At Shoukouwa, the 18 courses of cooked dishes and sushi in the En menu flow poetically from one to the next, each a tiny masterpiece composed on an elegant crystal dish, a wabi-sabi stone plate, in the palm of an outstretched hand.
To watch head chef Kazumine Nishida at work behind the hinoki counters is to behold a dance, a measured choreography of fingers, palms and wrists. “As a sushi chef, I take particular care of my hands,” he says. “It is my most valuable tool.”
“With my sushi, I put my heart in the palm of my hand and I transfer it to the guest.”
At Shoukouwa, the seafood produce still arrives four times a week from Tokyo’s Toyosu market: plump and tender abalone from the Chiba prefecture, translucent Ihime squid, prized black-throated sea perch. At the highest levels, the supplier chooses the restaurant, not the other way around, says the chef, as he cradles a glistening hunk of beautifully marbled tuna.
Toro is one of the most popular fish at the restaurant. The tuna belly is scored lengthwise then laid across a nugget of pressed rice and seasoned with salt. A small binchotan is brought out of the kitchen, hot coals glowing ember, and held over the fish to give it a light aburi. Guests feast on the gently melting fats with their eyes before they bite into it.
A signature fish at Shoukouwa is nodoguro, the rare and expensive blackthroat sea perch prized for its sweet and fatty flesh. The fish is grilled over a binchotan and served perched on a tiny bed of rice. “Press the fish down with a spoon,” the chef urges. “This releases the oils from the fish so that it coats the sushi rice and adds a layer of umami.”
Although Shoukouwa has access to some of Japan’s most sought-after seafood products, one of Nishida’s favourite fish to prepare is the humble amadai, which he ages and cures with kelp. “Tilefish may not be as rare and expensive as some of the other fish we get, but I feel that it best encapsulates my skill and cuisine philosophy,” he says. “With premium fish like nodoguro, you do not need to do much to bring out its flavour. But you need more technique to bring out the flavour of amadai.”
"If a perfect sushi experience is 10 out of 10, then 10 points goes to the ingredient and the mastery of the sushi chef is considered 'plus alpha'. It is what differentiates a premium sushi-ya," explains Nishida.
“That’s what I set my heart to do each day—to constantly raise the level of the craft of sushi at Shoukouwa.”
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