In March 2020, we were very lucky to secure an omakase seating with Chef Junichi Sato during our short trip to Tokyo, Japan. This restaurant, opened under the guidance of 3-Michelin-star Chef Yoshitake, was a hidden gem and the entire dining experience was exceptionally superb. Keep in mind we had our first omakase experience with Chef Takashi Sano in Sydney only a month earlier so we were dining with a basic understanding of what to expect.
For those that do not know, omakase (omakase shimasu) means "I'll leave it up to you". It is a Japanese style of eating where the customer trusts the chef completely and is presented with whatever the chef feels like cooking, usually a variety of seafood as sashimi, nigiri and sushi.
This was a 2 hour omakase experience, costing ¥30,000 per person. Due to the sudden emergence of Covid, the Australian currency was dropping drastically at the time so this dinner converted to about $450 per person.. 😭😭😅
We struggled finding this gem. Google Maps directed us in the right direction however finding the signage for the restaurant was very difficult. It was located in this tiny alleyway, in this private building. We only noticed the entrance when we saw the name of the restaurant on the door bell.
After buzzing the door, we were invited in and took the elevator upstairs where we were seated with only one other Japanese couple. It was a very private dinner with just us 4, the wait staff and the chef.
To start our meal, we had steamed squid with tomato berry and vinegar. This was such a refreshing and delicious dish! The squid had a very tender texture, not its typical bouncy-like texture, making it so easy to chew. The jelly substance was a little acidic and sweet, contrasting the oceanic flavours of the squid. I found it quite addicting and I had to stop myself from licking my cup clean in such a fancy place; and this was only the first dish! 😍
Our second dish was flounder with sea cucumber and roe. Mmm, so good! Thinly sliced and delicately handled onto our plate, this fish had a mild flavour profile with a slightly sweet undertone. The sea cucumber and roe enhanced its sweetness and in that one bite, everything melded together into fresh fish heaven. I remember we both looked at each other in eagerness, knowing this was only the start of the sashimi luxury we were about to indulge in that night.
Next up was octopus served in: soy and salt. Unfortunately, Chef Sato does not speak English but we were able to pick up on what he was trying to say...
This soy soaked octopus had a strong salty and umami flavour. Due to the long cooking time in the sauce, the octopus had a more soft and spongy texture than the other one. The added wasabi elevated the soy with its mild taste. Mick enjoyed this one more.
P.S. This was real, freshly-grated wasabi and had been out for longer than its potency period so it wasn't as "spicy" as horse radish (the "wasabi" everyone is familiar with). The real wasabi's mild taste was actually the perfect condiment to the raw octopus and we loveddddd it. Too bad real wasabi costs $200/kg 😔
This beautiful piece was the boiled and salted octopus. This bite was moderately salty with a slight umami under flavour. The texture was a lot more bouncy and chewy. The boiled method retained the shape of the octopus, giving this intricate detail of its tentacle. I enjoyed this one more because of its natural taste and it reminded me of *whispers* takoyakiiiiii 😆
We ordered a junmai sake for our meal. Mick was in love with this tokkuri.
This handful bite was a piece of mackerel, wrapped in nori. The rice was in the centre, surrounded by the soft and moist meat of the fish. The mackerel had a blend of rich and mild salty flavours, differentiated by the different colours of green. The seaweed added a nice, dry crunch to the bite. We loved the delicate presentation too.
This cute pot was marinated squid with a touch of ginger. The small-sized squids were chewy and firm, swimming in a slimy and gelatinous mouthfeel. The sauce had an umami and mildly sweet taste, dominated by the grated ginger on top. It was very appetizing.
This was a shabu shabu style clam. Shabu shabu is the Japanese version of hot pot and an onomatopoeia of stirring meats/veggies in a broth. The clam was steamed, giving it a bouncy and soft texture. It had a moderately strong briny taste. The broth was deliciously savoury and clean.
This was so pretty to look at! It was a bonita fish cooked in otaku style. I may have heard that wrong because otaku means 'an obsession with anime and manga' 😂 but wowwwww! The sauce was so friggin' good! It had this savoury, sweet smokiness to it that was absolutely de-li-ciousssss. The fish was tender with a charred flavouring and we could really taste the charcoal that was used. The added chives were the perfect, light garnish.
For decoration, these were the heads of the crab we were about to devour. We thanked them for their sacrifice because the next dish was bomb!
This delicious dish was a spin of ganjang gejang (カンジャンケジャン) - the Korean popular side dish of marinated raw crab. Instead of using meat of the leg, Chef Sato marinated every element of the head in a sweet and thickened sauce. This created a lot of depth of flavour and it was so good. Every bite was packed with scrumptious crab goodness. The texture was a contrast of gooeyness, tender meat and crunchy shell parts.
This next one was abalone soup. I'm not a fan of abalone because the texture reminds me of mushroom but surprisingly, I really enjoyed this dish. The abalone was more tender than chewy, and oozed of flavour from the corn-flavoured sauce. It was hard to tell what exactly the sauce was but it had a mildly sweet (from the corn) and herbaceous taste profile.
This butter fish was so delicious!! The miso paste melted over its flavourful body, creating this creamy bite of soft fish flesh. The charcoaled skin was crispy but was still stringing on in the bite so it was a nice contrast of both worlds (tender / crispy) partying in our mouths. The edamame beans were larger than what we were used to and had a firm-soft texture. These beans added a buttery and nutty taste to the dish.
Our bodies and souls were ready for the sashimi and we kid you not, we were both salivating watching Chef Sato slice these pieces.
The first of the nigiris was the Spanish mackerel. It was similar to the taste of salmon with a sweeter note. The flesh was soft and smooth and absolutely delectable. We were mmmm and ahhhh-ing instantly after the fish touched our tongues. The rice had been prepped into a perfectly-sized oval, with a layer of soy sauce and wasabi hidden underneath the mackerel.
This was a sardine nigiri and woahh, the details on the de-scaled skin was mesmerizing. The fish was also a soft texture and melted in our mouths. It had a slightly fishy and subtle lime taste. Mick is a sardine-lover and was savouring every last moment.
This was an interesting nigiri. It was clam with wasabi and it had the most unique appearance. We loved that each tentacle was kept in shape and wrapped around the rice. We also loved Chef Sato's precision in placing the wasabi in the centre. It had a chewy and slightly rubbery texture. The taste was mildly oceanic.
Oh boy, time for the guns! This gorgeous slab of fish was the akami tuna, cut from the upper part of the back and inside of the tuna fish. 'Akami' is notorious for its delicious 'red-fatty meat'. It was fuckin' de-li-cousssss, with as much emphasis as we can describe. The tuna game in Japan is definitely on another level.
Following traditions of an omakase, we have the next level up; the chuu toro 😍 Look at the details! This is a cut towards the belly of the tuna fish and it often has a mixed amount of fat and red meat. It was tender and savoury with bursts of umami all wrapped up in a perfect bite of tuna paradise. Just... YUMMMMM!
Ok, ok, we officially died at this point and went to tuna heaven with this motherfuckin' otoro. It was so fatty! The entire piece fell apart in our mouths and we were swept away by the imaginary ocean that had succumbed our tastebuds. Just look at the beautiful marbling on that scrumptious piece of fish... I would sell my hair and be bald forever to be able to eat this piece for the rest of my life.
We ordered another sake to compose ourselves; a ginjo type, and this unique tokkuri was so cute.
This was kohada fish. Unfortunately not as mind blowing as the tuna, but this delicately cut and aesthetically looking fish tasted similar to the sardines with a flavourful fishy taste profile. It had a soft fleshy mouth feel.
Oh my gawd, this ebi nigiri was soooooo good! It was super creamy with a slippery, tender and firm texture. The miso paste elevated the sweetness of the prawn, making our eyes roll into the back of our heads when this beauty touched our tongues.
Only in Japan can we eat hundreds of high quality sea urchines for an affordable cost. This rare and delicious uni maki had a blend of a salty sea urchin and a creamy sea urchin so we got to taste the best of both worlds. This bite... I'm honestly starting to run out of words because I was so mind blown by the immense overload of umami flavours but yeah.. de-fuckin'-li-couss! I WANNA EAT THIS AGAIN.
One of Mick's all-time favourite, the unagi nigiri, a.k.a. eel. This was perfect in all its simplicity. Chef Sato had brushed a thin layer of teriyaki sauce over the grilled flesh of this flavourful eel, heightening its sweetness in this soft bite of goodness.
This was hamaguri, known as Asian hard clam. We had never had this before so its texture was similar to regular clam, with that firm, bouncy mouthfeel. The teriyaki brought about a sweet aroma in this mild umami-flavoured bowl of seafood. It was very delicately displayed and tasted nice but not our favourite of the night.
We were a little sad when the negitoro roll arrived. This is traditionally a hand rolled temaki of all the leftover tuna pieces that did not make the cut, usually served towards the end of the omakase. It was a saddening and delicious bite, filled with intense tuna flesh, crispy salted seaweed and sweet bundles of rice.
Following traditional omakase courses, and sad endings, we have our second last dish, tamago. We kid you not, this was absolutely the best egg omelette we have ever had in our lives, including the Tsukiji Fish Market one and Kichi Kichi Omurice. And based on reviews, this may be the upcoming winner of the best tamago in Tokyo! This soft and heavenly piece of egg was so fluffy and flavourful with a hint of sweetness, it dispersed in our mouths and left us unhinged from the ground. Mick was so in love, he kept complimenting Chef Sato and ended up getting an extra piece because Chef Sato said they were now 'tomadaichi' (friends).... I'm still jealous, 6 months later as I write this post 😒 LOL.
We ended our beautiful night and cleansed our palate with miso soup and scallions. It was salted, tangy and savoury.
The entire course was completed in 2 hours. We were welcomed to stay and enjoy our sakes if we wanted however it was 10 PM so we decided to head home with our food bellies. We were filled to the brim after that 24 course meal.
Chef Sato was very friendly and did his best to engage with us foreigners despite only knowing basic English. This was an amazing experience, especially given our research of other Japanese omakase and their "unfriendly" service. We're so glad we got to dine at this hidden gem because we genuinely believe Chef Sato will earn a Michelin star or two in the next few years. Like c'mon, he was trained by Chef Yoshitake, who has upheld 3 Michelin stars at every single location around the world. Plus Chef Sato's tamago was the best piece of egg to ever touch our tongues😍😍😍😍.
Thank you so much for reading.
And thank you Chef Sato for the best Japanese meal of our lives.
One of our bucket list goals was to witness the 桜 (sakura; cherry blossoms) in full bloom in Japan. If you didn't know, these flowers only bloom for about 2 weeks every year before they start falling off the tree. The blooming period is random and can be anywhere between early March till late May.
Last year I tried but I missed the blooming window by 2 weeks. All the flowers were withered and scattered on the ground. This year we were more lucky and caught the first few days of the blooming season. We visited Shinjuku Gyoen National Park on 25th March 2020 for 花見 (hanami; flower viewing) with our mate, Aaron.
P.s. the photos of us were taken with Mick's Sony Alpha 7RIV.
Japan does it again with the coolest attractions 😍. Ponshukan is a museum dedicated to sake (rice wine). There are three branches, all located in Niigata station, making it the most convenient and cheapest place to get lit on the commute home.
We visited this place after our tour at Imayo Tsukasa Sake Brewery on our day trip to Niigata in March 2020.
A few things to do at Ponshukan:
It was ¥500 for the tasting corner. We got reusable cups and five coins for the vending machine. Once we were done, we could top up for another round. In other words, it was $1 for a shot of sake. SO GOOD!
There were so many options! Each sake had a detailed label of its brewery, with its category and a rating scale of its dryness, complexity, aroma, and fullness.
Mick was smart, reading and picking the most unique sakes out of the 96. I was more focused on a light and slightly dry taste. In the end, it didn't even matter because, after a while, all the sake tasted the same 😂
Mick said the highest record of sake consumption at the Ponshukan in one sitting was 33 shots. Wow! Impressive! I got to 8 before my body cried nooo and my stomach rumbled from the warm sensation. Mick managed to hit 17 but let's just say, he was very tipsy on the train ride back to Tokyo 😂.
If we weren't rushing for our train, we would have definitely tried more shots. Oh wells, there's always next time hehehe. This was such a fun gimmick; highly recommend it for your next Japan trip!
Thanks for reading, jaa-ne.