Portraits of Sushi Tokami

イカ Ika Squid

I consider myself extremely fortunate for many reasons. One of them is the number of times I have been able to dine omakase. In Japan alone, I believe Sushi Tokami would be my fourth or fifth experience. If you are interested in fine dining, passionate about food or even just curious about other aspects of Japanese culture, I cannot recommend omakase any higher.

カイ Kai Shellfish

Awhile back former Masterchef Australia champion, host of Destination Flavour, ex-Disneyland Tokyo lawyer and one of my all-time heroes, Adam Liaw, echoed this sentiment in an Instagram post, with a caption about how unless you’re particularly well-versed in sushi, there’s very little value in trying to book Jiro or Saito or any of the other big wigs. I agree with Adam. This isn’t to say that getting me a booking at Sukiyabashi Jiro wouldn’t be like ten years worth of birthday presents all rolled into one. There is probably no faster way to my heart than through my stomach, skating on the flesh of akami, kinmedai, hirame and uni. I agree because, Adam is probably right in that the minor nuances between the craftsmanship and quality probably isn’t discernible to the palates of us everyday folk. And by breaking down the barriers in your mind about the exclusivity and the price of omakase, you can then allow yourself to saunter into a simple neighbourhood joint, befriend the owner and leave with a satisfying good belly of quality fish. My very first omakase took place at such a hole-in-the-wall that couldn’t be larger than a bathroom, a literal 2-minute walk from a family friend’s home in a highly residential area. I still remember it as vividly as any other meal.

But back to Sushi Tokami, an unassuming 10-seater located in the basement of a building in Ginza. We were particularly interested in trying Tokami for two reasons. One being the red rice-vinegar he uses to flavour his sushi rice, which is what gives their shari a different hue along with a slightly different taste. The second and arguably more important point, is Hiroyuki Sato himself, the sushi master of Tokami renown for the relaxed and friendly persona he presents to his customers.

マグロ Maguro Tuna、 marinated in soy sauce

One of my soft life goals ever since I was fifteen or so, was to have a decent enough command at Japanese that I would be able to have casual but mature conversation with a sushi chef. In the last few years since I’ve started formally studying Japanese, I can feel myself getting closer and closer to achieving this with every trip to Japan or even to a Japanese-speaking restaurant in Australia. Over the years, there’s been a significant recession in pointing at sushi like they’re zoo animals, in random bursts of “好き!” and more of me working my way up to longer sentences and open-ended questions.

中トロ Chutoro Medium fatty tuna

Sushi Tokami is a bit of a life hack for me in that sense as Sato-san not only speaks great English but also revels in being accommodating towards foreigners. We chat about his career, whether he has a desire to come to Sydney and he deftly parries my 21 questions regarding each course he puts in front of us. It’s a mish mash of languages but he obliges my broken Japanese for the most part.

大トロ Ootoro Fatty tuna

The dining room was empty when we had first entered Sushi Tokami. Four Japanese people filed in shortly after us, an older gentleman, an older lady, a younger lady and a younger man. The dynamics of that particular group led us to believe it was a man, his wife and his daughter, followed by an employee or right-hand man type character. You could tell they were regulars due to the casual way they had addressed Sato-san and his waitstaff. They ordered what looked to be like very expensive champagne to go with their omakase, the older man who was leading the charge got redder and more jovial as the night wore on.

コハダ Kohada Gizzard Shad

Because both our groups had started eating around roughly the same time, our courses were coming out in unison. One of our last courses was Sato-san’s signature uni gunkan where he pairs a cold piece of uni with a heated piece. It sounds simple but the execution is fantastic and the sensation of flavours in your mouth is unlike any other sea urchin experience I’ve had. The heated uni melts in your mouth, coats the rice and seaweed and envelopes the colder uni which bursts with the taste of the sea.

ウニ Uni Sea urchin

I may have gotten a tad excited because I exclaimed (quite loudly) that I love sea urchin. The sushi gods above must have heard me all the way up in heaven because Sato-san placed another identical uni gunkan in front of me before stating quite plainly ‘This is from the gentleman over there’ indicating towards the older Japanese man. My face must have gone as red as his, even without the alcohol. After being silent participants to our meal and sitting side by side for the last three hours, we were all suddenly talking (or attempting to talk) and exchanging business cards. I found out that his name was also Sato and that they all worked for a toy manufacturing company, producing soft toys for UFO machines. The younger lady, who had been leading the conversation the most, suddenly pulled out a large bag containing numerous plastic boxes of sandwiches. She handed me a single box of four sandwiches before passing more around to the restaurant staff, including Sato-san.

ノドグロ Nodoguro Blackthroat Sea Perch

これは銀座の一番美味しいのサンド一です

These are the best sandwiches in Ginza, she said.

‘The thing with omakase sushi is that it’s a very personal way of eating. The food is made right in front of you and you’re being given it straight out of the chef’s hand’ – Adam Liaw

 

卵焼き ブリュレ Tamagoyaki Buryure Japanese Grilled Omelette “Brûlée” style

It was only after much cajoling of the concierge staff at ANA Intercontinental Tokyo and a sheer stroke of amazing luck, that we were able to get a booking at Sushi Tokami. I say this not only because omakase restaurants are typically booked out for months due to their very limited occupancy, but also because as it turns out, that night was one of Sato-san’s last nights of working there. I’m not sure where he is now but it looks like he’s currently travelling the world having left the restaurant in the very capable hands of his protégé, Shota Oda. An omakase experience is only as good as the quality of the seafood, the finesse of the sushi master and also their ability to make you feel comfortable and welcomed. Sushi Tokami ticks all three of those boxes. By the end of the night we had had 23 courses (16 of which were sushi) and a box of egg and tuna sandwiches for lunch the next day.

samanthawxlow

2 Comments

  1. Damn Sam! I’ve never had omakase ever and have never crossed my mind to do so in my previous Japan travels or for the next one. But after reading this, I think I’m def going to try to score a booking at Tokami on my next Tokyo visit.

    • Thanks Raff. You’re probably usually booked up with all the ramen you need to inhale while in Japan! But absolutely, I hope you get a booking because any omakase is truly a memorable experience.

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