Ichiba, the largest Japanese food hall in Europe, launched in Westfield London this week, as part of the west London shopping complex’s £600million expansion.
The venture is the result of a collaboration between Tak Tokumine’s Japan Centre Group and the Cool Japan Fund. Tokumine –founder of 13-strong ramen chain Shoryu and Sakagura restaurant- launched Japan Centre in 1976, and it is now considered to offer the largest and most varied selection of Japanese food, drink and lifestyle products in the UK. Founded in November 2013 as a public-private fund, part owned by the Japanese government, the Cool Japan Fund promotes the development of overseas demand for Japanese products and services.
Ichiba occupies a vast 17,400 sq. ft. site at the far end of Westfield in White City. The bright, high-ceilinged space has entrances from both inside the complex itself, and at street level from the square outside, allowing for both indoor and outdoor seating. The shopping areas of the space comprise larger and more varied versions of the offerings at the group’s West End location. Pale, neutral wooden shelves are lined with endless varieties of ingredients from rice and miso to tea and snacks packaged in brightly branded boxes and bags. Fresh ingredients include hard-to-find Japanese items, such as fresh wasabi.
The back walls of the store are lined with open kitchens, including a Shoryu ramen bar; a sushi station; a curry station; a sake bar; and a kiosk dedicated to freshly prepared noodles. A Japanese bakery and café offers matcha ice cream and dorayaki pancakes, and a central open kitchen specialises in okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes); yakisoba noodles; and takoyaki (balls of wheat flour batter with various fillings). All the food stations are open, allowing visitors to watch the theatre of the fresh food being prepared, and can be eaten at tables dotted around the 200-cover store, or at the outdoor seating by the front entrance. Diners can mix and match dishes from each station, and customise with products they can buy in-store.
And another thing
Now operating a respectable-sized group of restaurants, as well as Europe’s largest Japanese food hall, Tokumine might be expected to be smug about his position, but the businessman and entrepreneur takes a decidedly zen and Japanese view of his estate.
“Fortune comes and goes,” he says.
“Five years ago finding £10,000 was a problem, now I’m dealing with millions. Success comes suddenly and usually because you have taken a risk.”