Located in a building filled with restaurants and bars on Wan Chai Road, Ippou is not in the most promising of locations. The setting is bustling rather than tranquil, with the wooden furniture, lack of carpeting and low ceilings all amplifying the merry chatter of diners. J-pop is piped out at a conspicuous volume. Ippou has a small dining room, with four banquettes and half a dozen seats at the sushi counter, as well as a small semi-private section at the back that is sectioned off by half-partitions.
Ippou specialises in all parts of the chicken, utilising a species called Satsuma Miyabi from Kagoshima, which are raised on an all-grass diet. Ippou also offers seafood sushi and sashimi, but that is certainly not what we would return for. A deluxe sushi set features an uninspired selection of fish. While the uni is sweet and fresh, the botan shrimp is decidedly less so. The chef on the whole is heavy-handed with the wasabi and the rice is too sticky and lacks vinegar. No, the point of Ippou is chicken and chicken only and the Ippou Chicken Course is a good place to start. A trio of chicken sashimi arrives first: a tough sashimi of chicken breast that tastes more cured than raw thanks to its saltiness and toughness; an inner chicken breast sashimi which is lightly cooked on the outside and the most successful, especially with a touch of lime and slivers of raw onion; and a chicken liver sashimi which is also lightly seared on the outside. While the taste of the raw liver is milder than expected, it is more for the novelty factor than anything else that one would eat it. Three skewers of chicken yakitori arrive next: a perfectly crispy and delectable chicken skin; deliciously crunchy kidneys with just the right amount of salt; and again, the more disappointing liver, which although is cooked correctly, is under-seasoned. We initially feared that a whole feast of chicken parts would be one-note, but we were wrong. Deep-fried chicken wings marinated in soy and herbs arrive next, which are not only incredibly juicy but also significantly different to anything we have tasted yet. This is perhaps the best thing about Ippou: it understands that each part of the bird has its own distinct flavour, and the cooking methods allow each part of the chicken to shine to its full potential. To round out the chicken meal, a rice with sweet soy and minced chicken is hearty and satisfying while the chicken soup with the unexpected addition of pine nuts is both unusual and delicious.
Ippou features a sake list which starts from HK$310 for 720ml to HK$3,000 for a Junmai Daiginjo that was the official sake made for the Emperor’s royal reception of President Obama. There is also shochu available, as well as Nikka single malt whisky, aged both 10 years and 15 years. Wine drinkers have less of a choice: only a single chardonnay and a cabernet sauvignon are available by the bottle, both from Napa.
The service at Ippou varies quite a bit. Some servers are friendly and knowledgeable, while others are distinctly less so. On the whole, servers have to be prompted to introduce each dish, which is particularly required when unfamiliar dishes such as a whole plate of raw chicken sashimi with different cuts is served. Also, dishes are not cleared away very promptly: drinking a coffee while gazing at a pile of used yakitori sticks and chicken bones is probably not the most pleasant way to end a meal.
A meal for two including a small carafe of sake comes to HK$1,100. While the chicken course (HK$450) is good value, the disappointing sushi set (HK$350) is most definitely not. Choose the chicken rather than the fish at Ippou and you won’t be disappointed.