Isaribi Tei

Special thanks to Isaribi Tei for extending this food review invitation.

Isaribi Tei Japanese Restaurant (いさりび亭) at Chow Thye Road cannot be any closer to nature. Opened since 2004, this Japanese restaurant has an exterior appearance of a nature reserve.
The restaurant owner, Mr. Yasuyuki Kayashima (茅島康之さん), is a food technologist by profession. Mr. Kaya (a contraction of his family name) has worked for many years in Europe and Thailand, before settling down in Penang around 10 years ago. The word "Isaribi" (漁火) refers to bonfire used by fishermen use to lure fish at night. This serves as a metaphor for the restaurant's ability to attract customers with its lively assortment of Japanese fusion food.
Isaribi Tei assimilates Japanese dishes with elements of other influences, particularly European cuisine. With over 300 dishes in its extensive menu, each dish has been meticulously crafted from scratch, taking into consideration all angles including visual, gastronomical and diner's experience.
Starting with sushi, the appetizer of choice is Saba Maki (鯖巻き, RM25.00). Raw mackerel, approximately a third of an inch in thickness, is served over rice. The appearance of silvery skin facing upwards makes this dish resemble more like nigiri (握り) than maki (巻き).
In Japanese cuisine, mackerel is typically cooked due to its firmer texture which requires some heating to soften. Therefore, serving raw mackerel is relative uncommon. Nevertheless, the fish carries mild saltiness which complements the tanginess of vinegar-laced short-grain rice. Served alongside the sushi is pickled ginger (ガリ) and wasabi (山葵).
Moving on to Spanish-influenced tapas, Juicy Oysters (牡蠣グルメ, RM30.00) take the center stage. Oysters are battered with wheat flour and then deep-fried to crisp. Served over cucumber slices, the oysters are topped with mayonnaise drizzle and shrimp roe (えびこ).
Another showcase of Japanese fusion food is demonstrated in the Rainbow Trout Cordon Bleu (虹鱒コルドンブルー, RM30.00). Inspired by French culinary arts, Pacific trout is stuffed with potato salad (ポテトサラダ) and cheese (チーズ) à la cordon bleu. The fish is then deep-fried to golden perfection. Rainbow trout is known for its delicate texture, so great care has been taken during cooking. The trout has mild flavor, therefore cheese is used to enhance its appeal.
From time to time, Isaribi Tei introduces new items on temporary basis. Today, Kimuchi Pork Ramen (キムチ豚ラーメン, RM25.00) is on the seasonal menu. Pickled napa cabbage lends its appetizing savory flavor to the pork broth. Also included are succulent slices of pork.
Unlike its Korean counterpart, Japanese kimchi is prepared without fermentation. Therefore, the cabbage lacks lactic acid which is responsible for sourish sensation. Instead, Japanese kimchi places more emphasis on sweetness and savoriness, as opposed to pungency and tanginess.
Isaribi Tei has 15 different types of bento (弁当), each with an interesting theme such as samurai (侍) and daimyo (大名). Most types include rice or noodles, so each serving is a staple meal on its own. There are also a handful of vegetarian versions. Each bento meal includes a bowl of miso soup (味噌汁).

Teriyaki Bento (照り焼き弁当, RM36.00) features teriyaki-style delicacies, comprising of teriyaki chicken, chicken skin, unagi and nori tsukudani (海苔佃煮).
The teriyaki chicken is grilled to the ideal level of tenderness, then covered with sesame seeds for enhanced aroma. Chicken skin (とりかわ) in skewer (串焼き) style is another lovely treat, thanks to the intense teriyaki seasoning and its lovely layers of fat.
Unagi (鰻) is one of the more highly-sought fish in Japanese cuisine. This freshwater eel is prized for its unique texture which absorbs flavors readily. Unagi is almost never eaten raw. Instead, the fish is customarily grilled and glazed with tare (垂れ) sauce to yield sweet-savoriness.
Nori tsukudani (海苔佃煮) is seldom served in local Japanese restaurants, but I have several reasons to suggest that it should be. To prepare nori tsukudani, seaweed is simmered in mirin and soy sauce for several hours. During this process, the seaweed becomes saturated with pleasant sweetness. Due to its intense flavor, only a small amount is required to enjoy with rice.

Potato salad (ポテトサラダ) is served on the side. The salad is made from mashed potatoes with chopped vegetables such as carrots and cucumber.
It is difficult to choose a bento from a list where each one has a unique character. For the adventurous diner, try the Ninja Bento (忍者弁当, RM38.00). This platter consists of spicy zarusoba, soft-shell crab maki, assorted tempura and salmon sashimi.
Zarusoba (笊蕎麦) is cold-served buckwheat noodles that are traditionally presented over a bamboo tray (笊). The noodles are unorthodoxly flavored with chili oil (ラー油) and sesame oil (ごま油), then covered with mayonnaise (マヨネーズ) and chopped scallions. Despite my initial skepticism, the soba noodles are not excessively spicy. Regardless, its sharp flavor really helps to elevate the noodles to greater height.
Next is maki sushi with deep-fried soft-shell crab (ソフトシェルクラブ) and cucumber at the center. The crab is harvested just after it shed its old shell before its new shell hardens. Therefore, the chitinous plating is sufficiently soft to be eaten. The sushi is topped with mayonnaise drizzle and colored roe (とびこ).
Also included are assorted pieces of tempura (天麩羅), which comprises of a couple of large shrimps and several pieces of sweet potato. The shrimps are notable for their freshness, as evident from their crunchy and sweet flesh. Tempura is cooked very briefly with extremely hot oil, so that the batter turns crispy without absorbing too much oil. As usual, tempura is served with tentsuyu (てんつゆ) as dipping sauce.
Last but not least, the bento includes three pieces of salmon sashimi (サーモン刺身). In preparing sashimi, Norwegian farmed salmon is favored over their Pacific cousins as the former has the fatty texture that provide better mouthfeel for sashimi.
Other items on Isaribi Tei's menu are temaki (手巻き), teppanyaki (鉄板焼き), grilled dishes (焼き物), fried dishes (揚げ物), claypot dishes (鍋物), rice dishes (丼物) and Western dishes (洋食). Homemade ice cream is also available, with over a dozen flavors such as black sesame, yuzu, wasabi and blue cheese.
As part of the restaurant's corporate social responsibility, Isaribi Tei strives to be environmentally friendly. For example, food waste is converted to compost, which is subsequently used as fertilizer in the garden. This allows the restaurant to maintain its greenery without relying on synthetic fertilizers.

Name: Isaribi Tei Japanese Restaurant (いさりび亭)
Address: 60, Jalan Chow Thye, 10050 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-229-8684
Business hours: 11:30am-3:00pm, 6:00pm-10:00pm
Coordinates: 5.42472 N, 100.32047 E
Directions: From Burmah Road (Jalan Burma), turn right to Service Road (Jalan Servis), then right again at Irrawaddy Road (Jalan Irrawadi). At the next crossroad, turn right again to Chow Thye Road (Jalan Chow Thye). Isaribi Tei is one of the shops on the right almost at the end of the road. Street parking is available. There is also a private car park at the back of the restaurant, accessible from Burmah Road.


  1. Please review this Japanese restaurant again as an anonymous customer with regards to the owner's rudeness and poor attitude. Some Facebookers had written about his rudeness and prejudice.
    Had lunch today, after the 1st order was taken, I wanted to order more dishes. I said politely in japanese to the owner but he replied rudely "next time order together". My family and I were appalled by his rudeness and lack of PR. I have experienced Japanese to be polite and welcoming as I have stayed in Japan before. But he's unlike anyone of them.
    I also experienced him to have prejudice towards some customers as he was very friendly to a Japanese next to my table.

    I feel that good food should come with good service,attitude and PR. That should be part of a genuine review which perhaps could only happen if you are a mystery diner and not invited to review the restaurant.

    1. Hi Marie, thank you for your feedback. I am aware of several cases of similar incidents.

      I will see what I can do with regards to anonymous visiting. I do so from time to time. :-)