Proof that eating out on your own in Japan can be better than dining with company. 

A table for one isn’t anything to feel sad about in Japan, where counter seating and solo dining booths make you feel like you’re eating out at a home away from home, where nobody expects you to help with the cooking, or the cleanup afterwards.

Our Japanese-language reporter Yuuichiro Wasai is a big fan of solo dining, so when he heard about a restaurant chain called Hitori Shabu Shabu Ichi (Solo Shabu Shabu One), he couldn’t think of a better place to eat lunch.

▼ Yuuichiro has previously enjoyed his own company at solo-booth yakiniku chains and solo-booth karaoke chains, so he was looking forward to solo shabu shabu.

Our self-appointed “table-for-one professional” brought a wealth of expertise to his solitary lunch date, and it actually turned out to be a one-of-a kind experience that solo diners will fall in love with.

▼ The noren curtain at the entrance to the restaurant reads: “Solo Shabu Shabu” with “ichi” written in the red box on the bottom corner.

Stepping inside the restaurant reveals a very unusual setup, and diners’ eyes will be immediately drawn to the central conveyor belt, where dishes of meat revolve past the counter like fish at a sushi restaurant.

The spinning belt of meat made Yuuichiro’s heart fill with joy, as he hadn’t expected to see a conveyor belt sushi setup at a shabu shabu establishment. While partitions can be slotted beside diners to separate them at the counter, the restaurant was empty when Yuuichiro visited so staff seated him at a two-seater booth and handed him a tablet for ordering, which he placed into the metal stand at the side.

As soon as he settled into his seat, Yuuichiro felt like a king gazing at a feast of meat parading before him, and each dish was covered with a “cold-storage dome” to ensure the morsels inside stayed fresh.

Yuuichiro was seriously impressed by the wide variety of meat on offer, which covered not just beef but other specialties like pork loin, chicken meatballs, duck loin and lamb loin.

▼ Yuuichiro started his hot pot meal with a serving of duck loin.

The quality of the meat here was on par with high-end shabu shabu restaurants, and once he started picking dishes up off the conveyor belt, he couldn’t stop.

One thing he highly recommends trying is beef tongue shabu shabu, which he’d never had before. Dipping the beef tongue into the hotpot for a moment gave it a tender texture and the combination turned out to be so incredibly tasty Yuuichiro reckons it should become a signature dish for the chain.

According to Yuuichiro, eating on your own at shabu shabu restaurants can be a bit disappointing, as each serving of meat is so large it tends to limit the variety you can order. Here, though, the serving sizes are specially designed for one person, so it’s easy to enjoy all sorts of beef, pork, chicken, lamb, and duck cuts in one sitting.

▼ This is a game changer for solo diners, and with all-you-can-eat specials starting at 1,000 yen (US$9.20) for 60 minutes, it’s an incredibly good deal too.

The 1,000-yen offer covers all-you-can-eat broth and small bowls, with meat dishes charged separately, so Yuuichiro opted for the 90-minute all-you-can-eat-meat-plus-small-bowls course for 2,500 yen. For those with more time, there’s a two-hour all-you-can-eat-and-drink course for 4,000 yen and a two-hour all-you-can-drink special priced at 980 yen.

▼ “Small bowls”, which usually cost 100 yen each, contain rice with meaty toppings to help fill you up at the end of your meal.

▼ The small bowls change daily, so you never know what surprises await you when you visit!

At the end of his 90-minute feast, Yuuichiro’s bill came to 3,465 yen, with the extra cost on top of the all-you-can-eat price going towards things like two types of hotpot broth, along with mushrooms and onion slices.

The billing system can be a little complicated for first-time visitors, but staff are happy to walk you through all the plans and prices for additional extras. For the quality of everything on offer, and the amount he ate, Yuuichiro was more than happy with the price he paid for his meal and highly recommends it to solo diners.

After opening its first branch in Nishi-Shinjuku in October 2019 the chain has now expanded into Kobe and Okinawa from this month, so here’s hoping more locations will be added in the near future. And if you’re looking for more awesome solo-dining options, don’t forget to check out these personal booths at the Gusto family restaurant chain and the Sushiro sushi conveyor belt restaurant chain!

Related: Hitori Shabu Shabu Ichi
Photos © SoraNews24
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