I’m fortunate to have just experienced some of the best sushi in Tokyo. Over the course of 3 days in Tokyo we had three amazing sushi experiences, each one very different, and planned based on my expectation that each would surpass the previous one.
We started with a good, recommended ‘local’ sushi restaurant for dinner in Ginza that the Park Hyatt’s concierge recommended. Looking it up it gets glowing reviews — but Americans going there all seem to get the recommendation from the Park Hyatt.
That was the only dinner out of the three meals. The next two would be lunches. First was Jiro Roppongi, Jiro’s son’s place (Jiro himself still works in the Ginza restaurant, but only at dinner). I expected that it would be a spectacle, perhaps a bit of a tourist trap though still with great sushi, and I approached it with some trepidation because of the chef’s famous temper.
And finally Sushi Masuda, another of Jiro’s students who has earned two Michelin stars and is a real up and coming star in Tokyo. It makes many top 10 lists, which is impressive in a city with 12 Michelin 3 star restaurants and 56 with 2 stars.
Sushi Harumi in Ginza
This is a neighborhood place. The chef speaks very little English but one of his apprentices speaks some. It’s also difficult to find, as many restaurants in Tokyo are, since there’s not very much signage however Google Maps was accurate for the location and it’s on the fourth floor of the building, turn right out of the elevator and trust that you’re there.
The meal was 10,000 JPY or ~ US$90 per person, and it’s a real treat. We had a 7 p.m. booking and there were two couples in the restaurant nearing the end of their meal, no one else came in during our dinner but it was a Wednesday night.
We picked a sake, there were three choices and each was ~ US$9.
After a hot towel the meal began. There were a variety of cooked and composed dishes before we moved onto the sushi.
All of his fish was excellent. Here’s just a sample.
Perhaps most interesting was his shrimp, unlike any other shrimp I’ve had. It was comprised of several long thin shrimp.
I remarked to the chef that I hadn’t had anything like it before and he brought out his book of fish to show me that it’s Japanese glass shrimp.
Here was his uni course.
The chef makes origami and he gave one to my wife. (I didn’t see him do this for the other diners.)
We finished our meal with fruit and gave tremendous thanks for the evening before heading back downstairs and hailing a cab on the street in front of the restaurant.
Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi Hills
That Jiro is 94 years old and only comes to his restaurant in Ginza at dinner now. His son’s restaurant is in Roppongi Hills. I had a lunch open and wanted to experience the son’s sushi.
Jiro Ono’s son Takashi is famously temperamental, but he isn’t nearly as serious as his father. He even told stories about growing up with his father, apprenticing from the age of 18. That’s when Jiro stopped being ‘father’ and became ‘master’ at least at work.
They view meals differently. Takashi is outgoing, to an America much more so than he used to be because he’s only learned English over the past two years. In contrast he says his father doesn’t believe a meal is time for drinking or talking. A meal is meant to concentrate on the food.
Of course Takashi learned to speak English because so much of his clientele are now toursts, after the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I feel bad for his father, actually, who takes sushi seriously and wants his customers to take it seriously too. Now he too gets almost exclusively tourists — who do not know how to approach sushi.
I’m reminded of the scene in Billions at Sushi Nakazawa in New York — chef Daisuke Nakazawa apprenticed under Jiro Ono, and makes the tamago cake in Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
Tourists largely populate the son’s place in Roppongi Hills as well. Takashi Ono famously accepted the apology of Chinese tourists who wanted their fish cooked. On our visit the other guests were,
- There was an Israeli honeymooning couple. She stopped eating halfway through the meal declaring herself ‘full’.
- A San Francisco man
- And a husband and wife who arrived late. She didn’t sit at the sushi counter, only he was going to be eating. And she never took off her baseball cap.
Again sake was ~ US$9. There wasn’t a selection. Just ‘sake, hot or cold’.
You can choose to do just sushi or sushi and sashimi. Everyone was doing both except for the man from San Francisco, my own view was that I wanted the broadest sense possible of the man’s fish. Sushi only is 19,000 JPY (US$173) and sushi and sashimi is 25,000 JPY ($228).
So that already means that more than one track is being presented at the same time. And with a couple arriving late, that meant a third track. I was impressed by how well Takashi Ono managed it, although his intensity was taken out on his apprentices who are also his first and second sons.
The sashimi was presented and guests are instructed to use soy sauce as it isn’t already sauced, and instructed along the way how to eat each dish.
One thing that struck me about the sushi is that the pieces of fish were larger than I’m used to.
We actually had three different pieces of tuna, from different parts of the fish, with gradations of fattiness. It was incredible.
I was impressed by his yellow uni, I’m much more used to getting an orange uni, the yellow is higher quality but doesn’t last as long so a restaurant doing lesser volume won’t use it.
Surprisingly the tamago cake was disappointing, it had almost no density to it at all.
The chef, hearing I was from Texas, had to show me his Texas memorabilia. He also had a Longhorns shirt. He didn’t take photos with any other guests that day, I think we were the only ones who didn’t offend him.
Sushi Masuda in Omotesando
My last sushi meal in Tokyo would be at Sushi Masuda, and this was the most refined of the three experiences. Like Jiro Roppongi, Masuda has two Michelin stars. He also charges the most of the three at 28,000 JPY or US$255 per person.
Unlike Jiro Roppongi, the restaurant is a beautiful space. Unlike Sushi Harumi, it’s not in an ugly building or on an ugly floor. Instead it’s a beautifully decorated space. That appeals to me as an American but of course in Japan the best food can be devoid of unnecessary elements like its surroundings.
We were five minutes early for our booking at noon, the first ones there, and the chef was preparing for our service.
Our lunch began with a variety of sashimi and cooked dishes before moving on to sushi. The most striking for me was the squid, with its ink fully intact.
The chef was both serious and friendly. His technique was advanced, but he was also a gracious host, talking with us about where we’d eaten, what we were enjoying in Tokyo, and happily talking about his experiences elsewhere. His English is good (the Chinese guest beside us spoke English but not Japanese).
His fish was excellent, and as Jiro Roppongi he served larger portions of fish than I’m used to in each bite. And the best roll I’ve ever eaten.
The uni here was even better than at our lunch the previous day with Takashi Ono.
The tamago was perfect.
While this was the most expensive of the three meals, it felt appropriately priced.
I’m Both Spoiled By the Some of the Best Sushi in Tokyo and Suffering Withdrawal
I’m not going to argue that any of these places is the best sushi in Tokyo. That would be silly. But I think it’s a great survey of some of the best sushi in Tokyo.
One visit isn’t enough to fully understand a restaurant of a chef, just to get a sample of what they’re about. I’d gladly return to any of these places, though much more likely Harumi and Masuda than Jiro Roppongi.
Unquestionably Sushi Masuda was more refined than Jiro Roppongi. It was an incredible meal well deserving of its two Michelin stars. Sushi Harumi was excellent as well, not at the level of ingredients of the other two restaurants, it was a much less expensive meal and he didn’t have the fish quality. He served orange rather than yellow uni. But there was tremendous skill on display and his shrimp dishes was one of the most interesting I’ve tried. I still dream of Masuda’s squid.
It’s hard to eat mediocre sushi after experiencing it at the level of some of the best sushi in Tokyo. There’s made to order sushi in the Japan Airlines first class lounge at Tokyo Narita. The fish there is fine. But the thing that differentiates, and really makes the sushi there (and most places, but that’s the sushi I had next) bland is the rice. The right rice can make or break the experience.
Overall my Tokyo meals made me appreciate the amazing sushi experience I have at home in Austin at Kyōten Sushiko. Unfortunately chef Otto Phan is leaving Austin to open a new omakase restaurant in Chicago. His Austin location will remain open with a new chef. Great for those of you in Chicago once his new Logan Square venue launches late in summer.