Lunch @ Sushi Arai 鮨 あらい (Tokyo, Japan)

August 30, 2017 in Japanese by thywhaleliciousfay

With all the ongoing raves about Michelin-starred Sushi Arai by the Japanese instagrammers that I follow on social media, coupled with the fact that Sushi Arai was one of the few sushi-yas which could use Yamayuki (a specialty shop dedicated to tuna located in Tsukiji Market and a time-honored brand in the market)’s top cut, I got really keen in checking out Sushi Arai.

However, the real challenge was making the reservation. With rumours that Sushi Arai don’t accept reservation from hotel concierge, I decided to play it safe by using a reliable external booking agent. And having previously used Tableall’s service for 1 of my booking during my November 2016 trip and seeing that Sushi Arai was a Tableall’s listed restaurant, I contacted Tableall.

But to make reservation for February 2016, I was actually too early with my November 2015′s request since reservation was only taken up to two months ahead. Keke.

Located at basement 1 of RUAN Building, I arrived punctually at 12pm for a weekday lunch. I was fortunate to be given the best seat at the counter where I could watch chef-owner Yuichi Arai up close. And what caught my eye was the ice box refrigerator built into the rear wall. I read it’s an old tradition in the art of sushi-making where the fridge was cooled by ice blocks on the upper level instead of electricity to keep the sashimi at the right temperature. But it was unfortunate that my grasp of Japanese language was zero because the row of handwritten wooden plates hung on the wall wrote the fishes that’s offered for the day.

There’s 3 menus during lunch service; 10 pieces priced at ¥8000, 14 pieces ¥10,000 and dinner menu for ¥15,000. Having pre-selected my menu, I commenced my lunch with:-

1) 14 pieces, ¥10,000 comprised of:-

(A) Sushi #1 (above) – Flounder.

(B) Sushi #2 (above) – Snapper.

(C) Sushi #3 (above) – Big-eye snapper (kinmedai).

(D) Sushi #4 (above) – Squid.

(E) Sushi #5 (above) – Lean tuna (akami).

  

(F) Sushi #6 (above) – Medium fatty tuna (chutoro).

(G) Sushi #7 (above) – Gizzard shad (kohada).

(H) Sushi #8 (above) – Premium fatty tuna (otoro).

(I) Sushi #9 (above) – Kuruma-ebi (tiger prawn).

(J) Sushi #10 (above) – Halfbeak (sayori).

(K) Sushi #11 (above) – Surf clam adductor muscles (kobashira).

(L) Sushi #12 (above) – Saba (mackerel)

(M) Sushi #13 (above) – Saba (mackerel). I was surprised to be served a second sushi with the same topping (neta). Thinking that head chef Arai san might have made a mistake by placing it in front of me instead of the lady on my left, I left this particular sushi sitting on the counter instead of putting it into my mouth within 3 seconds from the time it’s served. Head chef Arai san who was busy talking to the pair of regulars on my right, caught on a bit later and went “Saba.” Oh. Okie. I guessed it was for me afterall. Hmm…

(N) Sushi #14 (above) – Sea urchin.

(O) Maki roll (above) – Hand roll with hard clam and cucumber.

(P) Soup (above) – Clam soup.

I have heard read much about head chef Arai san prior to my visit. But to witness head chef Arai san reject a batch of sushi rice (shari) was a seal of confidence that head chef Arai san takes a lot of pride in his food; Red vinegared sushi rice (shari) was prepared in the kitchen and brought out in small batches to head chef Arai san. And at one point, after trying to knead the first ball of sushi rice with a fresh batch, the rice must have felt wrong because he immediately called his sous chef to replace the batch of rice.

With lunch starting at 12pm, my meal lasted 1 hour 15 minutes. Would I recommend Sushi Arai? Well… I honestly loved his sushi which were on the bigger size and with stronger seasoning. It was an interesting observation that head chef Arai san would wet his hands (both sides) before he commenced with each sushi making. But as one know, good food alone doesn’t make a wonderful overall dining experience. Chemistry between the chef and customers is equally important. Especially at sushi-yas when the 2 parties are within close proximity. Unfortunately for me, head chef Arai came across as slightly aloof. And that was made more noticeable cause I was dining alone.

Head chef Arai san focused a lot on his regulars, which I understand from a business point of view. But not too extreme lah. I noticed the Japanese couple, who came in together with me and sat on my far right, was equally neglected as me. Unsure if we came to the end of our meal with the bowl of soup since most sushi-yas would end the sushi course with a rolled egg omelette (tamago), the Japanese couple and I must have waited for almost 15 minutes before they decided to enquire with the staff. So following their cue, I also called for my bill.

So…. Would I still recommend Sushi Arai which was awarded their first Michelin star by Michelin Guide Tokyo 2017? Well… I would. Instead, to make the meal more enjoyable, perhaps come with a partner. =) Or better still, be able to speak some Japanese. Keke. And opt for their dinner menu if one is going during their lunch service. I was very much drooling over what was served to the regulars on my immediate right.

And because I made my reservation through Tableall, I had to pay a middleman fee which included 8% tax, 3.6% handling fee (used for credit card settlement) and ¥3000 booking fee (per head). Of which total figure was further rounded up to every ¥500.

SUSHI ARAI 鮨 あらい
Ruan Building, 8-10-2 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 中央区 銀座 8-10-2 ルアンビル B1F)
+81 3 6264 5855, Tablelog
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Thu – Tues : 12:00 – 13:30 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Thu – Tues : 17:00 – 23:00 (Dinner)
Value: 7
Service: 7
* Closed on Wed

UPDATE 1: Restaurant was awarded 1 Michelin star by Michelin Guide Tokyo 2018.
UPDATE 2: Restaurant was awarded 1 Michelin star by Michelin Guide Tokyo 2019.