[Warning - this is a long post and it’s entirely about sushi. If you don’t like sushi, you would do well to skip this!]
Given the increased interest in sushi in recent years, and to thank various Chowhounders who have provided generous advice over the past months, I’d like to report on the sushi-ya that I visited in 2018. Someday these summaries will be transformed into full articles (website sushisibz.com), but for now these will have to do. There is certainly much more to say about each sushi-ya but I’ve tried to keep the descriptions short here, and if you’d like me to expand on something I’d be more than happy to. Given I am by no means an expert, dissenting views and and educational comments are always welcome.
After visiting all these places, if there’s one thing I would advise, it would be to discover your own preferences and think for yourself. It may not be necessary to rip your hairs out trying to go to Saito or Sugita (although I admit that this is hard advice to follow). Actually, my best meals were at places that weren’t particularly difficult to book. At the end of the day, it all comes down to what YOU like, so be sure to cast a wide net in your search for great sushi. Wherever you go, you will likely have a great time.
Most of my meals were enjoyable; the ones that were less so, you can probably ascertain after reading on. Nonetheless, every single meal was a valuable learning opportunity - an insight into not only a chef’s conception of good flavor, but also his character, philosophy, and sense of aesthetics.
Below, I’ve tried to score sushi-yas, based on my on my very subjective taste/preferences, out of 10. Food scores don’t go below 5; “CP” stands for cost-performance or value-for-money. There will doubtless be those who disagree vehemently with some of my reviews. I see this as a positive rather than a negative: part of the reason sushi is so beautiful and fun is because we all have different palates and enjoy different things.
[Quick reference of sushiya visited: 1. Sawada 2. Takumi Shingo; 3. Jiro 4. Kimura 5. Hakkoku 6. Ishiyama 7. Takamitsu 8. Sushisho Masa 9. Shimizu 10. Tenzushi 11. Kikuzushi 12. Hashimoto 13. Daisanharumi 14. Harutaka 15. Ichijo 16. Inomata 17. Mekumi]
So without further ado, in mostly chronological order of my visits:
Nigiri: 5/10, CP: 3/10
(~¥26,000pp, lunch, x24 nigiri)
Sawada, one of the “Ginza Greats,” is known for extremely high quality neta, primarily tuna. Unfortunately, Sawada turned out to be one of my least favorite experiences. I visited for lunch, during which only nigiri was served. My main issues were twofold: 1) On my visit, the shari was very poorly done. First, it was too salty for my taste - there was no complex vinegar taste from the komezu as at Harutaka/Jiro (see Reviews #3/14 below); it was a straight-up salt bomb. But shari taste is subjective and I gather this works well with sake, so this is excusable. What I didn’t find so nice was that the shari was also too clumped together, as if there was very little air inside, and it had a mushy, slimy texture. Maybe this was a one-time thing/off-day; your mileage may very well vary. 2) There is the issue of using “iced neta” - i.e. Sawada-san took pieces straight out of the freezer, sliced them, then made nigiri with them. The super-cold, crusty, tough neta didn’t work very well for me.
Neta quality is generally good although not outstanding (e.g. his tuna was good but I would not say it is the best). The anago, prepared by his wife, was sublime and dissolved in the mouth. But I didn’t particularly enjoy many of the pieces (bafun uni tower was uncomfortable to eat and the uni itself was fine but not great; kurumaebi was large but had very little flavor; clams like akagai were very mediocre; then there were lots of iced neta like kasugo and sawara). I have heard that Sawada-san’s dinner course is much better and includes extreme-quality otsumami, so that might be worth a try. At this pricing, however, I don’t think I would return.
[Service/Atmosphere]: Serious but friendly. Little English spoken. Very sleek since this is a husband-and-wife affair with no disciples. Sawada-san’s (and his wife’s) bow at the end of the meal, which they maintained until the elevator doors closed, was a nice gesture and gave me goosebumps.
[Reservation]: Booked through Hotel concierge ~1 month in advance.
2. TAKUMI SHINGO
Otsumami: 8/10, Nigiri: 7/10, CP: 6/10
(~¥26,500 pp, dinner, ~12 nigiri + ~12 otsumami)
Shingo-san is one of Keiji Nakazawa’s most senior disciples. Elements of the Sushi Sho experience are faithfully recreated here: multiple shari is used for different neta (akashari and shiroshari in Shingo-san’s case); otsumami is interspersed with nigiri; certain signature items (ankimo narazuke, kinmedai with its skin) are served. One of the key differences is that Shingo-san offers a much more condensed version of the Sho experience, with ~25 items (rather than the 35++ odd items that you would find at another Sho restaurant. Example: see Sushi Sho Masa, #8, below).
As this was my first Sho-style meal, the experience was kind of fun. Items were served in a seemingly random order, even among diners (i.e. your 2nd otsumami could be their 10th one). Otsumami were excellent, notable items being grilled tachiuo and sawara bozushi. Nigiri was also to my liking, with consistently decent/good pieces (I actually preferred the tuna here than at Sawada!) and some serious flavor bombs (ankimo narazuke and anago). Perhaps some minor gripes I have are that both types of shari were quite light-tasting and did not do too much to elevate the flavor of each neta they were paired with. I also agree that Sho-style meals can distract you from fully enjoying the nigiri due to the random ordering of items served, although I gather this works very well with sake. Overall a very good meal and no complaints here; I wouldn’t mind returning, although it is certainly pricey.
[Service/Atmosphere]: Personally found the air here to be extremely clear (i.e. Shingo-san is very friendly; I felt completely relaxed). Chefs tried their best to speak English but weren’t too protrusive.
[Reservation:] Booked through Hotel concierge ~1 month in advance. You can also book through Tableall.
3. JIRO HONTEN
Nigiri: 7/10, CP: 3/10
(¥35,570 pp, dinner, x20 nigiri)
Jiro has been beaten to death so this review will be as robotic as the manner in which we were served :-). The pieces here are large and quite generously-sized (especially the gunkanmaki!). Komezu shari was incredibly powerful; I enjoyed the heavy vinegar taste, which was quite complex and distinctive, but I can see why some people might not like it. Shari can definitely induce palate fatigue by the 12th or so piece. Quality of produce was extremely high. Some pieces didn’t work so well for me (I thought his kohada was way too sour - maybe the most sour I’ve had; too much wasabi on the earlier pieces; not a big fan of his tsume sauce and consequently the items like hamaguri/anago), but the tuna was very good. I generally liked his sushi and I think it’s worth a try, but at this price I would not be inclined to return.
[Service/Atmosphere]: I didn’t find the service to be poor, as many people have said. If you have basic etiquette you will be treated just fine. Yoshikazu-san, who served us that night, was actually quite polite. The meal was very fast and transactional - again, no surprises here, so calibrate your expectations accordingly.
[Reservation]: Booked through Hotel concierge ~1 month in advance.
Otsumami: 6/10, Nigiri: 5/10, CP: 2/10
(¥30,000 pp++ / Tableall, dinner; x10 otsumami + x11 nigiri)
Kimura is the master of “extended jukusei” - aging fish for a comparatively extended period of time (up to 50 days in some cases). When I first visited, I thought that I couldn’t appreciate this sushi-ya. However, after visiting around 15 or so sushiya - and this is probably the harshest I’ll get in this post - I can safely say that for me, there is no need to ever return to Kimura. The true connoisseurs and master gourmands seem to love this place so there is a very good chance that my palate is amateurish, but of all my sushi experiences this was the least enjoyable of all.
The otsumami course is esoteric and consists of creative dishes you probably won’t find anywhere else. For me the otsumami remarkably polarizing and hit-or-miss, with some disastrous dishes (the infamous “watarigani shiokara”), pedestrian dishes (aged ankimo paste), and superb dishes (uni soba - REALLY liked this; shirako risotto) sandwiched together. When taken as a whole, these things were really not my cup of tea.
Nigiri is where it all took a nose-dive for me. The philosophy behind Kimura-san’s nigiri is certainly interesting: age fish to significantly soften their texture, then pair them with umami-rich shari that is on the hard side to create a nice textural contrast. My issue was that the extended aging process seemed to remove most, if not all, of the flavor from the neta. It is a totally different style of aging from Inomata (see below Review #16), who also practices some extended jukusei but adds significant flavor while doing so.
Kinmedai, sayori, meji maguro - I had to try very hard to discern any difference between these pieces (again, it might very well be that my palate is amateurish). Regarding aji, it seemed like all the fat and good parts had been removed, and it had been infused with water to create something devoid of flavor. Jukusei shima ebi, marinated in brandy (I believe), had me wondering why you would take such a premium ingredient and transform it into that kind of abomination. Makajiki introduced a whole new dimension of texture and taste - I did find the coffee and caramel fudge flavors interesting - but I didn’t really like it and felt the flavors were out of place in a sushi meal.
Andy Hayler may not be an authority when it comes to Japanese cuisine, but his thoughts on Kimura resonate well with me here, so I’ll leave you with them: “If I am going to pay the best part of £200 for sushi then the question remains as to whether I would choose this or eat regular sushi. From a flavour perspective, I would always choose conventional sushi. Just because something can be done food wise does not mean that it always should be done, and while I can admire the skill involved here I cannot say that I would rush back to try it again.”
Regarding pricing, I’m not sure why the price has crept up so much in recent years, as I know this used to be a very good value sushi-ya (~¥15,000). Overall, perhaps Kimura is worth a try, at least to see if you like it. I am personally perplexed as to why this is booked until the end of time, and I would much rather visit sushi-ya that are far less gimmicky (e.g. see Shimizu, #9; Ichijo, #15 below). Some folks may also find Kimura-san’s laborious daily schedule admirable, but I found equal (if not greater) toiling/dedication and certainly more heart and humility at Mekumi (see Review #17 below).
[Service/Atmosphere:] Somewhat friendly, but not sure why we were charged ¥3,000 for a bottle of water. Some English spoken.
[Reservation:] Very difficult to book but there have been an increasing number of openings this past year. I booked through Tableall, which is definitely your best bet. If you really want to visit, you might also try contacting Kimura-san via Messenger or Instagram (@sushikimurakoji).
Nigiri: 7.5/10, CP: 6/10
(¥29,000 pp / Tableall, lunch, x22 nigiri)
Hakkoku houses three counters that seat 6 diners each. It is well-known for two things: the unique aka-shari which has a very deep red color and the high quality of tuna. I understand Sato-san (head chef) used to serve otsumami back in his Tokami days but these days eating at Hakkoku is, as one individual has described, a “nigiri barrage.” Prepare to be served up to 30 nigiri for dinner!
I visited Hakkoku shortly after it opened and was seated at sous-chef Saito-san’s counter at lunch. While there are sometimes issues with sous chefs’ nigiri shaping, I did not notice any with Saito-san’s and thought that he made some very fine nigiri. The signature aka-shari is punchy: compared to the aka-shari served at “old-school” sushiyas (see Shimizu #9 and Ichijo #15 below), I would say that Hakkoku’s aka-shari is less sour and more umami. This had the tendency to overwhelm some of the more delicate pieces served (e.g. hirame, sumi ika), but synergized superbly with the fattier and more powerful pieces (e.g. saba, iwashi, tuna). The tuna was very good - not life-changing, but satisfying enough. Vegetable palate cleansers were quite pleasant, and the meal finished off with a nice creme-brulee-style tamago with a caramelized top. A very solid meal!
[Service/Atmosphere]: Very gaijin-friendly as the chefs try to speak English and there is an English menu provided.
[Reservation]: Booked through Tableall ~1 month in advance but hotel concierge is also possible.
Nigiri: 7.5/10, CP: 9.5/10
(¥10,800, lunch, x15 nigiri and a few otsumami)
Ishiyama-san left Sushi Ya early this year and opened a shop in Ginza under his name. As a chef who has trained under both Kanesaka and Saito, his sushi bears resemblances to the styles of both masters: pieces are relatively small and paired with balanced, almost-neutral shari.
Long story short, I was quite impressed by the quality of nigiri here. The shari was lightly seasoned (using only akazu, I believe), with hints of vinegar permeating into the tongue every now and then, and I would think it is very welcoming shari if you had not had much sushi before. Almost all of the neta was good (although not outstanding). Highlights were smoked katsuo that tasted like a fine Iberico ham, saba bozushi with kelp wrapped around it, and well-marinated ikura. Presumably to keep prices reasonable, tuna from New Zealand was used during my visit, and while it was not the best I thought Ishiyama-san did a very good job processing it. Even though I ordered the smallest lunch course, it was extremely filling, concluding with two large kanpyo maki and one of my favorite tamago to date.
I would not say the meal was perfect. There were some pacing issues, with occasional long gaps between pieces, and I found his light shari to be quite dull as the meal went on. But the nigiri was very orthodox and well-constructed, and I believe that Ishiyama-san has a lot of potential. Lunch courses are very reasonably-priced, although the dinner omakase will cost upwards of ¥25,000. I would love to return in the future.
[Service/Atmosphere]: Friendly; Ishiyama-san is on the quiet side but speaks great English. Bumped into little_meg here too!
[Reservation]: Booked through Hotel concierge ~1 month in advance. You can also book through Tableall.
Otsumami: 8/10, Nigiri: 8/10, CP: 6.5/10
(¥29,000, x13 otsumami and x14 nigiri)
Takamitsu is consistently hyped on social media, but for good reason, I would say. Although most of what you see are pictures of the exorbitant display uni/maguro displays, I was quite impressed by the quality of all of his offerings.
Interestingly, otsumami was interspersed with nigiri here. The otsumami was extremely solid and ranged from conventional sashimi preparations (e.g. an insanely delightful awabi; amazing uni tasting platter) to more creative dishes (e.g. namako chawanmushi). The nigiri was also well-done. Apparently he uses a blend of three akazu, and the overall effect is aka-shari that is on the umami side and has decent presence. The uni gunkans and maguro (from Boston) were good, but not necessarily superior to other seasonal nigiri like shinko and sanma. Takamitsu-san’s pieces are bite-sized and on the small side; personally I like bigger pieces, but the nigiri was still flawless.
Some people may find the showmanship gimmicky but I had tons of fun. It was well-rehearsed and in my opinion, not obnoxious: you can’t help but join in the fun as you venerate a maguro block and sea urchin boxes, and take lots and lots of pictures. This place is definitely not all about theatrics, as Takamitsu-san has some serious skills. I can only foresee that getting a reservation here will be increasingly difficult, and I would love to come back.
[Service/Atmosphere]: Very friendly; there is an English-speaking chef. Extremely relaxing and all guests are united in conversation/laughter. The diners and chefs seem to have a lot of personality and aren’t those serious, monotonal types. Takamitsu-san tries to involve all diners so even the shy types won’t feel lonely here!
[Reservation]: Booked through Hotel concierge ~3 months in advance. Reportedly, you can call yourself in English - give it a try!
8. SUSHISHO MASA
Otsumami: 6.5/10, Nigiri: 6/10, CP: 5/10
(¥27,000, dinner, approximately x50 items)
Sushi Sho Masa is quite popular with foreign guests and is known for offering a sushi feast. At least 50 items are served over the course of a few hours. It also exhibits qualities of the Sushi Sho style which I described earlier: otsumami served in between nigiri, and incredible variety of products. However, the big difference is that only one kind of shari (seasoned with akazu) is prepared, which was totally fine by me.
The emphasis appears to be on preparing an ingredient/its body parts in multiple ways, then serving them over a few courses. To name a few examples: I got sawara nigiri followed by aburi sawara sashimi; and in another instance, barbecued anago sashimi followed by its liver followed by anago nigiri. The contrasting preparations demonstrate divergent properties in the same ingredient, which is an interesting philosophy. However, I found the quality of most items served to be average at best. Exceptional pieces (ankimo sashimi, bafun uni on rice, kohada nigiri) were neutralized by a lot of immemorable ones (too many to list), leaving me slightly confused and ambivalent at the end of the meal.
I did appreciate the variety served and I think this would be a great introduction to sushi ingredients, but diners who have had more sushi experiences might not like it so much. Note that although many of the items are small in size, eating 50+ items, as you might imagine, is intensely filling. I am not sure I would return as I much preferred the more concise course at Takumi Shingo (see above, #2).
[Service/Atmosphere]: Friendly; most chefs speak some English. They will show you a book of sushi ingredients which is a nice gesture.
[Reservation]: Booked through Hotel concierge ~1 month in advance. You can also book through Pocket Concierge.
Nigiri: (9.5-10)/10, CP: 10/10
(#1: ¥14,500, lunch, x18 nigiri)
(#2: ¥14,000, lunch, x17 nigiri)
(#3: ¥19,000, dinner, x20 nigiri + tuna futomaki)
This is currently my favorite sushi-ya. What Shimizu offers is basically no-nonsense, orthodox sushi that represent concentrated grenades of flavor. Don’t come here expecting anything fancy (there are no outrageously-priced ingredients or gimmicks here); come to experience the powerful vision and hand of a seriously skilled master.
If I were to identify one fault about Shimizu...I don’t think I could. Across 3 visits and 55+ pieces of nigiri, nothing was ever remotely close to bad, and most pieces were excellent. His shari is quite sour; it may mellow out over time as he pairs it with more intensely-flavored neta, but it is always in the background and has commanding presence. I actually think the shari even synergizes very well white white fish. Temperature control, nigiri cohesion, flavor calibration, etc. are all flawless here.
I agree with reviews stating that he serves some of the best hikarimono/kai around. My favorite pieces here are kohada (quite strong but the balance with the shari is incredible), hamaguri (my #1 hamaguri to date, glazed with only a small amount of tsume and with plenty of sweet/umami clam flavor), and anago (again my #1 to date; despite this being sooo soft, it retained a lot of meatiness. Extra order of anago with only shio necessarily gives me a foodgasm.) On my third visit, I was lucky enough to sample the entirety of Shimizu-san’s nigiri menu, and his chutoro/ootoro turned out to be surprisingly delicious as well. (That 20-nigiri-course + futomaki meal is my fondest sushi memory of recent times, and the only meal I wouldn’t hesitate to give a 10/10.)
I cannot comment about the otsumami, but the nigiri here is so good that I’ve never been interested in ordering anything else. Regarding the pricing, I personally believe this is ridiculous value, especially when compared to other insanely-priced establishments of our day and age, and given the fact that Shimizu-san has a near-endless legion of admirers. On my third visit here, Shimizu-san chuckled and said “don’t worry, I don’t charge as much as Jiro” and handed a bill for two (¥38,000) that was essentially a little more than what Jiro charges for one (~¥36,000). I also want to dispute any notions that Shimizu-san might be anti-foreigner as he treats all guests with respect, which I especially felt in what minimal interactions I had with him outside his shop. I have respect for his policies (prioritizing the locals/regulars; keeping prices reasonable; refusing to keep with current trends of being fully booked for ages), and although inconvenient for me to visit, I know that if I spoke Japanese I would like to come here almost every week.
[Service/Atmosphere]: Serious but quite friendly; almost no English spoken. Don’t expect a lot of lip service or over-the-top omotenashi. You need to come with a Japanese speaker.
[Reservation]: 1 week in advance.
10. TENZUSHI (Kokura, Kyushu)
Nigiri: 8.5/10, CP: 7/10
(¥30,000, dinner, x15++ nigiri, I had some add-ons)
Tenzushi is one of Japan’s most well-known sushiya. Instead of offering Edomae sushi which most diners are accustomed to, taisho Amano-san presents offerings that he described to me as “Kyushu-mae.” To briefly describe this style: the sushi is additive (with lots of condiments and combinations); finished with salt/kabosu citrus fruits rather than soy sauce; employs more grilling than usual; and the neta is minimally aged.
Only nigiri and tea are served here. The shari is seasoned with komezu; for me, it was barely noticeable because the netas were quite thick-cut and rife with flavor. The most Instagrammed item, aka-ika with kinome leaf/yuzu kosho/aka uni/nishiki goma/maybe other condiments, was not just for show - the flavor profile was stunning and many elements cycled in the mouth in an absolutely unique way. Almost all pieces were very good (lightly-grilled kuruma ebi which had tons more sea flavor than its Edomae counterpart; explosive shime saba that felt like eating a complete dish) although there were some that did not work so well for me (I found the crunchy, non-aged aji with soy sauce powder odd; and the tachiuo with plum sauce too dry). However, the balance of sushi which is finished with salt/citrus fruits is extremely refreshing and worth a try.
All the pieces were so colorful and cheerful, with their own personality and a story to tell. But if there is one piece worth coming here for, it would be “chu toro zuke” which had a texture and taste I have never before experienced (a lasting, sweet, slippery umami), and which took the predictable flavor profile of chutoro and twisted it 180 degrees. I don’t hesitate to say I got a foodgasm eating that piece of sorcery.
The pricing is very steep - it has crept up over the years, so eating at Tenzushi isn’t a casual affair. But would I revisit? Definitely yes! Even though the proportioning of neta/shari is inexact, the flavor profiles are idiosyncratic and delicious enough to make up for it. I highly encourage even die-hard Edomae fans to visit at least once, for something really different.
[Service/Atmosphere]: Of all sushi-ya I visited, this is top 2 in hospitality next to Inomata (#16 below) - I felt 200% relaxed! Amano-san is a boss and is super friendly (as are the rest of the staff); he also speaks pretty impressive English. Sometimes I have solo sushi meals in silence which is fine, but Amano-san kept me a lot of company on my visit. <3
[Reservation]: Booked through Hotel concierge ~3 months in advance. You can also book through Tableall.
11. KIKUZUSHI (Fukuoka)
Otsumami: 8/10, Nigiri: 5/10, CP: 8/10
(¥12,960, dinner, x7 otsumami + x12 nigiri)
Kikuzushi is located in a residential area in Fukuoka where nothing much seems to occur (at least on the night I visited). It has an incredibly high Tabelog rating and what impelled me to visit was reviews of quality Edomae sushi complemented with very high value for money. To give some perspective, a full dinner omakase that consists of otsumami + nigiri commands a base price of ¥12,000. I think it would be hard to find that kind of value in Tokyo, although I may be wrong.
Dinner was off to a fantastic start with well-executed otsumami. Sashimi preparations were on point, and followed by a set of creative items (e.g. managatsuo maki with chestnut flakes - inspiring! And a heartwarming awabi chawanmushi). The ingredients were not bursting with flavor but the quality was very solid and the flavor combinations were well-thought-out. Meanwhile, taisho Yusuke-san was preparing for the nigiri sequence by performing ‘shari kiri’ - vinegaring of the shari in a hangiri - directly at the sushi counter. (This is usually performed in the kitchen prior to nigiri service, so you almost never get to see it!)
For nigiri, Yusuke-san prepares both shiro- and aka-shari. More importantly, he practices some extended aging of neta (and if you’ve read my review of Kimura, #4, earlier in the post, I think you know where this is going…). I didn’t really enjoy his nigiri for three reasons: 1) the shari was VERY wet, presumably because the time gap between shari-kiri and nigiri service did not allow the vinegar to sufficiently soak into the rice grains. It felt like I was eating a paella. 2) Coherence between fish and rice was questionable; it felt like the neta was discrete from the shari. I don’t like to comment on chef skills but I think Yusuke-san may need more time before he presses perfect nigiri. 3) With some exceptions, products which undergo extended jukusei are honestly not to my liking. Many of the neta served (sawara, katsuo, aji) were texturally soft but did not have a lot of flavor.
To be fair, there were some good items (e.g. a unique style of anago which was very dry) but I think the sushi was not for me. Then again, I would agree that the cost-performance is very high at this level so it may be worth a visit.
[Service/Atmosphere]: Service was polite if slightly awkward, with Yusuke-san not speaking much, even to the Japanese guests. Minimal English spoken.
[Reservation]: Booked through Hotel concierge ~1 month in advance. You can also book through Tableall or Pocket.
Otsumami: 8/10, Nigiri: 6.5/10, CP: 7/10
(¥21,600, dinner, x9 otsumami + x13 nigiri)
In an era where well-known sushiya prescribe skyrocketing prices, Hashimoto is seen as a respite. I would not say it is “cheap” but it does present decent value. Hashimoto-san trained under Sugita-san back at Miyakozushi and models his sushi in the same style: thick-cut, meaty neta are paired with balanced shari that does not have pervasive flavor.
I really enjoyed the otsumami course here. Most of the dishes were delightful. Sashimi preparations were extremely good, in particular the sea-flavor-packed shako which was served with only salt. Anago chawanmushi was sweet and soothing, and ankimo was very good. Saba maki was modeled in a similar fashion to Sugita-san’s signature iwashi maki and created a pleasurable interplay between seaweed, fish, and vegetables. The otsumami did not feel like it was traditional Edomae as Hashimoto-san kept things interesting and incorporated a little bit of modern sensibilities into the dishes.
However, I enjoyed the nigiri less. I found Hashimoto-san’s rice to be very minimal in flavor and mostly overpowered by the disproportionately large neta (for me, shari was even lighter than at Ishiyama, #6, above). The signature kohada was just alright, and while I had an awe-inducing hotate from Hokkaido, I did not find many of the nigiri to be particularly impactful. I remember that the nikiri shoyu did not add anything to the sushi and that some of the neta was prepared in a manner that rendered them overdone (e.g. there was a sawara filled with so much straw/hay/smoky flavor I did not enjoy at all). A few pieces also suffered from coherence issues where fish was not completely attached to rice.
That doesn’t mean that Hashimoto-san’s sushi was bad; it might just not be my favorite. Overall, I would not mind a revisit but perhaps I’d wait a little while.
[Service/Atmosphere]: Friendly and relaxing with chatty fellow diners. Hashimoto-san and his sous chefs are nice folks and tried their best to speak some English.
[Reservation]: Obtained a cancellation via Omakase 1 week in advance. I believe Hashimoto only takes online booking these days (Omakase/Tableall), and that bookings are not that easy to come by, so I was definitely lucky.
13. DAISAN HARUMI
Nigiri: 8/10, CP: 10/10
(¥7,300, lunch, x12 nigiri I think)
This famous sushi-ya is run by Kazuo Nagayama, affectionately known as a professor of fishes and an intense, dedicated shokunin. Perhaps due to its slightly sloppy/casual style, and the fact that this isn’t a sexy/glamorous sushi-ya, Daisan Harumi isn’t exactly on the top of many foreigners’ lists to visit. I myself had heard some feedback about average neta and bland shari, but wanted to try it for myself. I was so glad I did, as this was actually one of my favorite experiences in Tokyo.
The nigiri isn’t very pretty, the nikirishoyu leaks into the shari, the shari is very lightly flavored - these are all the complaints that I’ve heard, and on my visit, they rang true. But for me, the sushi was absolutely delicious. Yes, the shari was minimally seasoned with komezu, but I really liked the fact that it was loosely packed, and the way it spread apart in my mouth was flawless. To summarize, each and every neta he threw at me (quite literally) was delicious. Highlights were a very balanced kohada with minimal aftertaste (a style of kohada I like a LOT), hamaguri with a slight alcoholic/sake flavor, and a very sweet/milky sumi ika (and its geso!) I actually quite enjoyed his tuna as well, even though I don’t think he procures super high-end tuna. And all of this for ¥7,300? I so regretted I didn’t order the larger lunch course.
I liked all the other elements of this sushi-ya as well. The deformed ceramic cups, the laminated instructional pages from his book listing fish descriptions, the menu which is handwritten daily - put these together and you can’t help but wonder how much of a badass Nagayama-san is. Yes, he isn’t graceful, but I didn’t care at all. For all Daisan Harumi offers - extremely solid sushi at a reasonable price, a warmhearted and idiosyncratic taisho, and seats that aren’t hard to reserve - I would come back many times over.
[Service/Atmosphere]: Friendly and casual; some English spoken; gaijin-friendly. I like Nagayama-san a lot and he will command you to “read the English” from his book to learn about what you’re eating, and you definitely should obey!
[Reservation]: Booked through Hotel concierge ~2 weeks in advance.
Otsumami: 5/10, Nigiri: 8/10, CP: 4/10
(¥43,500 / Tableall, dinner, x7 otsumami + x14 nigiri)
Harutaka is one of Jiro’s senior disciples. I understand his sushi-ya has slightly declined in popularity among foreigners in recent years, but it remains immensely popular among locals. Similarities with Jiro include strong komezu shari and super steep pricing (due to extreme quality of fishes); dissimilarities include the existence of an otsumami course, a much more relaxed ambiance, and much better pacing of food.
The counter seats up to 12 and there are up to 3 seatings per night, so this sushi-ya feels a little less intimate than the others I visited. Because I booked through Tableall, only the full omakase was offered. For me, the otsumami was extremely disappointing. Ingredients were served in generous portions, but most of them either had minimal flavor or were otherwise overwhelmed by the mediums (sauces) in which they were served. Tako sashimi (x3 pieces), kue (x4 pieces), hirame (x3 pieces) all fell flat. Steamed awabi was among the most flavorless I have ever had. Grilled dishes (sawara, kamasu, managatsuo) were basic and uninteresting. It really felt like the otsumami was a case of quantity over quality.
Thankfully, nigiri was a completely different story. Almost all of what I was served was very good, particular highlights being well-executed hikarimono (saba with good calibration of sour/salty, textbook kohada) and a very soft/fluffy anago. Some bloggers have commented that the shari is way too salty but maybe he adjusted the recipe. I actually really enjoyed the shari; it was certainly saltier than Jiro but less vinegary and not overwhelming at all. The meal concluded with an awe-inspiring tamago with a wet, dense, spongy texture and eggy yet sweet flavor. Certainly my favorite tamago of all time, and I ordered two extra pieces!
The price will definitely raise eyebrows, but remember that Tableall will only allow you to book the full course. I have heard of some diners, who have booked themselves, being able to book the nigiri-only course (which starts at 25,000). I definitely recommend the nigiri but never the otsumami. At the end of the day I think Harutaka is just much too expensive for what it offers and not proportionally memorable. I am happy to have visited once, but the sushi (while solid) is not mind-blowing enough to warrant repeat visits.
[Service/Atmosphere]: Lively atmosphere and pretty friendly staff; sous chefs speak English. Harutaka-san is serious but will try to talk to you a little bit.
[Reservation]: Booked through Tableall ~1 week in advance. Not difficult as there are lots of seatings.
15. SUSHI ICHIJO
Nigiri: (9-9.5)/10, CP: (#1: 7/10) (#2: 10/10)
(#1: ¥19,500, lunch, x15 nigiri + tamago)
(#2: ¥22,500, lunch, x7 otsumami + 19 nigiri + tamago + kanpyo maki)
I read about Ichijo on Sushi Geek (yay, thanks!) and, after learning that Ichijo-san models his sushi in Shimizu’s style (see #9 above), became compelled to visit. Straight to the point with this one: outstanding, powerful sushi; one of my favorite sushiya to date.
For my first visit, I came for lunch and ordered 15 pieces of nigiri. Given Shimizu’s reputation and caliber, my expectations were that Ichijo-san’s sushi would be very solid, but not as good as Shimizu’s. I was swiftly proven wrong. Piece after piece can only be described as “balanced bliss” as I was served first-in-class items. I had some of my best pieces of all time (in my short sushi experience) here: perfectly balanced smoky sawara with salt; the sweetest akagai; kuruma ebi (crazy good execution: he used a large specimen, which usually lacks flavor, but somehow his was packed with sweet/sea flavor). Interestingly, I may prefer the aka-shari here to Shimizu - it’s less dominating while still sour enough to maintain powerful flavor. Some of Ichijo-san’s pieces were marginally trumped by Shimizu (hamaguri, anago); some were actually better (akagai, hokkigai, kuruma ebi). One thing I would mention is that the tuna here was very average, but then again I didn’t come here for tuna. I came here for excellent nimono/hikarimono/kai and that was exactly what I got.
The first meal left such an impression on me that I decided to visit a second time, this time ordering the full omakase. I don’t know why it was the case, but we were charged only a little more (~¥3,000 more than the first time we went) for a much greater volume of food. Ichijo-san’s otsumami mainly consist of sashimi preparations; they weren’t fancy, but they were delicious, particular highlights being an uni that tasted like truffles (???), shako sashimi, and divine cheese-like ankimo. Then came a stream of 19+ nigiris pieces which included plenty of clams: mirugai/hokkigai/akagai/aoyagi/kaibashira/hamaguri (which is a great thing, because Ichijo-san’s clams are amazing) and other wonderful netas. The super duper filling meal concluded with inspirational kanpyo maki paired with oboro that blended so well with the shari.
Ichijo is not inexpensive, but due to the high ingredient quality, I would say the price - especially for the full omakase - is very fair. The ambiance is relaxing and Ichijo-san is friendly despite concentrating very hard on sushi-making. I think he will go incredibly far as a taisho: he is a no-nonsense fellow and does absolutely zero gimmicks. Given Ichijo’s accessibility - reservations are quite easy and do not require a Japanese speaker - I am fortunate enough to say that I’ve found a sushi-ya I’d like to visit everytime I’m in Tokyo.
(Note: I rated this sushi-ya very highly but I note that one of my fellow diners, who didn’t have much sushi experience, didn’t like it too much. I think that Ichijo might not be so appealing or enthralling if you haven’t had much sushi before, because you may not be able to appreciate how good the kais or simmered items here are.)
[Service/Atmosphere]: Relaxing and friendly; on the zen side; very little English spoken.
[Reservation]: Booked through hotel concierge ~2 weeks in advance. You can order the full Omakase at lunch. You can also book through Pocket Concierge.
16. SUSHI INOMATA
Nigiri: 8.5/10, CP: 7.5/10
(¥27,000, dinner, ~19 sushis)
Sushi Inomata is all about slamming you with round after round of heavy, herculean flavors. The sushi here bears some resemblances to Hatsunezushi: only nigiri is served; pieces are large; unconventional netas are sometimes used (think oysters and zuwaigani); the tuna procured is of the highest quality. Inomata-san also practices some extended aging, as at Kimura (see #4), but his aging adds a world of flavor (which is something I can’t say for Kimura).
The aka-shari here is surprisingly mild in flavor - noticeable, but plays the role of a supporting player. Netas crammed with flavor overwhelmingly steal the show. Almost every piece I had was incredible, with some of the most formidable ingredients I have ever had the pleasure to taste. The white fishes (kue, suzuki, madai, on my visit) were aged for 10+ days and contained some deep and arcane umami; I am not too big of a white fish fan but the stuff I had here was something else (so much so that I didn’t mind too much that there was a bone in my madai, lol. Anyway, I got a free replacement, bone-free madai as compensation).
Pieces like katsuo-zuke, zuwaigani, bafun uni, anago, kohada were similarly spectacular, to the point that his tuna - while very good - did not stand out. Interestingly, Inomata-san preferred to serve all cuts of tuna in zuke style, and the zuke marinade is on the sweet side and can get repetitive. I would certainly liked to have tried out non-zuke versions. All pieces were very large and wholesome yet fell apart nicely in the mouth.
My only issue with this meal was that it was a bit too strong at times. Taken on their own, most pieces were phenomenal. But after a while, “palate fatigue” seemed to sweep over me, and I must say I’m not accustomed to overly creamy and rich flavors in sushi. But all in all this was an exceptional meal. It was indeed expensive but I would say that the price is quite fair, given that the quality of ingredients used was VERY high. Hospitality was second-to-none and I would return in the future without hesitation.
[Service/Atmosphere]: Very relaxing and friendly; Inomata-san and his wife are charming hosts and try to speak some English. They are really nice people, the type who radiate some “in life, we can do anyone no wrong” kind of vibe. Insisted on giving us free umbrellas when we left because it was raining. Gaijin-friendly and stress-free for sure.
[Reservation]: Booked through hotel concierge ~1 month in advance.
17. MEKUMI (Kanazawa)
Otsumami: 9/10, Nigiri: 8/10, CP: 7.5/10
(Tableall: ~¥33,000, ~9 otsumami + 10 sushi)
Of all the sushi-ya I visited, this may very well be the one with the most personality. I can write an essay on this place but I will restrain myself for now :-)
If Nagayama-san (see #13, Daisan Harumi) is the professor of fishes, Yamaguchi-san (the taisho at Mekumi) is a mad scientist. Whereas many chefs rely on instinct and tried-and-true preparation methods, Yamaguchi-san is known for his relentless empirical approach to food that is beyond “otaku” to the max. He sources the highest quality ingredients in the Ishikawa region and particularly emphasizes removing all off-flavors/unwanted aromas from the dishes he offers.
The otsumami course consists of plenty of crab dishes (at least 4), all of which were prepared superbly and retained a lot of crab umami. Other highlights included a mouth-watering grilled nodoguro and a shirako with absolutely zero off-flavors. I usually hate stuff that tastes like innards (e.g. crab guts and shirako) but the ones here were on a totally different level than anything I have had before. Overall, an absolutely delicious otsumami course.
The nigiri here was very, very interesting. Course after course of nigiri consisted of extremely soft/creamy toppings (ama ebi, yari ika, anago, nodoguro, aburi ama ebi, shirako, uni...) that were paired with equally soft shari mildly seasoned with akazu. The effect is that neta and shari dissolve into each other, which to me was a new and unique sensation. My own take on Yamaguchi-san’s nigiri philosophy is that he is trying to emulate the effect of “melting” over and over again. While this resulted in the nigiri having very similar textural consistency, by virtue of the distinctive style the nigiri sequence was united by a common theme and hence extremely cohesive. All neta flavors, of course, were on point (despite the minor gripe that very few fish netas are served throughout the meal, Yamaguchi-san favoring crustaceans and cephalopods).
Service was warm and Yamaguchi-san is really a character. He will deliver monologues on scientific theories, crack jokes, and slice fish looking like he would pass out any moment (the dude gets very little sleep). For something very different to what you would find in Tokyo, I highly encourage you to visit Mekumi. While expensive and luxurious, I’d love to come back in the future.
[Service/Atmosphere]: Very friendly and comfortable; some English spoken. All the staff are very humble.
[Reservation]: Booked through Tableall 1 month in advance.
1. I speak virtually no Japanese and felt welcomed at all places I visited.
2. The only drinks I ordered were water/tea.
3. I went to a lot of these places solo. You shouldn’t be discouraged to go solo! In Japan, many people seem to go solo.
4. Regarding reservations: if you have a strong hotel concierge, it’s always my favorite option. However, in contemporary times you have many other options as well-:
— Tableall: excellent and reliable, although booking fees can get expensive. They have never failed me. The one thing I don’t like is that sometimes they don’t let you order the less-expensive courses (which you definitely can if you go through your hotel)
— Pocket Concierge: a bit of a toss-up. Don’t expect them to reserve places that don’t already have open seats. They also practice price discrimination (prices are lower if you book through the Japanese site), which leaves a bad taste in my mouth
— Arry: I personally find Arry to be unfeasible/ludicrously-priced ($600 USD annual membership MINUS any meal costs) unless you plan to stay in Japan for a good amount of time. However, it could be one of the only ways to get into Saito if you’re interested in going. Regarding Mado...yeah, good luck with that...
— JPNEazy: Not bad at all - service is quite efficient! I have only used them once but it was a good experience
— Omakase-JP: Perhaps the only way to reserve superstar restaurants like Amamoto. Booking fees are pretty darn low compared to other sites (~250 yens). The only issue is that too many people try to book the best places here and the site tends to crash (especially on Amamoto opening day -.-). Expect seats to disappear within minutes or even seconds
If you’ve managed to get this far, I hope you enjoyed yourself. Please continue to post about your experiences as they are valuable to all of us. Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!