I don’t usually do restaurant reviews for travel anymore but I made an exception for this.
I’ve been eating Japanese food for most of my life. I still remember my humble beginnings as a child being offered a sampling of salmon nigiri at a generic Japanese restaurant. That restaurant went on to be regarded as one of the worst sushi restaurants, even by paltry Malaysian standards. My sushi was a thin piece of pale orange and white placed on top of a sizeable chunk of rice. But that first bite was magic for me. The creaminess of raw salmon is undeniable and little Sam even braved the wasabi hit. And if this blog represents anything at all, it’s that since my first foray into Japanese food, I haven’t looked back since.
Fast forward to Sam today and I’ve been incredibly blessed to try a variety of exquisite meals in various countries, so much that I think I’ve discerned a pattern. While it certainly is beautiful that the cultural mish-mash in Australia and Malaysia have led to perfect East meets West creations in fine dining, an ironic downside to this is homogeneity. Most fine dining establishments nowadays seem to tout similar, avocado and *insert your favourite seafood*, sashimi or ceviche or tartare and the ever popular slow-cooked farm grazing animal. It’s delicious, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also just getting really same-y. Cue the dinner we had on the same day we wandered around Ameyoko, a back to basics omakase meal at Sushi Sho Saito. This dinner was one of the most game-changing meals I have had in the last five years. It revitalised my tastebuds, introduced me to ingredients I had never even heard of and reaffirmed my belief in traditional Japanese cuisine.
Sushi Sho Saito is one of those restaurants in Japan that have a dining area slightly larger than a shoebox. There is one table, the chef’s table, which goes around the chef’s preparation area and seats about 12 people. At this one star Michelin establishment, everything is “omakase” a dinner style which means you entrust everything to the chef who prepares each course based on freshness and availability of fish that he has. Personally I think omakase done well not only ensures a great dining experience for the guest but is great on the restaurant too as it probably minimises wastage on their part.
Fresh wasabi is a real treat and a hallmark to the authenticity of the restaurant. Although I don’t particularly mind the basic stuff either which is usually just dyed horseradish, the texture of real wasabi isn’t at all like a paste and has a more complex flavour rather than just straight up spice.
Our first course needs no introduction, it’s tuna belly or ootoro. The rice is already seasoned says our chef so there is no need to add soy sauce. Also if you’re wondering what those interesting bubbles are in the background, they are sea grapes seasoned with some kind of vinegar and eaten raw. They were slightly addictive as I loved the chewiness and being able to make them pop in my mouth. To the left is of course, wakame.
Next is cod shirako or cod sperm and it’s from here on that I’m thankful our chef has a decent level of English as it would be pretty disappointing if I never got to know what I ate. Incidentally he also spoke really good mandarin after studying it at college/university. But of course yours truly never passes off a chance to speak Japanese like a caveman to anyone who’d listen. Anyway back to the sperm (never thought I would have to say that). It was interesting. I would say that it tastes like how it looks, slippery and creamy, and not too fishy at all.
Tai/sea bream and hirame/flounder are up next. I really do enjoy white fish, they’re a lot lighter on the palate. They also don’t make you feel sick after having one too many, the way you feel with salmon sashimi sometimes.
Tako/octopus is not my usual choice because I often find it too tough and bland. But tonight nothing is my choice and I’m forced to dutifully eat this up. This is when I discovered that the tako here is unlike tako I’ve had anywhere else. There was a light sweetness to it with a bit of chew but nothing that would have tired my jaws out. Going to guess that when octopus is eaten fresh it’s not meant to be so tough.
Sawara/Spanish mackerel is up next and as you can see this rice is also seasoned. I don’t think I’ve had enough white fish to truly discern the differences between them besides texture, but this was very nice.
Mackerel skin is Ally’s favourite although I think the name ‘skin’ is a bit misleading as there’s quite a bit of flesh underneath. Not that I’m complaining because somehow the skin is still super crispy while the fresh is succulent as anything.
The arrival of chawanmushi makes me think that we are taking a break from seafood but at the very bottom is sea cucumber roe buried like treasures waiting to be found.
I’ve had saba sashimi many times before but the cut has always been one that is closest to the skin. This one is a lot pinker and with the omission of the skin makes it a lot less fishy.
I’ve had ebi sushi and amaebi sushi but this was probably my first time having shimae ebi. It has the texture of amaebi but isn’t as sweet. It’s topped off with cod innards.
Simmered female flower crab is course number twelve (excluding all the seaweed) in case you’ve lost count. It’s very typically Asian of us to adore this dish because its topped with crab roe, the part of the crab which my relatives fight over sometimes.
Bonito sashimi is a sight to behold with its flesh a shocking pink colour. I’m so used to seeing bonito as flakes on top of agedashi tofu or other similarly simmered and fried dishes like takoyaki. Now that I think about it I’ve probably never seen bonito pre-dried before. Dried bonito basically looks like wood.
This unassuming white blob was one of the main attractions not least because its the second time that night that I’m eating sperm. I present to you fugu shirako, or pufferfish sperm.
Truth be told, I didn’t like it. It was like eating molten butter? Just so incredibly rich and creamy, I wasn’t even reaching explode-y point yet but this dish wiped me out and made me feel a little bit sick. And I don’t mean in the poisonous type of way that fugu is renowned for. My mom on the other hand rated this as her favourite course of the night.
Perhaps I really did get sick or something because it’s after this point that my pictures and notes don’t really correlate. I think I may be missing photos of two courses </3 . Ikura gunkan sushi is this guy’s name, an acquired taste that I have grown to adore.
One of the holy grails of Japanese cuisine, sea urchin. It’s got texture like silk and the true taste of the ocean. I wish I was so lucky to buy a whole tray of uni while I was in Japan.
Like I said earlier, after the fugu I really just wanted to quit. But my stepdad with all his fighting spirit urged me to try one more, just this last one and then we could be done. I obliged and opened my mouth for monk fish liver/ankimo topped with a Japanese pickle. This was my favourite course of the night. I met the love of my life that night, when can I see you again ankimo-chan?
I’ve stopped after 19 or so courses but my cousin Ally is a machine and has a few more of the stuff we had earlier plus this which I think is grilled swordfish/tachiuu.
Light miso soup with copious amounts of negi to sooth a swollen overfed belly.
Jokes, we still have dessert. My stepdad asks for the apple sorbet, which I can only tell is good because he didn’t offer any to me to share.
Ice cream sandwiches that continues to plague mom’s dreams for the rest of the trip. They come in soymilk cream, black bean and earl grey flavours. The first two were way better than the last one but still, it’s the big leagues we’re talking here.
Us several kilos heavier by the end of it! Except my mom who appears to just be a head. I don’t think my writing does any justice to how good this meal was. Which may in part be my novice skills but honestly words to describe some of these courses haven’t been invented yet. I’m a little bit disappointed I didn’t capture every single dish and wasn’t taking enough notes but it was probably because I was just living in the moment of such a fantastic dinner. I’m usually all about breaking conventions and I hate tradition for tradition’s sake, but Sushi Sho Saito has culinary expertise and a real prowess for creating such an eclectic menu that is timeless and needs to live on into the next millennia.