Sushidokoro Hiroshi


When it comes to high-end sushi in Tokyo, the widely accepted wisdom is to always get the omakase, meaning to let the chef serve you a selection of the day’s best and freshest cuts of fish and seafood. But while Hiroshi Komatsu prepares just as mouth-watering an omakase as any other top sushi chef, he also wants his customers to eat and drink what they like, forgetting about rules and convention. “Today’s style of serving sushi doesn’t allow customers to eat in a way that suits them. A lot of places only offer courses, and it’s common for sushi chefs to just watch customers as they eat the course at their own pace,” Komatsu says. “I think this is good, but for me, since customers are all different ages and come from different backgrounds, I try to make sure their meal suits them.” An example of this is when an older customer comes in, who Komatsu notices is struggling to finish the course partway through. In this case he’ll make adjustments like reducing the amount of rice he uses, so that the customer still gets a chance to taste each topping. “Customers are not all the same, and the fact that we’re always right in front of them—we’re not bringing food out from the back—means we’re able to meet the needs of each individual customer,” he says. “And I think that’s the most important thing for a sushi restaurant.” Komatsu learned the art of sushi under his grandfather, who runs a popular restaurant in Tokyo’s Azabu district. He worked there for 10 years, then spent an additional 13 heading a second branch. But from the beginning, his intention was always to strike out on his own once he was ready. “I wanted to do things in my own way,” he says. “There are certain rules and customs that I didn’t want to follow.” Among these customs is the one that dictates that only men can be sushi chefs. While Komatsu has yet to hire a woman, he doesn’t see any reason not to. He’s more interested in applicants’ personalities than he is in their gender or nationality. When he finally decided to open Sushidokoro Hiroshi in 2017, Komatsu enlisted his older brother, an interior designer, to help with the construction of the restaurant. What resulted is one of Tokyo’s most beautiful sushi bars, with lots of tasteful blonde wood and intricate sliding doors concealing the cabinets where ceramic dishes—some made by customers from around the world—are kept. If the design of the restaurant isn’t enough to make customers feel immediately welcome, Komatsu’s warm and friendly demeanor will surely put them at ease. He’s quick with a grin, and happy to explain his ingredients or even engage in small talk, if that is what the customer wants. “Some people just want to eat their meal quietly, while others want to ask questions about everything they eat,” he says. “You have to read the customer. The art and technique of conversation is … Read More



Oichiichi, an intimate counter restaurant serving Japanese home cooking. A safe distance from the crowds around Kamakura station.

A safe distance from the crowds around Kamakura station, past the daily farmer’s market, Ikuyo Segi serves lovingly prepared set lunches in her cosy Oichiichi restaurant. Iku-chan, as all the regulars call her, started her career in fashion but got tired of the industry’s ever-changing whims and realised that what she really wanted to do was to cook. “My father passed away around that time, and I guess that got me thinking about my future,” she says. Iku-chan serves classics of Japanese home cooking with brown rice, miso soup (made with her own homemade miso), and three to four side dishes. There are always two different main dishes to choose from (fried tuna and cauliflower fritters or oyster gratin, for example) and usually one of these is meat free. Everything is carefully served on beautiful ceramics—some of which Iku-chan has repaired herself using the Japanese art of kintsugi—in an unhurried manner that makes customers feel right at home. For someone running such a small restaurant, Iku-chan is surprisingly not very talkative. “I am actually not very good at communication,” she says. “Maybe that’s another reason I chose to work with food. I don’t need words to see if someone likes my cooking. It shows on their faces!” Through her cooking and her ever-present smile, she creates a warm and unpretentious atmosphere of quiet hospitality at the intimate, ten-seat counter. Most of the fruit and vegetables used at Oichiichi are sourced locally, either from the farmers market or from friends. Meat comes from the small butcher shop just five doors down. “The butcher is such a nice man and the meat is always delicious. He also often introduces me to people who need catering, so how could I get my pork and chicken anywhere else?” Iku-chan laughs. Originally from Mie prefecture, Iku-chan has been cooking for more than 20 years in different restaurants around Tokyo and Kamakura. She opened Oichiichi with her husband Satoru, a Kamakura native, in 2012. “We did most of the interior ourselves, but also got help from a lot of people who would walk by and pop their heads in to see what we were up to,” she says. “One passerby helped us paint some of the walls and another one did all the kitchen tiling for us.” The crooked windows, exposed beams and painted old wooden walls all add to the charm of the restaurant. Besides lunch, Iku-chan also does takeaway bento boxes and private catering, mostly by word of mouth. In the evening, Chun, as Satoru is known by his friends, turns Oichiichi into a favourite local hangout. He takes pride in serving an eclectic selection of sake and shochu, as well as draft beer from the nearby Yorocco brewery. He doesn’t really cook, but Iku-chan always prepares a series of small snacks he can serve the regulars with their cold mugs of beer. “It’s funny, but the lunch customers and evening customers are totally different,” Iku-chan explains. But no doubt, they share a liking … Read More



Locale - Restaurant by the River in Meguro

Walking into Locale, a small restaurant near the river in Meguro, customers feel as though they’re entering someone’s home. The chef, Katy Cole, welcomes them with a smile from behind the counter, where other guests—who may have been strangers only moments before—share stories and discuss wine preferences. “It feels like a dinner party every night,” Cole says. The story of how Cole came to open Locale is an unlikely one, full of chance encounters and serendipitous twists of fate. The Los Angeles native spent the first decade of her career cooking in San Francisco. When she first visited Japan on a whim, it was only for a ten-day holiday. Still, she “felt like there was something more,” and six months later she was back again, this time for a longer stay. During that second trip, she began making the connections that would soon lead to her leaving California behind to live in Japan full time. After spending several months doing pop-up cooking events whenever and wherever she could, Cole was hired as the savoury chef to open what would quickly become a popular bakery and cafe in Daikanyama. It was during this time that she learnt that the restaurant that previously occupied Locale’s space would be closing. She immediately put up her hand to take over the lease. “On the second or third day of my first trip to Japan, I came here and sat at this counter and thought, I would love to have a restaurant like this one day,” she says. Over time she became friends with the owner of that restaurant, and even though he questioned whether she would be able to make the space work for her, she knew she was going to try. And not only did she try, she succeeded. “I opened the restaurant four years to the day from when I came here the first time,” Cole says. At Locale, vegetables take centre stage. Every week, the restaurant gets deliveries from small farms across Japan, the contents of which are unknown until they are opened. It is only at this time that the chef begins planning the menu, which changes slightly each day. “We use such special ingredients and the farmers put a lot of care and energy into what they’re growing, and for me to peel it all away or make it into some other shape seems like a little bit of a waste to me,” Cole says. “The quality of the vegetables is so nice, I don’t need to do too much to them. So I guess my philosophy is just that simple is best.” A night at Locale might see a menu that includes colourful roasted vegetables with cashew cream, lentils and avocado with a bright pink sauce made of yogurt and shibazuke pickles, Spanish mackerel with quinoa and roasted root vegetables, and pork shoulder with whipped taro root and greens. “I feel that everything sort of comes together, from the honesty of the people growing the vegetables, to serving … Read More



Sushisho - Sushi Restaurant. Probably the most influential sushi chef working in Japan today – and Sushisho is more than just his restaurant. To his growing band of protégées...

People who know sushi know Keiji Nakazawa. His name rarely figures on high-profile star-ranking systems, but he is probably the most influential sushi chef working in Japan today – and Sushisho is more than just his restaurant. To his growing band of protégées, it is an academy; to devotees of his cuisine, it is Mecca. Nakazawa’s philosophy falls within the broad church of Edomae sushi, or ‘sushi in the style of Edo’ (the old name for Tokyo), which in its purest form is the combination of sliced raw seafood on top of vinegared rice. For inspiration, Nakazawa reached back in time to the earliest traditions of Edomae sushi, while at the same time evolving the cuisine in directions that are both innovative and stunning to behold. For example, modern sushi norms dictate that the fish must be as fresh as possible, yet before refrigeration technology it was commonly treated to make it last longer. Nakazawa resurrected this tradition by ageing, marinating, simmering or searing his seafood to achieve maximum flavour. He is also fastidious about rice, and uses two different grains depending on the seafood they’re cushioning: simple white rice for simple, delicate fish; and less common red rice for fattier, fuller flavoured species. He varies the seasoning – vinegar, salt or soy – to balance the taste, and famously serves his rice warmer than is customary. The fixed omakase course service at Sushisho can begin with a delicate slice of cooked squid stuffed with rice and dotted in three places with concentrated soy sauce. It may include a pocket of aji (horse mackerel) filled with threads of ginger, shiso and cucumber. It will certainly include slithers of tuna, yellowtail or squid laden with taste from being aged for days or even weeks. And extras such as monkfish liver lying back-to-back with pickled baby watermelon on a bed of red rice would be a crime to miss. Nakazawa set his sights set on becoming a shokunin (artisan) of sushi when he was just 15 years old. His journey began on a delivery bicycle, weaving the crowded streets of Tokyo with boxes of sushi piled high on his shoulder. Later, he travelled the country “like a nomad” honing his skills and learning regional traditions and techniques. The sushi world became his family: he lived with the other apprentices, ate and drank with his teachers, and learned to enjoy interacting with customers. In January 2016, Nakazawa upped sticks and moved to Hawaii for his next adventure, opening a branch of Sushisho in Waikiki. But his spirit lives on at his former restaurant and in the talents of those he schooled in the Sushisho way. “You can’t run a restaurant alone,” Nakazawa says. “More than skill, teamwork and communication are most important.” He is mentor to several of Tokyo’s most highly regarded young sushi chefs. To them, he is always – even in his absence – called oyakata, a term that combines respect with endearment, marking him out as akin to an honorary … Read More

Tanyaki Shinobu


Tanyaki beef tongue restaurant

Every evening, when most other restaurant owners are waiting anxiously for their first customer, Shinobu Uesugi is already hard at work taking orders, passing out plates, and pouring cold beers. Soon after 6pm, Tanyaki Shinobu, her specialist beef-tongue restaurant, is full. It’s been this way ever since Uesugi opened her restaurant in 1979. “For the first two or three months, we didn’t even have a sign out front. People from the neighbourhood just dropped in,” she recalls. Although grilled beef tongue (tanyaki) features on the menus of many Japanese restaurants, even in Tokyo’s diversified dining scene, few would dare to make it their specialty. The menu at Shinobu includes eight beef tongue dishes – grilled, boiled and stewed. The tongue stew at Shinobu is simmered for 10 many hours, starting the night before it’s served, until the meat is so tender it’s practically falling apart. Uesugi’s husband, Tokujiro Uesugi, opened his first restaurant the young couple were still in their early twenties. They served western food like pizza and steak in Kabukicho, an area of Shinjuku that later developed a notorious reputation. As the neighbourhood went downhill, the Uesugis decided it was time for a change. Moving to the business district of Yotsuya, local ‘salarymen’ became the couple’s core clientele. Many of them come back at least once a week, and Uesugi and a handful of ladies in pinafores serve them with the rough familiarity of favourite aunties. “I added some vegetable dishes to prevent the regulars getting bored of tongue,” Uesugi says. “But people who come here often know they can trust us, and just ask us to serve whatever we recommend.” The home-cooked style of the cuisine fits the rustic interior, for which the wooden posts and beams came from dismantled storehouses that were reassembled using a traditional form of carpentry employing no nails or screws. To accessorise with this structure, the tables and stools are made from logs and slices of tree trunks. On weekends, the suits and ties of the salarymen are gone, replaced by a younger and trendier crowd of smartphone-enabled foodies. Old-fashioned dishes like tanyaki are making a comeback. And Uesugi’s maternal hospitality never goes out of fashion. “These days, people find us online and trek here from all over the place,” she says. “It makes me happy to see all these young faces.” Looking back over almost four decades of restaurant work, Uesugi isn’t shy about explaining her decision to settle on such a specific cuisine: “I had thought about opening a yakitori restaurant. But that means starting work early in the morning to cut all that chicken and skewer it. With this, you just have to season it, cook it, and serve it,” she says. “We provide speedy service, and our patrons enjoy the food. Everybody’s happy!”

Sushisho Masa


Sushisho Masa sushi restaurant

When Masakatsu Oka decided he wanted to become a sushi chef, he knew there was something he needed to fix. Lacking neither passion nor commitment, it was in a sense his body that looked set to let him down. “It’s because, truth be told, I’m left-handed,” confesses Oka, a trait that even today is considered undignified by some Japanese. Not wanting this perceived weakness to ruin his culinary ambitions, Oka could be found nightly practising cutting cabbage into thin strips with his right hand until, in his words, “I no longer feared the knife.” It clearly worked. He moves the blade with swift, deft strokes, lightly scoring a slice of squid with dozens of fine, diagonal cuts. He angles his knife to the right, and repeats the action in the other direction to make a crisscross pattern so that when the flesh touches one’s tongue, it feels like it’s melting. But Oka credits his skills less to his late-night cabbage training and more to his mentor, Keiji Nakazawa of Sushisho (p.XX). “Nakazawa-san is the person I respect most,” Oka says. “If I hadn’t met him, this restaurant wouldn’t exist.” Sushisho Masa, the name of Oka’s restaurant, is testament to that. The practice is known as noren-wake, or ‘dividing the noren’ – the noren being the curtain above the door that bears a restaurant’s name. By permitting him to use the Sushisho name, the mentor gives a public blessing to his acolyte’s new venture, indicating that the young man is equipped to safeguard his legacy. An honour of that level must be earned, and Oka is no stranger to hard work. He says that losing his mother at an early age taught him to be independent. And that the punishing schedule of his early years learning the sushi trade – starting work at 7.30am, and ending around midnight – was a lesson in endurance. “Find out how far you can push yourself and then push even further,” he says, sounding more marathon runner than chef. Indeed, as he works behind Sushisho Masa’s cosy seven-seat counter, Oka controls every movement and every breath. As the cuts of his knife create a staccato rhythm, his words meet the beat, becoming almost meditative as he describes each dish: aji (horse mackerel) is served with a dab of acidic hacchomiso, a deeply flavoured dark miso from Western Japan; rectangles of katsuo (bonito) come sandwiching paper-thin slices of garlic marinated in soy sauce to mellow the taste; and his decadent signature dish of three succulent slices of o-toro lightly layered with wasabi to create what he calls the ‘Masa-feuille’. Oka’s eyes twinkle as he presents rare ingredients such as grilled anago liver, or octopus eggs simmered in dashi – all likely to surprise even the most dedicated lover of sushi. “I always keep my eyes open for new ideas. That’s what I try to teach my guys,” he says, gesturing towards his staff of three young apprentices. “I want them to become the kind of people … Read More