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Why do people like Sawada so much?

Algerena | Mar 4, 201801:53 AM

Greetings everyone; the question I have is about Sawada in Ginza.

Both the international community (Instagram, Michelin, etc.) and the local community (Tabelog) seem to rave about this place, and there seems to be not one (English-speaking) blogger who expresses any complaint. Many Chowhound reviews - the threads can easily be searched - also provide good to very good reviews.

Having just dined there for lunch, we left quite confused, and formed the controversial opinion that our meal at Sawada was somewhere between "average" to "good" - certainly nowhere close to "great". Here are some broad points to note:

1) Shari - the rice was mushy, somewhat sticky, and uniformly salty. There was no interesting depth of flavor like the refreshing balance at Kanesaka shops or the sharp punch at akazu-heavy shops: Sawada's rice was just salty, finito. It was disproportionately sized for some pieces such that for some, there was too much, and others, too little.

2) Neta - one of the things that attracted us most to Sawada was his apparent ability to source extremely high-quality-neta, especially maguro. Let's talk maguro first: the maguro (and corresponding chutoro, shimofuri, and jabara) had excellent texture, but on the day of our visit the umami was just not there. Speaking unfortunately, we've had (much) better tuna in restaurants NOT in Japan, on their good days, e.g. at Kanesaka's offshoot store in Singapore. This came as a shock to us, as Sawada is supposedly renowned for his tuna. Then there was a glaring problem (If this is standard, or something that is supposed to occur, please correct us): some of the neta he served were "ice cold." Literally, the chef took out some neta from the fridge, sliced it, and served it to us. The resultant flavors were very weird, as you can imagine; these "semi-frozen" neta were hard to chew and contrasted sharply with the moderate temperature of the shari. Finally, with regards to the variety of other neta: some items were good, but for some, we've had better elsewhere: e.g. shima aji, sayori, awabi. Besides the anago, which was phenomenal, there was nothing that particularly captivated us. Of course there was the "uni tower" which was extravagant, but it seemed more flashy than anything.

On the plus point, Sawada-san was nice and cordial, and the meal was indeed filling. Still, it wasn't filling in that comfortable way that makes you crave the next visit. In our opinion there was nothing memorable enough so as to warrant a repeat visit (which, we will concede, is often necessary to fully evaluate the merits of a sushi-ya).

So back to the original question: why do people like Sawada so much? For those who are repeat diners, or well-versed at Tokyo sushi, perhaps you can provide some comments. Did we catch him on a not-so-good day? Are our palates not particularly refined enough such that we could not truly enjoy his sushi and potential hidden nuances? Is our dislike for his salty-mushy shari simply a unique preference? Some discussion would be interesting and educational, and as we are still learning more about sushi overall, some thoughts would be appreciated.

[Note: We went for lunch and paid a little less than ¥55,000 for two - around 23 nigiri. Since we didn't have his otsumami we can't comment on that.]

Sawada
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