One of my greatest disappointment in Australia to date has been the poor quality of authentic Japanese cuisine, particularly in Melbourne. Sure, Sydney has a handful of old school institutions like Juju but when it came to the matter of sushi, Australia has a lot of catching up to do. I was therefore very excited when I heard about a place in Richmond, Melbourne that opened up in 2014 and had attained two hats almost immediately. It specialised in edomae sushi. This, I thought, was the answer to my prayers…
Unlike many overseas sushi restaurants that have been opened up by successful chefs from Tokyo, Minamishima is headed up by chef Koichi Minamishima who spent his formative years at Kenzan, Melbourne. This was a sticking point for me as Kenzan had not impressed me in the past. More importantly it wasn’t known for sushi. However, I had heard good things so I decided to keep an open mind.
There’s only one menu at Minamishima which both makes it easy for the undecided and ensures the best seasonal fish is utilised for all customers. AUD $150 buys you a 15 course meal which can be complimented with matching sake or wine. There were also three additional courses offered that evening, two starters and a dessert, for an additional cost…..which cumulatively matched the price of the 15 course menu.1st Course – Ootoro with Italian beluga black caviar (supplementary course at extra cost): It wasn’t cheap but was definitely worth every cent. The tuna was sourced that same week from Tsukiji market in Tokyo. The fatty ootoro (tuna belly) and the salty black caviar went ever so well together. The mother pearl shell spoon was obviously a must when eating black caviar for the purists.2nd Course – Grilled broad beans with shiitake salt: Not too dissimilar to edamame and I liked the earthy salt in combination with the beans.
3rd Course – Fugu tempura (Supplementary course at extra cost): Minamishima-san explained that the fugu had been professionally prepared in Japan by a qualified professional before it was delivered to him in Melbourne. Much like most fugu’s I’ve previously tried, the flavour was very subtle and delicate. The tempura was surprisingly of good quality, not oily and quite crispy.
4th Course – King Dory: Cured king dory, a native fish only found in the southern Australian coast, New Zealand and South Africa with no Japanese name. A pinch of sesame and a squirt of lime blew some life into this thin slice of white meat.
5th Course – Garfish / Sayori (サヨリ): Topped with thinly chopped spring onion and ginger, and some shiso hiding underneath the fish. The fish had been dressed with Minamishima’s home made soy sauce. Another delicate fish with a jelly like texture.
7th Course – Sea Perch / Suzuki (鱸): Finally on to a decent piece of sushi. This was what I was hoping to encounter! Great meaty texture and fattiness. The classic combination of ponzu and grated daikon (Japanese radish) with the sea perch worked well. Here’s to hoping there were plenty more like this ahead!
9th Course – Calamari / Aori Ika (アオリイカ): Served with sea salt and shiso leaves. A decent nigiri but not the best calamari I’ve had by a long shot. It had a beautiful creamy texture but I found the flavour rather bland.
10th Course – Scampi / Tenaga Ebi (手長蝦): The scampi was sourced from New Zealand and was sweet, juicy and slightly crunchy. However, it’s definitely no contender to the classic superior choice of the kuruma-ebi which has a far more inviting aroma.
11th Course – Scallop / Hotate (帆立): The scallop, sourced from Hokkaido was, in my view, not treated with respect. The charring left a slight burnt aftertaste and ruined the soft and creamy texture that scallops are renown for. I did however like the smoky component and think this dish could be refined to a lighter degree of charring to make it perfect.
12th Course – Flounder / Karei (カレイ): Finally what I was waiting for. Something to blow me away! This was definitely my favourite dish of the entire evening and my god what a nigiri that was! The chef utilised the fin of the flounder from Hokkaido which is normally discarded. He then proceeded by intricately scoring it, lightly searing with a blowtorch and wrapping it with nori. The smell was ever so inviting and looked delicately beautiful. It packed a punch of rich, smoky, oily flavour, and a meltingly soft texture from the natural fat of the fish.
13th and 14th Course – Chutoro (中とろ) and Otoro (大とろ): The blue fin tuna (hon-maguro) was sourced again from Tsukiji. The quality was decent but I was amazed to find quite a bit of sinew in the ootoro. This was a cardinal sin and disappointing. The chutoro was, however, delightful.
15th Course – Seared Ootoro / Aburi Ootoro (炙り大とろ): Whilst I would normally prefer my ootoro untouched and served as it is, this was far more enjoyable than the previous course as any remaining sinew fortunately had melted to create a juicy and fatty slice of ootoro.
16th Course – Sea Urchin / Uni (ウニ): Sea urchin sourced from Tasmania. Lovely creaminess and absent of myoban and its bitter aftertaste, which is typically used to preserve the freshness of uni for those that are imported from overseas like Hokkaido. The flavour however was not as bold and distinct as the fresh ones you get in Japan.
17th Course – Mackerel pressed sushi / Saba Oshizushi (さばの押し寿司): Also known as battera (バッテラ), this is one of my all time favourite sushi that I always order if available. The mackerel was cured well allowing the meat to retain its shape. The rice was infused with the lovely oily flavour of the fish and balanced against the sharpness of the vinegar from the curing process.
18th Course – Salt Water Eel / Anago (穴子): The final dish of the set menu was another pressed sushi of eel. As noted in my previous write up, there’s a lot of skill required to preparing eel that takes years of practice and experience. I found the kabayaki sauce on the lighter side compared to the usual sticky rich sauce you get in Japan. In addition, the flavour of the eel was bland.
As we pondered on what additional nigiri’s we were going to order, Chef Minamishima’s right hand man Hajime Horiguchi (middle above) joined the chefs to keep up with the order that were piling in. They worked meticulously in sync and the speed at which the sushi’s were being sent out to the bigger tables was truly amazing.
19th Course – Sweet Egg Cake / Tamagoyaki (卵焼き): This one was with a twist. The tamagoyaki was made more like a castella-styled cake which the Portuguese brought to Japan in the 16th Century. It had a lovely sweetness and moisture.
20th Course – Salmon Roe / Ikura (イクラ): In addition to re-ordering the flounder, sea perch and seared ootoro, I could not go away without asking for my childhood favourite of the salmon roe. The salmon roe sourced from Tasmania was firm enough to be individually savoured but in my opinion, marinating the salmon roe in soy sauce would have elevated this dish further.
22nd Course – Yokan and Cherry Blossom ice cream: The yokan (red bean paste cake) was smooth and washed down ever so well with the hot tea. The cherry blossom ice cream left a floral aftertaste and the bitter matcha (green tea) contrasted ever so well to the sweet and rich yokan.
All in all Minamishima for me was a success despite a couple of missteps, the sinew of the ootoro for instance comes to mind. However, it shows a lot of promise and certainly exceed the level of sushi I’ve encountered in Melbourne, let alone Australia. Sure, it wasn’t on par with Kanesaka in Singapore or Sushi Tetsu in London but it showed promise with great innovations like the flounder’s fin nigiri which literally just blew me away. It would be interesting to see what creative dishes Chef Minamishima comes up with in the future.
For those of you who have been to Japan and tried the best sushi joints, you’ll appreciate where I’m coming from when I say that good sushi is a rarity outside Japan. In fact, it’s so rare that I personally have only come across one restaurant in London by the name of Sushi Tetsu that has truly left me speechless… until my recent visit to Singapore that is. Shinji by Kanesaka is an offshoot of the two-michelin starred Ginza establishment that opened in Singapore’s most luxurious and iconic Raffles Hotel in 2010. Anyone who has dined here before will agree that they fully deserved the 32nd position in the 2014 San Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best guide. Subsequently, they will also warn you about the eye watering bill that comes at the end of the meal. You have been warned.
Rather than heading straight to the restaurant, I decided to make a short detour. After all, when you’re within 50 metres of the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel, how could you resist indulging in a glass (or maybe two) of the iconic Singapore Sling? I always make it my mission to come here when stopping by Singapore and this was a superb prelude to a stunning lunch. On to the meal…
The centre piece of the dining room was undoubtedly the single-piece 220 year old hinoki counter (Japanese Cypress tree), the pride and joy of Oshino Koichiro who oversees the restaurant in Singapore whilst his boss, Kanesaka Shinji, manages everything back in Japan including the selection of the fish that gets flown into Singapore four times a week. Even the fruits used for their dessert are imported from Japan!
Seaweed, radish and tuna to kick off the meal which had been marinated in soy sauce, and finished off with sesame seeds sprinkled. Beautifully moist fish with a very delicate flavour to ensure it didn’t overwhelm the subsequent sushi course. The texture of the fish was comparable to that of a slow cooked pork.
The first sushi of the twelve piece Moon course (月 – Tsuki) was Spanish mackerel (鰆 – Sawara). A buttery and fatty cut of fish that had been balanced well with the home concocted soy sauce and a dab of wasabi. The shari or the rice was superb throughout the meal and certainly on par with that of Sushi Tetsu, if not slightly better with the difference being the sushi-zu (vinegar) that was being used.
Japanese amberjack / yellowtail (鰤 – Buri). Another clean and bold flavoured fish with a good amount of fattiness, finishing with a slight natural sweetness. As with the sawara, the high oil content that repelled soy sauce made this a very delicate dish and all you could taste was the fish. Delicious.
Cuttlefish (甲イカ – Kou-ika) that had been seasoned with some salt and sudachi, a Japanese green citrus. Perfect texture with a slight stickiness to it that made it blend into the shari really well. The only mistake in the entire meal for me was the unusually large amount of wasabi that had been used which caught me by surprise and ended in tears.
Medium Fatty Tuna (中トロ – Chūtoro) from Ōma was sublime with the perfect balance of the flavour from the fish and the oily richness from the fat. The entire piece just dissolved in my mouth with the rice. Tuna from Ōma in the Aomori prefecture are possibly the most sought after in Japan and fished using a traditional method of single rod and line (ippon-zuri). The reward from catching a tuna in one of Japan’s most dangerous straits is astonishing where a 222kg bluefin tuna fetched $1.76 million USD at an auction in Tsukiji market in 2013.My mouth was watering when I saw the beautifully marbled Fattiest part of the Tuna (大トロ – Otoro), similarly from Ōma, served on my plate. Whilst one serving was sufficient given the oiliness of this cut, it was divine. I could see why the tuna from Ōma had the nickname of the “black diamond of the sea” in Japan.
Horse mackerel (鯵 – Aji) complemented with shiso (perilla), spring onion and ginger to give it a lovely aroma and counterbalance the strong smell and flavour of the fish. This was one of my favourite dish of the evening and surprisingly it did not have that distinctly strong smell. It was just delicious.
Tuna from Kagoshima (鹿児島 鮪 – Kagoshima maguro) to end the triple courses of tuna. I was surprised the akami (leanest part of the tuna) was sourced from a different tuna to the previous ones as one technically gets the full appreciation for the flavour and quality of the tuna by tasting all the cuts. Nevertheless, marinated for a few minutes in Kanesaka’s soy sauce concoction, this cut was sensational. It was simple, yet complex with a depth in flavour.
But just when I thought the tuna courses had finished, I was served with one final sushi of a six month old Baby bluefin (メジ鮪 – Meji maguro). It was far more delicate in flavour and texture over all the other tuna’s I had previously. It was like veal to a fish.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get better, it did with the Sea urchin (ウニ – Uni) from Hokkaido. Lacking any bitterness from the absence of myoban to preserve it, this was the real deal. Delicate, creamy and rich. This was what I was craving for since my last trip to Japan.
A lacquered spoon was then oddly placed in front of me…? I was worried I had finished my courses already and I was transitioning to dessert… but that would surely have been too abrupt? What happened to the soup and makimono (rolled sushi)?
… false alarm! Even better, the spoon was to scoop out my second most favourite seafood ingredient in Japanese cuisine, Salmon roe (イクラ – ikura). The shari was moulded into a tiny ball and placed on a small bowl before being covered with tens of luscious gooey salmon roes packed with the flavour of the ocean. The roes seamlessly melted in the mouth with the rice with little effort and the grated zest of yuzu breathed life into the dish with its aroma and zingy contrast to the sticky juice that oozed out. Outstanding!
Tuna with spring onion (葱とろ – Negitoro) is usually a sign when the meal is about to come to an end. A gentle way of saying, it’s almost over. It had a good balance of the fatty tuna and sharpness of the spring onion. Nevertheless, it was a sad moment…
As much as the Prawn (車海老 – Kuruma ebi) was juicy, slightly crunchy and cooked well, it was still my least favourite dish of the meal. I’ve never been a huge fan of prawn sushi, regardless of where I’ve been and that wasn’t going to change on this occasion. I am always happy to give it a try though just in case someone is able to convince me otherwise.
And just when I truly thought it was over, the itamae served me one last surprise with the Salterwater / Conger eel (穴子 – Anago). The one on the right was simply prepared using salt only, drawing out the rich flavour of the eel. As previously stated in my review of Sushi Tetsu, the skills that go into the preparation of an eel requires years of experience and training, similar to sushi. I progressed on to the next piece on the left which had been baste roasted in their delicious savoury kabayaki sauce. I loved the flavour progression between the two and how they each highlighted the flavour using different techniques.
As mentioned at the start, even their dessert of the Jelly with fruits had been imported from Japan! The itamae explained that in order to ensure the same experience as a top sushi-ya in Japan, they wanted to ensure that the dessert was also Japanese, with familiar flavours. Amazing.
I’m not going to ramble on about the quality of the sushi here. Simply put it, it’s very good. However, it’s not just the food that is amazing here. It’s also the attention to detail that went into everything from directly sourcing the ingredient and fish (neta) in Japan to the finer things like the lacquered toothpick box after the meal and the 220 year old hinoki counter. No expense was spared in recreating an authentic sushi establishment overseas and I personally think that justifies the significant bill that comes at the end of the meal. If you’re a local in Singapore at least you can save the cost of an airfare to sample truly authentic Edomae sushi. I’d happily come back here many times.
Chef: Toru Takahashi Website: www.sushitetsu.co.uk Cuisine: Sushi
Following a memorable meal on my first visit to Sushi Tetsu a couple of months ago, I was desperate to go there one last time before my imminent departure to Melbourne. My track record in getting a reservation here had been very poor but that was about to change. I jumped at the news of a last minute cancellation for a Friday lunch and here I was, yet again, immersing myself with more amazing sushi. On this occasion I decided I wanted a bit more freedom to choose from the menu so I opted for the “moon” sushi set (£28) and added four additional sushi’s. Some of the sushi that day was even better than that on my first visit, proving my point that the quality of fish can drastically affect the final product.
I was the last person to arrive for the lunch service and things were already in full swing. As always the greeting was very warm and I felt very much at ease despite dining on my own. I spent most of my time chatting with Harumi-san getting some tips on great Japanese restaurants in the Barcelona and the Asia Pacific region.
First course for lunch was Sea bass (鱸). The sweetness of the fish was brought out with the touch of home made soy sauce concoction and the green shiso leaf tucked underneath dispelled the fishiness, only leaving the delicious flavour of the fish.
Next up was Razor clam (まて貝). The quality of the razor clam was superior to the one I tried on my first visit, evidenced by the additional sweetness oozing out from each bite. I also thought Takahashi-san had really nailed the amount of lemon juice and sea salt to complement the dish.
I was excited to see Amberjack (カンパチ) which I had not previously tried at Sushi tetsu. Takahashi-san had imported this luxurious fish fresh from Japan where it was currently in season (summer). Compared to its cousin of the yellow tail, it was much softer and less oily. It was served again with the right amount of wasab and soy sauce.
The Salmon (鮪) was similarly equally as good as the previous visit, served again with slight incisions to plump up the texture of this oily fish. I still reckon it is one of the most understated fish in Japan within the world of sushi. If only more places served them to this quality!
I was very glad to see that Akami (赤身) was on the menu again. For those of you who read my previous entry on Sushi Tetsu, I had a tragic moment wolfing down this delicious morsel before realising that I had forgotten to take a photo. Not this time. I could never live this down if it happened again. The cold cut of the akami only had a thin coating of soy sauce, releasing bursts of flavours on each bite. Delicious, refreshing and simple. The tuna Takahashi-san sourced was consistently of high quality.
Another improved dish of the Mackerel (鯖) which contained sansho (Sichuan pepper) giving the fish an earthy flavour. Along with the natural juiciness of the fish with a tanginess from a hint of lemon, it was delicious. To finish off, su-konbu (seaweed marinated in vinegar) was wrapped around it to give it additional texture and remove the fishy aftertaste of this delicate fish. I was in heaven. I should have ordered another one…
It was at this point when I had the chance to deviate from the set menu and try something different. Following Takahashi-san’s recommendation I opted first for the Scallop (帆立貝). I was amazed to see the size of the scallop he had carefully laid out. They were hand dived scallops from Scotland which were meaty on their own but Takahashi-san had added some incisions at an angle to further enhance that plump texture. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a scallop sushi this good. It was very sweet and fragrant, just the way a scallop should be.
Next up was my childhood favourite of Salmon roe (イクラ). Takahashi-san had taken the salt away from the salmon roe which had been used to preserve it. He then marinated it in a sauce made from a carefully balanced mixture of mirin and soy sauce. He carefully spooned a few out to place on top of the rice and grated some lime zest. I savoured this moment and tasted each bursting bubble in my mouth as they oozed out the intense and delicious sticky fishy juice inside, perfectly balanced with the lime zest. It was so good my cheeks just swelled up and I couldn’t stop smiling.
After savouring my salmon roe sushi which seemed to take an eternity (and I started getting some weird looks from other diners), I saw Takahashi-san preparing my hosomaki… but surely this couldn’t be the end? I still had one more sushi! Seeing how nervous I looked, he reassured me that he had not forgotten my last sushi but that this special hosomaki needed to be consumed before the last sushi due to the richness of the last dish.
During the course of the meal, Takahashi-san found out that this was my last meal in London and offered me a special leaving gift of the Toro no Oshinko (とろ沢庵巻). Essentially it was the fattiest part of the tuna (o-toro) that had been minced with spring onion and then wrapped with sesame seed and shinko (pickled radish). It was crunchy and delicious, and I was very touched. I did however wish I had ordered the nigiri of o-toro as well but luckily the next course more than made up for my mistake.
I saw the group of four diners next to me order Eel (鰻) earlier on and there was no way I would be leaving the restaurant having caught my olfactory attention with its sweet and seductive smell. The eel was blow torched before the sticky sweet soy based kabayaki (蒲焼) sauce was generously pasted over it with a pinch of sansho. The art of preparing an eel kabayaki requires years of experience as it is technically quite difficult. It involves gutting, de-boning, butterflying and filleting the delicate eel, followed by skewering and dipping it into the kabayaki sauce before broiling it on a grill at a temperature which needs to be precise and controlled. I asked Takahashi-san how he had prepared the eel but he only smiled and told me it was a secret… d’oh!
Alas, all good things must come to an end (again) and in this case with a Japanese sweet omlette (厚焼き玉子). At first sight it looked like an ordinary puffed up omlette but this one contained prawns, sea bass paste and yam. It had an interesting flavour and texture not too dissimilar to that of datemaki (伊達巻き) which contains similar ingredients and is prepared typically for Japanese New Years as part of the Osechi cuisine.
My second visit to Sushi Tetsu proved my point that the quality of fish can dramatically affect the end product of the sushi itself. A couple of sushi’s I had on the second visit were noticeably better despite the same level of care and preparation by Takahashi-san. The only difference was the fish. Don’t get me wrong, the quality on both occasion were very good but on one particular day it was even better. I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t have any sea urchin that day but I guess that demonstrated that Takahashi-san only handled ingredients that were in season and superior in quality that day. He teased me that he was getting some the following day but that was just cruel. I was thinking of just turning up next day but then again I didn’t want to inconvenience Harumi-san. Nevertheless, I couldn’t have asked for a better send off from London. I swear I will be back again…
Chef: Toru Takahashi Website: www.sushitetsu.com Cuisine: Sushi
I’ve pretty much come to the realisation that if you want amazing sushi you’ll have to go to Japan, or otherwise settle with mediocrity. For this reason I’ve almost abstained in eating sushi outside Japan because all that awaited me after a disappointing meal was a hefty bill, typically fuelled by the copious amounts of beer and sake to soften the blow. It was therefore a stroke of luck when a friend of mine who just returned from a honeymoon in Japan insisted that I should come along to a sushi-ya which she claimed was outstanding. Had it not been for the fact that she had been to some of the best restaurants in Japan recently, I probably would have turned down her offer. Unbeknownst to me, she had become a regular of Sushi Tetsu over the last six months and she assured I wouldn’t be disappointed. Sure enough, she was right.
As it turns out, getting a reservation at Sushi Tetsu is ridiculously difficult. Chef Toru Takahashi who is supported by his wife Harumi in this cosy sushi-ya in the backstreets of Farringdon caters for only seven people during each sitting. Luckily there is the option of filling in last minute cancellations through Harumi-san’s tweets but you’d have to be quick because it goes like gold dust. Having picked up the nickname “Tetsu” during his training in Kobe, Takahashi-san trained for five years in Nobu London before going solo on this new venture to concentrate in the perfection of sushi making. I was amazed to find out that Takahashi-san spoke fluent Spanish having lived in Marbella for a year during his chef training years.
If you want an elaborate “omakase” menu (chef’s recommendation) ranging up to a reasonable £70, you need to let them know a few in days in advance as it requires a bit of preparation. As I was approaching this cautiously, I decided to opt for just the “Flower” omakase sushi set at £38 to test the water. When we entered, Takahashi-san was busy preparing the wasabi for the service. The root was sourced from Shizuoka, a place renown for the best quality wasabi and where the oldest wasabi farm can be found. Harumi-san first brought out some wet towels whilst her husband laid out the bamboo leaves in front of us where he would serve the sushi one by one. It took only one sushi to realise my mistake in not ordering the omakase menu. I immediately knew I had to come back… soon.
The fish here is sourced through a trustworthy Japanese distributor who picks out the best fresh fish from Billingsgate market every morning. The first course of the meal was Sea bream (鯛), sourced most likely from the northern European seas. The firmness of the flesh was unbelievable yet it retained a good level of moisture. It had the right amount of the Takahashi-san’s home made soy concoction brushed on to complement the natural sweetness of the fish for which it is prized for, ending with a refreshing note of mintiness from the discretely hidden shiso leaf. The rice was spot on at body temperature and the right amount of pressure applied to form the pellet, firm but not too compact; something which requires years of training and the first hurdle for all trainees to becoming an “itamae” (板前), i.e. the chef.
Takahashi-san smiled back as I couldn’t contain my joy. He then moved on to wipe the bamboo leaf and began preparing our next course, Spear squid (槍烏賊). It was soft and sweet, although it did have a slight bit of chewiness. The chef uses two types of nori, including Maruyama Nori which has been produced since 1854 during the Edo period and coincidentally also used by the ever so famous Sukibayashi Jiro.
After another wipe down of the bamboo sheet, Takahashi-san was on to the next nigiri of Salmon (鮪). It’s perhaps not construed to be the most exciting cut of fish but I can assure you that when you get it right, it can be very good. The superior quality was evident and combined with the chef’s masterful skill this piece of oily silky fish simply melted in your mouth.
The delicious morsels of sushi kept on coming and the next nigiri of Prawn (海老) was no exception. The prawn was boiled very slightly and subsequently blow-torched on the butterfly-cut side to enhance the flavour and texture. It was sweet with a small hint of smokiness, but most importantly juicy and flavoursome.
Next up was one of my favourite of all times, Yellow Tail (ハマチ). Judging by the oiliness, softness and time of the year, I believe this particular cut was from a farmed fish in Japan as the natural ones are more firm, lighter in oil content and typically caught in winter. As far as I’m aware I don’t think they are native to the European seas but I’m more than happy to be corrected. It’s really a personal taste as some people, like myself, prefer the oily farmed ones. I thought this particular one prepared by Takahashi-san was very good with a lovely sweetness coming through, thereby requiring less soy sauce than similar white fleshed fish.
Razor clam (まて貝). After blanching the clam and cleaning it thoroughly, very shallow incisions were made across to give it a plumper texture. It was then glazed lightly with some more homemade soy sauce, dressed with an ever so tiny pinch of sea salt, and I could also pick up a hint of citrus note, possibly from the use of sudachi or ponzu which are the traditional choice.
There is a Japanese saying in that if you want to really test the quality of the tuna of a sushi-ya, the best part to first have is the lean cut, Akami (赤身), i.e. the red meat. There is much less distraction in flavour from the oiliness found in the more expensive fatty parts of the tuna. Provided the red meat passes muster, you can proceed to order the more expensive cuts as chances are it would be of supreme quality. What happened to me here was tragic and slightly embarrassing. The akami looked so good I forgot to take a photo and just gulped it, ending with a mixed emotion of happiness and remorse. Setting my stupidity aside, the akami was very good. It was soft and released so much flavour on each bite. It was evident that the tuna was wild as opposed to farmed. I can’t remember the last time I had such a good akami. I could hardly contain myself thinking about how the o-toro would taste! (special thanks to Fine Dining Explorer for supplying the photo).
The next course of Black Amberjack (黒カンパチ) was rather a surprise as it’s not a very common fish, at least in Japan. Given the similarity in name, texture and appearance to amberjack (kampachi), this fish has recently had to have its name changed in Japan to Sugi (スギ) due to people being tricked after thinking they bought the more expensive kampachi. Whilst a cheaper substitute, the taste is not inferior and it is much more fatty than the kampachi. I quite enjoyed it, particularly given this was my first time trying it.
Finally on to the much anticipated Aburi o-toro (炙り大トロ), the fattiest part of the tuna. After tasting the akami, I knew this was going to be something extraordinary and sure enough it was. The piece of fish was again lightly slashed and then brushed with the soy sauce concoction before being seared with a blow torch. To finish off, more soy sauce was brushed and it was ready to be devoured. It was a beautifully smoky morsel with an intense flavour that followed as the fish melted like butter in your mouth. Phenomenal.
The last of the nigiri was a marinated Mackerel (鯖), which had a sheet of thinly sliced su-konbu (seaweed marinated in vinegar). Umami, which is the savoury flavour found in konbu, is regarded as one of the five basic tastes of Japanese cuisine. The konbu gave the oily fish a meaty depth and the vinegar removed the fishiness typically found in the aftertaste. It’s a very delicate fish that requires quite a bit of skill to fillet and is one of my all time favourite fish despite it being relatively unpopular.
Last on the menu was a hoso-maki (細巻き) of Yellow tail with spring onion and shichimi (seven spices), salmon and razor clam with shiso. I particularly liked the yellow tail with the heat coming from the shichimi.
So there you go. You can actually get top quality sushi outside Japan and Takahashi-san is the living proof. But in order to get a successful sushi-ya you need some fundamental elements which most sushi-ya’s outside Japan lack. First and foremost, you need to have or rely on someone who has the skill of “mekiki” (目利き), which is the ability and knowledge to pick out good quality fish. Without good “sushi neta” (寿司ネタ), i.e. the toppings such as fish, even the most skilled itamae will struggle to make something decent. After that comes the extremely important skill in the preparation of the sushi rice (temperature and perfect balance of vinegar, sugar and salt), and its application where too much or little will affect the balance of flavour, and most importantly the right level of pressure needs to be applied; too little and the pelet falls apart, too much and it becomes hard. Then comes the matter of sourcing good quality nori, wasabi, knives and getting your homemade sauces right. Finally, you need someone with years of experience to bring all the elements together. It’s an art that requires discipline and unwavering determination, two qualities I believe Takahashi-san has and rewarded him in my opinion with the best sushi-ya in Europe. The road to perfection in the art of sushi is endless and no doubt Takahashi-san will go far as he continues to polish his skills. I can’t wait to go back!