Article By James Morrow
1F, East Building, Sofitel Xi’an, No.319, Dongxin Street.
(029) 8792 7680
11:30am – 2:00pm
5:30pm – 10:00pm
Average Price per Person /人均消费: 350RMB
There are many different outlets for Japanese cuisine, a great majority vastly underwhelming. There are sushi restaurants, ramen restaurants, and Japanese-style barbeques at a variety of price points that, while sometimes good, provide food and experiences that often falls short of the lofty expectations that the concept of Japanese food brings to mind. KOI, the Japanese restaurant at the esteemed Sofitel at Renmin Square, immediately seemed different.
We entered through the garden, a mixture of large slate stones and green plants with ample outdoor seating that looks as if it would be a wonderful place to eat. Too cold at this time of year though. Once you enter the restaurant, you immediately notice the thought that has gone into the design of this place. The centerpiece of the main floor is the teppanyaki counter, where customers can sit up close and personal with the chefs as they prepare food on the iron griddle. Everywhere you look, small details help to create a feeling that you have been transported far away. From the artwork on the walls to the kimono and sandals worn by the waitstaff, you can tell that careful consideration has gone into everything.
After being seated and offered tea and warm towels, we had a chance to peruse the menu. There was a wide selection of different Japanese dishes, including sushi, sashimi, tempura, and, of course, teppanyaki. There were many interesting options on the menu that I had not previously seen on restaurant menus in Japanese restaurants in Xi’an, with various grades of Wagyu beef, Otoro (Fatty belly) tuna, and pufferfish. Yes, the highly toxic one. With so many possibilities on offer, the manager suggested that we try the Kaiseki.
Kaiseki is a traditional form of Japanese dining where multiple courses are brought out and served to each guest at a banquet. It is said that this was the inspiration for modern haute cuisine and the tasting menu, which is essentially what this is. Our meal began with a trio of starters; a ham omelet, cold octopus tentacles, and some kind of finely shredded pickle. Next was a delicately dressed seaweed salad with various types of seaweeds, lettuce, pickled ginger, and cucumber flowers that had just a little bite from the wasabi in the dressing. Following this we were offered three different types of sashimi; tuna, salmon, and horse mackerel. The fish itself had a very clean smell, a sign of its freshness, and the salmon was exceptionally buttery in texture. This dishes was served with freshly grated wasabi. None of the green paste was in sight.
The next dish was served in a tea pot with a small cup containing a lime wedge. We were instructed to pour the contents over the lime in the bowl. What came out was a clear and intensely flavorful seafood soup that was at once light and refreshing, but also incredibly deep in flavor. Once the soup was gone (far too quickly), we opened the lid of the pot to find shrimp, scallop, mushrooms, and abalone as the seasonings for the soup. They too were delicious.
Next was a small selection of tempura. While this was good, and all of the ingredients were perfectly cooked, there is not much to say. Fried shrimp is always delicious. The next course was a large prawn that had been cooked on the teppan. It was just done, not over-done, and lightly seasoned. The dipping sauce it was served with was a sweet accoutrement to the flavors of the grill. After this we received an excellent piece of grilled fish, well-cooked with firm flesh and a squeeze of lime.
Following this was certainly a highlight of the menu, a piece of 3A Wagyu beef. Judging from the marbling and quality of the color, this appeared to be the real deal. The meat came exactly as we ordered it, very rare. The flavor of the meat was superb, and the fat running through it provided an excellent mouthfeel. It was tender and flavorful. One of the best pieces of meat you’ll find in Xi’an.
Following this we were offered two pieces of nigiri sushi, salmon and tuna, which were both excellent, followed quickly by a bowl of eel rice. To be honest, while this eel rice was very good, there are now places in Xi’an that do it better. Or, perhaps, the steak was just so good that by comparison, the eel rice felt unexceptional. Our meal concluded with an almond pudding topped with fresh fruit.
This meal was an experience, to be sure. One thing to be warned of before heading here. This is a five-star restaurant in a five-star hotel and the prices reflect that. The meal that we were served runs at 798RMB per person, without alcohol. There are plenty of à la carte options, some more expensive, some less, however this is unlikely to become a daily restaurant for most people.
In all, this restaurant would be a great location for a special occasion, especially for a person who loves Japanese cuisine. The ingredients are top-quality, service is professional, and the craftsmanship put into everything, from the dishes to the décor, makes this a restaurant worth trying.
James is currently living in Xi’an and loving it, from the food to the people.