Thailand is world renown for it’s amazing cuisine. But one thing I love about living in Bangkok is that if you’re craving food from another country it’s easy to find a restaurant that offers it. Mexican, Portuguese, Indian, Spanish, Ecuadorian, heck even Tibetan! Whatever your gut desires, Bangkok’s got a place for your craving.
One of the most culinarily represented countries in Bangkok’s food scene is Japan. Ramen shops, sushi bars, izakayas, and teppan style establishments litter the restaurant landscape. It is easy to seemingly transport yourself to Japan for a meal. Save yourself a plane ticket cost and visit one of these areas that cater to Japanese tourists and locals in Bangkok instead.
In this article I share one teppan style dining place in particular that I think is a real hidden gem. Though Rakuu is quite popular with local Thais and Japanese visitors for their deliciously affordable, truly authentic teppan dishes with omotenashi service it is little known by westerners.
What is “teppan” and “omotenashi”?
To avoid confusion to readers I’ll provide a quick brief on what “teppan” and “omotenashi” is. Teppan is basically the Japanese style of cooking on a large flat grill. The chef artfully partitions off the grill to cook several different things at once. Some teppan restaurants are famous for the skill and showmanship of their chefs at the grill. If you’ve been to a restaurant where the chef slices through the ingredients midair like a ninja you know what I am talking about.
At Rakuu diners can choose to sit “ringside” to watch the the chef at work. The experience is like watching a musical artist record in a sound booth. If you’re hungry it’s mesmerizing. Don’t expect a theatrical show but you will appreciate their skill.
Omotenashi is a concept of hospitality that Japan is famous for. It is customer service on steroids. Waitstaff take pride in anticipating and fulfilling customers needs in advance wholeheartedly without pretension. Rakuu strives to provide their diners with omotenashi level service.
Now let’s get to the food, shall we?
Starting with starters
Before jumping into the heavier main dishes the meal was kicked off by a couple of starters.
I like a good Caesar salad..but this was the first time I had it with a soft boiled egg. What I liked most about this Caesar Salad with Soft Boiled Egg (140 baht) was that the egg was chilled so it didn’t wilt the greens. Once broken open the runny yolk mixed with the veggies and dressing to make a very creamy salad. Yum!
Japanese style rolled omelet
I still marvel at this dish. Watching the chef slowly roll this omelet with precision was inspiring (I can’t even fold an omelet in half), but what amazes me is how this simple Japanese Style Rolled Omelet (190 baht) dish could be so tasty. I mean it’s just eggs, right? Yet it’s so light, fluffy, and full of flavor. It’s served with a pyramid of lightly fried grated radish. A small mound of the radish with the omelet will ignite your tastebuds.
Meet the meat
If you’re a “meatatarian” like me then Rakuu will put a smile on your face. I’ve got a dazed, dopey smile right now just looking at these pictures. They keep it simple, too. There are only two options on the menu: sirloin or tenderloin. Both are grilled to perfection and seasoned with only salt and pepper. The way it should be.
Rakuu uses only wagyu beef for their steaks. All of their steak dishes are served with carrots, broccoli, and deliciously seasoned potato wedges. Their most popular beef is the Sirloin Steak (100gr/430 baht). The marbled sirloin keeps the meat juicy. I’m not a fan of fatty meats…but I’m a fan of this. Nothing was wasted here. It’s too good.
If fatty meat isn’t your thing Rakuu has you covered with their Tenderloin Steak (100 gr/560 baht). It’s an upgrade from the sirloin, but one bite lets you know your money’s not being wasted here. This is a steak you savor. It just melts in your mouth. For a real treat, dip it in the accompanying wasabi and soy sauce. I lived in Japan for 6 years and I can’t believe I never thought of this. Now I can’t stop thinking about it.
Something from the sea…
If you’re not into devouring bovines, Rakuu has some delicious dishes from the sea on offer.
From Hokkaido to the grill to your plate. The Scallops (490 baht) dish comes with 6 very large Hokkaido scallops seasoned and grilled to juicy perfection. A squeeze of lemon, and these mollusks were quickly eaten with fumbling chopsticks. If you enjoy scallops I highly recommend you pamper yourself with these.
Mackerel with Miso
Not all dishes on Rakuu’s menu are cooked teppan style on the grill. That doesn’t mean they aren’t amazing. One dish that I found to be very original, and incredibly delicious was this Mackerel with Miso (230 baht). It’s served with a generous simmered filet of mackerel in a rich and creamy miso sauce. It’s also accompanied with marinated burdock root and snow peas.
I’d never eaten burdock before. It’s actually quite healthy for you. It’s hard to describe the flavor and texture, but if a bamboo tree and taro plant had a baby I’m pretty sure this is what it would taste like.
Yes, chicken, too…
Yard bird enthusiasts can rejoice that Rakuu has an entire menu page dedicated to chicken dishes.
This is another dish not cooked teppan style that I highly recommend. On the menu as Chicken with Radish and Ponzu (160 baht) the Japanese literate will read it as “Stupid Chicken”. Probably because it’s stupid good!
The dish is made with deep fried breaded chicken thigh cutlets topped with savory radish, spring onions, and a citrusy ponzu sauce. The sweet acidity of the sauce cuts through the fattiness of the juicy chicken with delicious effects. Oishi!
Saving the best for last!
Despite the fact that every dish I’ve just described is delicious with some real standouts to recommend, if you need any reason to visit Rakuu it’s for their incredible okonomiyaki. Forget about dessert. Save room for this!
I first discovered okonomiyaki on a trip to Kyoto. The word is literally translated as “grill as you like” because the ingredients are so versatile they can be adapted to please. The version I had in Kyoto is much thinner than the cake like serving Rakuu dishes out. But not only is Rukuu’s okonomiyaki infinitely more Instagrammable, it’s also incredibly delicious. This is the kind of dish that once eaten you will crave it time and again. I need a fix now.
At Rakuu you can order the okonomiyaki with cheese, squid, pork, a combination of the ingredients, or all of the ingredients as a “deluxe”. Because I like all of the ingredients and am apparently unable to restrain my gluttony, I ordered the Deluxe Okonomiyaki (280 baht).
The filling is made with finely chopped veggies (I tasted broccoli and maybe cauliflower), tempura scraps, eggs, flour, and of course the pork, and squid. After this pancake is grilled it’s topped with cheese, and then coated with a savory okonomiyaki sauce, decorated with streaks of Japanese mayonnaise, and dusted with bits of aonori seaweed. It’s a dish that has to be cooked teppan style in order to be perfected!
If you leave Rakuu without trying their okonomiyaki then you did it wrong.
A word about drinks
Rakuu offers an extensive drink menu. If you’re a beer drinker they have Asahi Super Dry on draft for 110 baht a glass. If whiskey is your thing you can order it by the glass or purchase bottles and it set aside for future visits. The restaurant has several shelves of whiskey with customer name tags attached. They’ve also got saki and shochu available along with various cocktails.
One libation I’d like to mention because it was so unique and appreciated by my gal, was this Yuki Awa Sparkling Sake (800 baht). Loosely translated as “snow bubbles”, it combines yuzu fruit citrus sweetness with mellow sake and fizz. I’d describe it as the Japanese equivalent to the mimosa. If you’re a hardcore sake fan you might not care for the non-traditional flavor. But if you’re adventurous try it–you might like it. Kampai!
Rakuu – A family restaurant
Rakuu has been operating in Bangkok for 8 years. It was passed down from father to son to continue as a family operation. Minimal decor and muted colors create a pleasant ambience for dining–and further my theory that the Japanese are the Swedes of Asia. I say this because the minimalist color palette, cozy accents, and striking modern furniture do mimic Scandinavian interior design.
They have open seating, several semi-private tables tucked away, 3 private rooms with tatami mats for private dining, as well as bar style seating available to directly observe the chef demonstrating their teppan cooking prowess.
Bottom line it’s a great place for diners to come single, as a couple, or in any size group for a delicious experience that won’t break the bank, with extraordinary service, in a relaxed environment.
I’m hungry. Where is it?
Rakuu is located on Sukhumvit 33 Alley, a small side street that connects Sukhumvit Soi 31 with Sukhumvit Soi 33. Parking is available for drivers. It’s also a 15 minute walk from the Sukhumvit MRT station or Asok BTS for folks wanting to hoof it.
Should you decide to visit I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below. If you have a favorite Japanese restaurant that you think is a hidden gem in Bangkok why not tell me about it? I get a lot of my article inspiration from food savvy readers like you!