|“Sharing Japanese food culture to the world.” The series of interviews feature the vision of Pocket Concierge. We interview the chefs of the leading restaurants in Japan and introduce their thoughts on the restaurant and their way of thinking as a “top” chef.|
“Sushi-Shin” Mr. Shintaro Suzuki
In Nishiazabu, where attracts many gourmets, there is a restaurant called “Sushi-Shin” which gains popularity from gourmets worldwide. The owner, Shintaro Suzuki’s good-taste tsumami and sushi are always highly recognized. Since the first year when Michelin Guide landed in Japan, he has won one-star for 10 consecutive years. Not being trained by so-called famous sushi restaurants though, the “Edomae” or Edo-style sushi (traditional style of sushi. Edo is the old city name of Tokyo) restaurant created its own style and inspiration, attracting people from all over the world. In order to approach its charm, we had Mr. Suzuki talk about his idea of sushi and ingenuity of taste creation.
After 15-year training, he “graduated” from a local sushi restaurant and then opened his restaurant in the city of gastronomy, Nishiazabu
— What made you decide to become a sushi craftsman?
Since elementary school years, I have been enjoying to east sushi. My hometown is Setagaya in Tokyo, and eating outside always means going to a neighbor sushi restaurant. Later after I entered a junior high school, thinking of a life where I could have sushi everyday, I started to think about working at sushi restaurant. Then, I entered my high school, I worked as part time at a local restaurant called “Kokanzushi” for 3 years and after that I was allowed to practice as a professional for 11 years.
— After that, did you study at famous sushi restaurant in central Tokyo area?
I wanted to see how top sushi restaurants look like, so I went to a famous sushi restaurant which located in a hotel, where I got trained for 3 months. However, though I learned a lot there, I eventually quit from there for some reasons. Then, I got back to Setagaya again and studied for about 2 years at a restaurant called “Toshiya”, then I became independent.
— I think that you would rather become independent in Nishiazabu, where the layer of customers and pricing are different from Setagaya, but why did you choose to open in Nishiazabu?
During the training years at Toshiya, I fortunately got to know a friend of my customer who is engaged in real estate business. Actually I was a little bit anxious because I had no experience running business of high unit price until then. But since I wanted to make sushi using fish of high quality, eventually I chose to open it at Nishiazabu where the price is relatively higher.
Having tasted hundreds of sushi restaurants in Japan, finally decided to pursue his dream restaurant
— I heard that you have visited numbers of restaurants. Could you please tell me how many restaurants you have visited until now?
Well, I can’t count it. Every time I go outside of Tokyo, I tend to visit the sushi restaurants there. And if anyone tell me that there is a good sushi restaurant in Tokyo, I also go and eat there to learn something from them. That’s about 200 to 300 or maybe even more.
— For example, which is your favorite sushi restaurant in Tokyo?
There is a restaurant called “Shinbashi Shimizu” in Shinbashi. And I also like “Nihonbashi Kakigaracho Sugita”, and “Sushi Imamura” in Shirokane.
— Which part of these restaurants do you like best?
First, in “Shinbashi Shimizu”, you might feel like step into an old-fashioned sushi restaurant in Showa period, which is quite rare today. It’s distinct from those fashionable sushi restaurants today. Maybe it’s just because I was born and raised in Showa, so it’s good to have one’s own restaurants bring out the feeling of the good old days. The master Shimizu-san’s style of not following the trend and not playing up to anyone is admired by many people. As for sushi, the way of seasoning by vinegar and salt there is very special, and I always learned a lot from there.
“Nihonbashi Kakibaracho Sugita” is famous for the character of Mr. Sugita. I would say his character should be liked by anyone. I have been visiting Mr. Sugita’s restaurant when it was not that busy as today, and have been loving the sushi he makes. Recently it has become better seasoned, although they used to have a wonderful balance of *neta and *shari.
*neta: fish part of sushi
*shari: sushi rice
As for “Sushi Imamura”, because its master-Imamura-san’s experience of Japanese cuisine, especially he intakes the essence of Japanese cuisine, so you could feel his taste from something like tsumami. As a sushi restaurant which offering traditional Edo style sushi, although they don’t get beyond their area, I like the taste that one who is only trained at sushi restaurant can’t offer, and the tsumami which tastes different. And the sushi there also tastes very good. The masters of these three restaurants are in a good relation and I am also close to them.
— Is there any common characteristic in these sushi restaurants?
Among many sushi restaurants, each of them has the dream to become an “original” sushi restaurant. There are some restaurants that use foodstuffs such as truffle and caviar. But the restaurants I mentioned now, as traditional Edo-style sushi restaurants, maintain their restaurants within the field that they have to protect. I feel sorry about sushi restaurants willing to do anything to please their customers. But since we are running traditional sushi restaurants, as my friends and I believe, we all know that there is something we can’t go beyond and this could only be shared among our fellows. So we often have enjoyable conversations and feel the sympathy in many aspects including our goals, intentions and even methods of seasoning sushi.
— What is your favorite sushi restaurant in rural area?
Every time I visit Fukuoka, I will sure go to a sushi restaurant called “Yoshitomi Zushi”. This restaurant is like a combination of Edo-style and Kyushu’s style, and has a long history. The master there used to be engaged in tea *kaiseki cuisine, which has the same flavor with sushi. So it is a place where you could feel the good atmosphere and the personality of the master. So when I go to Kyushu, I will definitely go and visit this master. And also, another one called “Chikamatsu” is also good. This one is like Sugita’s, where the balance is well set. After that, one called “Kikusushi” is also good. There are many other high-level restaurants in Fukuoka. My disciple is also running a sushi restaurant in Kumamoto, he is now getting along well with several famous sushi craftsman, seems like from whom he get inspired a lot. to have been getting inspired. There is also a sushi restaurant called “Gin Sushi” near Karatsu in Saga. I have not been able to go there recently. The master there is at the same age as me and the sushi made by him is also very delicious.
*kaiseki: a kind of traditional Japanese cuisine.
— I think there are other local sushi restaurants, but what’s the reason why Kyushu area
has the most number?
Maybe that’s because there are many Edo-style sushi restaurants that work very hard. Also, Kyushu has abundance resource of fishes, thus the level becomes very high. The fishes that come to tsukiji market are also available in Kyushu. Besides, because I myself is making Edo-style Sushi, so I know that many people choose Edo-style sushi restaurant to learn when they started learning. Though Hokkaido is also rich in fishes, the kinds of fish to be acquired are certainly limited. In recent years, Iwashi and Sanma can be caught, but Kohada and Aji can not. Although there are plenty of shellfish, plenty of shrimps and crabs in Hokkaido, it is a bit different from the Edo-style style. In that part, Kyushu has the most number of good restaurants among all the local areas.
Express new ideas from simplicity, carrying on the tradition of Edo-style sushi
— What kind of restaurant are you trying to build?
As Sushi restaurant is counter business, the character of master has a close relation with the building of the restaurants. Mr. Shimizu and Mr. Sugita’s restaurants are the examples of these. And, as men, we want to do things in cool ways. Not following today’s trend and doing the things they want to do is the image of cool craftsmen in my heart. Pursuing their own coolness, the flavor in their heart, the layout of restaurants, the plates and the atmosphere, all of these are closely related with coolness.
— What do you devise on tsumami and sushi?
While respecting the traditional Edo-style Sushi, we are devising a simple but fresh taste, a stimulus that makes customers could feel like “oops”. One thing that not only surprises customers by appearance, but also try to make them find something new or feel something different out of normal. We would be glad that you would pay attention to these difference.
By which parts are you going to bring out “something new”?
Recently I’m thinking about “temperature”. Even for the same fish, tastes are quite different depending on temperature. The flavor of Tuna and *shiromi, such fish can’t be tasted if the temperature is too cold. On the other hand, fishes like *hikarimono could be smelly if you put them in room temperature. So there is really a proper temperature for sushi. For fish that may become smelly if you put it for a while after being cut, you should keep it in the fridge and make it under the cold temperature. There are also some fishes which should be provided under normal temperature or should be grilled. It is important to maximize the taste before one goes to customer’s mouth.
*shiromi: a fish with white flesh
*hikarimono: shiny fishes
*neta: the upper part of sushi
— At which time point do you think of updating the menus?
When I feel “doubts”. During my daily job, it is when I feel like “what? something wrong?”. For example, when there is something I thought it might be the best thing I have ever created so far, but when I visit other sushi restaurant or eat something else in our restaurant, I feel like “is there anything more I could change?”. Although this is only an inspiration or a feeling, if I don’t keep it in mind, I can’t be aware of something I should have. And there, I always keep being neutral. “It has to be like this” is actually very dangerous.
— Among all the cuisines that the master selects, is there anything you especially want to recommend, like tsumami or sushi?
Among the tsumami, now (at the time of January 2017), heated Shirauo and Noresore (a fry of anago) are recommended, and if you wait for a while, Yariika with babies is recommended, also a firefly squid is coming soon.
We try to create the feeling of seasons when making tsumami. As for sushi, we change the feeling of seasons by replacing the *hikarimono with horse mackerel and sayori while anago, kohada and squid are served all year round. For squid, it changes whether it is sumiika or aoriika depending on the season. Even if you come in all year, I’d like you to taste the difference because I serve something good in season with my close relationship with brokerage.
*hikarimono: shiny fishes
— In the future, what is in your mind in order to spread sushi culture to the world?
Never follow the trend. For example, I would say we don’t necessarily need to accommodate so much to many foreign religions and customs to protect this culture. It does not mean to reject them. They accept different people, but what is more important is that there are some parts we have to keep and other parts we can compromise. The parts to be compromised are the things which we should better adjust for foreign customers. For example, It would be great to have English speaking staff, English menu, and also great to share some simple sushi manners. Some overseas customers tend to eat sashimi by hand, in this case, we would notice them, “sashimi is for chopsticks and sushi is for hand”, which is one example to compromise. By doing so, overseas customers will get to know the culture of Japanese sushi and Japanese manners. But on the other side, for example, some customers cannot eat raw fish so want us to grill everything for them. In this case, we would need to tell them it is difficult to visit this restaurant because sushi without raw fishes can’t be called sushi. If we misunderstand the line, our sushi restaurant could be fake. So, understanding the line is very important in spreading the sushi culture.
<A greeting from the chef to Pocket Concierge’s customers>
It has been 14 years since the opening in August 2003. We feel grateful for being visited by many customers from Japan and overseas. We will keep the traditional Edo-style sushi, aiming at creating something different from simplicity. Thank you very much.
※”Sushi-Shin” is currently a difficult-to-book sushi restaurant, but if you register as a member of Pocket Concierge you will be able to receive update information of various restaurants.
[ Access to “Sushi-Shin” ]
· Tokyo metro Hibiya line “Hiroo” station, 15 minutes walk from exit 3
· Tokyo metro Ginza line “Omotesando” station, 20 minutes on foot from B1 exit
· 10 minutes by taxi from Shibuya station
|Address：||Nishi Azabu CO-HOUSE 1F, 4-18-20 Nishi Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo|
Wednesday and Friday 12: 00 ~ 14: 00 (L.O.13: 00)
Saturday and Sunday 12: 00 ~ 14: 30 (L.O.13: 30)
Tuesday to Sunday 18: 00-23: 00 (the last entry until 21:30)