you’re laughing and drinking it up like a Japanese businessman in a private room, sampling a bento box under the cherry blossoms or watching the chef roll sushi at the open kitchen, you’ll be glad you got a taste of the Land of the Rising Sun in the Land of Smiles.