Top class sushi in Ginza, Tokyo by Takao Ishyama
Sushiya is the perfect start point for anyone that wants a decent sushi experience in Tokyo but does not want to have their bank balance broken as a result comparatively. You can easily pay upwards of £400 per person in Tokyo for sushi or tempura experiences that last less than an hour. This was a full sushi experience, relaxed and easily paced, lasting two and a half hours with quality ingredients costing £181. The chef himself (Takao Ishyama) had trained at Sushi Saito which is widely regarded as the top sushi restaurant in the world, in spite of its 3 Michelin stars being stripped on the grounds that it is practically a private member’s club, allowing bookings only for customers who have already been (figure that one when trying to make a reservation!). Chef Ishyama speaks English well and was personable with guests throughout a thoroughly decent meal that only has micro differences in quality with an ex-three Michelin starred restaurant sushi restaurant such as Jiro which I found to be a very odd experience.
This was a full-on meal and started with Icefish with ginger soy and sake and baby scallop with drop of lime was beautifully cooked and seasoned well with salt. Mante shrimp was beautifully sweet and then I had something I have never had before: napper fish sperm. Only in Japan. This was intensely rich and similar in texture to foie gras but would have probably done with not knowing beforehand(!).
It’s usual to start a sushi experience with a beer and then switch to sake; the beer I went for was premium suntory beer which had an Ultra creamy froth on the beer and minute bubbles. Baby squid was served again and this time with miso sauce and their brains making a luxurious texture.
Japanese wasabi is very hot if you have not had this before. Most sachets of green ‘wasabi’ served in packets of sushi you find in any supermarket will almost certainly comprise of horseradish coloured green and is not actually wasabi. Sadly, this can also be the case in some restaurants, but you will know if you have the real thing grated at the table by a Japanese chef using a piece of shark skin for them to grate the wasabi as the net result is heat that you pretty much need an asbestos mouth to content with it. Therefore, a little heads up is to try a fraction of an amount each time and then take it from there. The ginger was strong but not too hot at the same time (and far better than the normal quality you may have had in Europe / elsewhere).
Bonito (a relative of tuna) was served with spring onion and radish was absolutely melt in the mouth and with a beautifully smoked quality. Mackerel wrapped in seaweed was absolutely superb – it was sweet, salty, soft and crunchy all in one and was the penny drop moment of now understanding why the ingredients here are on another level. Crab with soy vinegar was simply gorgeous, so fresh, diced and replaced into the shell and had to drink the leftover of the sauce.
Sea bream with green onion was wonderfully tender. Sabre fish did not have huge flavour but the mashed radish was nicely balanced with soy and the fish was succulent. Monkfish liver was similar in texture to duck or chicken foie gras but infinitely lighter and slightly sweet at the same time… this was a new experience for me and utterly divine. Red snapper was tough but was packed with flavour at the same time and the rice was fantastic.
Salmon sushi was absolutely dissolvable with hint of smokey flavours and brilliant quality. Medium fatty Tuna (red chutoro) was absolutely lovely with warm rice, soft and pure and perfectly glazed with soy. Fatty tuna (otoro) was even more wonderful. Low fat tuna (akimi) was pure and the squid sushi was very pure, albeit a bit of a shock being so tough to get through. Sardine sushi was mercifully gentle and enjoyable and the horse mackerel was an instantaneous pleasure. Tiger prawn had heat from wasabi and an almost slimy texture and surprisingly was not my favourite version of giant prawn.
Cockle sushi was still moving on the plate having only just been removed from the shell and is the first time I have eaten what appeared to be a live fish which was pretty entertaining! When the box of sea urchin was produced, a big “Ahhhhhhh……” was heard by all at the table indicating to me that this is clearly a huge favourite amongst the locals (I was the only Westerner in this whole restaurant making it an even more authentic experience. Sea urchin was reportedly 5 years old (although I think the chef was pulling my leg here) and utterly melt in mouth.
Japanese clam was utterly fresh, the nori seaweed with all sushi was absolutely fabulous. Sea eel (brown) was very light indeed and this was followed by sweeter vegetables of strips of dry gourd (a kind of pumpkin) which was almost caramelised. The whole meal was finished off with tomago, a traditional sweetened egg sweet omelette, cut into cubes as the solitary dessert (very common end to proper, sushi meals).
Throughout this meal, the chef calmly prepared all and was in total control the whole way through, ever happy talking to the guests. I was in the hands of a sheer craftsman here and I love the fact that the chef didn’t even need to look when handing boxes of fish through the curtain, he knew it would be taken away instantly by assistants, probably not yet worthy of being in sight of the diners. This was a wonderful sushi meal and I heard by locals at the table that it was an example of sushi that was easily in the Michelin starred territory but not yet in receipt of one. £181 for this amount of genuinely high-quality sushi and courses with countless beers and saki all the way through frankly made this a bargain in my view.
It is hard to gain a booking here, so if you want to ensure things, I would recommend doing what I did which is to grab an electric cycle and go there in person at the start of your holiday to see if there are any spaces in the coming days – at least then they know you are serious and happily oblige rather than being denied any windows if you try to ring yourself. That, or stay in an expensive 5* hotel and ask the concierge to make the reservation for you months in advance of your trip is the only other way.
Food Grade: 87%
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