really awesome mazechirashi, and alright sushi at a small restaurant to the back of shaw house. I’ve now had lunches at the two famed value-for-money-but-really-expensive-otherwise japanese powerhouses, tatsuya and aoki, and while the quality of the food is definitely really high at both establishments, I came away pretty underwhelmed. I’m not saying this is a fair judgement by any means – they and their techniques might probably shine at dinner or with fancier (read: more expensive) courses, but there is something to be said about getting something great for a reasonable amount of money, and I’m not completely sure these places do it for me.
before I quibble, the quality of the ingredients were pretty high, the flavours were clean and bright – I suppose I expected to be blown away, but that didn’t really happen. that mazechirashi is worth returning for though.
we got a sushi set, as well as the mazechirashi. the first a platter of neatly plumped and rather attractive sushi that came with a bowl of soup, salad, and pickles – there were various types of tuna and mackerel nigiri there (I had requested for no squid/prawns that day), a very pretty flayed-tamago stuffed with rice, some cucumber and tuna maki, as well as a gundan-maki topped with – my favourite – large salmon roe. these were perfectly formed, neat little mounds of rice with appetizing ingredients – the fish bit through cleanly without those pesky fibers you encounter sometimes, and the rice was a decent quality. I thought the tamago was a very nice touch, and that one salmon-roe piece really helped to perk up what was a rather (too-)mild dish.
we definitely ordered the mazechirashi – how could you not – and while the ingredients were rather similar to the sushi plate, the little cubes were piled high and generous, with salmon roe prettily – and tastily – dotting the dish. the uni was meltingly good, and somehow the rice here seemed more fragrant – I think all the chirashi seasoning made a large difference. I rather liked adding a few drops of soy sauce around the bowl and giving it all a great stir so you get even distribution of toppings – I’m not sure if this is the most authentic way to tackle a chirashi, but it tasted good.
the salad, soup and pickles that came alongside were decent, if nothing spectacular, though that salad was a good fresh start to the meal. the dessert came in a platter with a tofu-type pudding, a clear jelly, and what I think was a lychee sorbet (my memory fails me). that pudding was good – meltingly soft but made interesting with kuromitsu, and that sorbet rather refreshing.
it was a simple meal, with good ingredients, and really – undeniably of a fantastic standard. but sushi and chirashi are difficult things to base a restaurant’s abilities on – they require precise cutting but not much cooking, and both are meant to be simple dishes that allow the fish to shine through. which it does, but which you also expect at this price point.
we sat in a little alcove – big for 2 but might get squeezy with four – on worn leather seats that I think have seen better years, but the light streaming through the shoji on the window-side was calming and facilitated quiet conversation – you might have a more showy experience at the sushi counter. just as with tatsuya, I’m pretty glad I came and tried it out for myself – but then again, I might possibly spend my money at akashi/shin kushiya/sushi tei.
aoki definitely belongs to the old school of authentic japanese establishments, where you go to see a master slice up fish and plate it for you delicately – somewhere you want to connect with the person preparing your food, and to savour your food. when you’re not at the sushi counter though, you might just get higher utility from places like akashi/shin kushiya/sushi tei where the flavours are brighter, and the ambience conducive to boisterous chatting and indiscrimate cravings.