Dinner @ Hatsunezushi 初音鮨 (Tokyo, Japan)

March 19, 2017 in Japanese by thywhaleliciousfay

When I was doing research for my November 2016 trip back in October, I was hugely interested in Hatsunezushi. But my heart dropped when I read from their website that they were fully booked till end 2017! Gasp. So when I decided to return to Japan in February 2017 (Haha. One can say I am addicted to Japan now. Tokyo to be specific), I just had to give it a go. Despite the odds, I emailed owner-chef Katsu Nakaji 2 months prior my trip (in December 2016) and followed up consistently. All while being polite of course. I mean, it would be weird if I was too persistent and we finally meet in person at the restaurant…

And just after I landed in Tokyo, I dropped Nakaji san another email and was finally given good news that he had a slot for me. Yeah! I had to rearrange my program cause the slot he offered clashed with another dinner appointment of mine. But thank goodness all worked out well. =)

Dinner was at 8pm. I reached at 7.35pm but explored the neighborhood till 7.50pm cause I was worried I was a little too early. It was only after entering the place that I realized there’s a waiting area. So yes, one could reach early and wait at the lounge. And one was seated according to how early one reached. Noting that if one was in a group, even if the first person in the group came at 7.15pm, the group was only deemed to have reached at 7.50pm if the last person in the group only arrived at 7.50pm.

When it was time to be seated (Ie, customers from the first seating had left), Nakaji san’s wife called us in group by group. Luckily I wasn’t the first since I needed to monkey-see-monkey-do. Haha. And similar to Sushisho Saito, seats were recessed; One had to kneel before sliding one’s legs under the counter table. Which was “oh, oh” for me because I was wearing a tight midi pencil skirt and my thigh muscles were tight. Hard to kneel lah. Keke.

It’s strictly omakase at Hatsunezushi where everyone at the counter were served the same dishes. And once all parties were seated, dinner commenced with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Nakaji san made his appearance with a huge pile of sushi rice (shari) on bamboo tray. And he encouraged us to take as many photographs as we wanted. I like. Haha. We were each given a spoonful of the warm sushi rice to try for its quality. Nakaji san made reference to pasta saying that the vinegared rice was cooked till al-dente. After which, he brought the sushi rice back to the kitchen for it to cool. He said this will allow the sushi rice to be crunchier.

  

2) Dish #2 (above) – After Nakaji san sliced 9 pieces, he pressed the pieces of octopus onto the hot plate before continuing to make the sushi. And I kid one not that the plate was hot as we got to touch it.

3) Dish #3 (above) – Squid sushi.

  
  

4) Dish #4 (above) – A first for me; Salted mullet roe. And for this sushi, Nakaji san kneaded balls of minced squid leg and sushi rice together before topping it with slices of roe. And it was an interesting texture. Some bits somehow tasted like cheese.


  

5) Dish #5 (above) – Ark shell clam (akagai) sushi.


6) Dish #6 (above) – This was very good. And it was not just a sushi of flatfish and its egg. Nakaji san wrapped liver of the flatfish within the sushi rice too. So much love for this, really.


  

Dining at Hatsunzushi was like participating in an interactive theatre performance. There’s never a silent moment. And it wasn’t just interaction between chef and individual groups of customers. Nakaji san created a friendly and interactive ambience for customers to talk and laugh with one another too. If Nakaji san wasn’t introducing the fishes and sharing how the fishes were prepared, etc, he would be sharing jokes. And I appreciated it much that he included me in the group conversation by speaking regularly in English; Translating what he just shared with the other Japanese customers or explaining jokes about their Japanese culture.

So yes… Halfway through making sushi, Nakaji san took out slabs of tuna. Proudly showing that it’s from a 118kg tuna. But before he went on to slice the slabs, he went round taking pictures of us with his tuna. He would also switch our mobile phone’s camera from rear to front to take welfie. Yes, welfie! Too cute. We were all laughing hard as Nakiji San was very funny and his actions were very elaborated. He surprised us all by taking burst/multiple shots.

After the photo-taking session, Nakaji san proceeded to slice the tuna slabs. The medium fatty tuna (chutoro) was placed in a box for it to warm to room temperature while the other cuts were brought to the kitchen. “To shabu shabu to kill bacteria”, he explained.

7) Dish #7 (above) – “35kg”, Nakaji san shared. After slicing the sea bass, he brought the pieces into the kitchen for a quick shabu shabu before further slicing the pieces into half, pressing them onto the warm plate and making sushi. And it was from this that I realised how much importance Nakaji san put on the temperature of our sushi topping (neta).

  

8) Dish #8 (above) – Sea eel (unagi) sushi. And this was so good! When the skewered sea eel was brought out from the kitchen, we could immediately smell a very strong aroma. And the loud crunching sound that came with every slice Nakaji san made when he cut the sea eel was pure music to the ears. I really loved this.

  

9) Dish #9 (above) – Mackerel (saba) sushi. And the mackerel was marinated in vinegar and salt, giving it a very deep intense flavour.

Nakaji san came out next with a hairy crab. Joking that the crab was tired from the long flight from Hokkaido, he said he’s bringing it back to the kitchen to rest. But not without letting us taking many photographs of him posing with the crab first.


  

10) Dish #10 (above) – Monkfish liver (ankimo) sushi. So creamy. So good.

  

11) Dish #11 (above) – Marinated tuna (maguro zuke). And while Nakaji san was making the sushi, he talked about how tuna is always swimming and that he marinated the tuna with soya sauce at 28 degree; To match the sea water temperature. I didn’t manage to understand his elaboration fully, but Nakaji san rounded it up saying it’s not good for the tuna to be too cold. So I guess it all pointed towards his focus on the temperature. But words aside, this was fabulous!

12) Dish #12 (above) – Codfish milt sushi.


13) Dish #13 (above) – Medium fatty tuna (chutoro) sushi. And I again noticed Nakaji san would press the fish onto the warm plate before making our sushi. Temperature, temperature, temperature.

  

  

14) Dish #14 (above) – And hairy crab made its appearance again. “Aromatherapy”, Nakaji san said as he opened the lid. And it was a team work as husband Nakaji san worked on the crab legs and his wife worked on the crab body. And while they were working on the crab, Nakaji san continued to keep us entertained by joking about how Japanese stayed in small houses yet must eat (expensive) sushi for sushi-therapy. Well, that was really a joke for me to have an insight to the Japanese lifestyle. And I appreciated it much. And his crab sushi was really huge. So huge that it had to be cut into halves.

  

15) Dish #15 (above) – “Aromatherapy”, Nakaji san said while fanning the aroma in our direction with his hand. And the aroma was distinctly stronger when he sliced into the grilled premium fatty tuna (otoro). Needless to say, this sushi was so good!

  

16) Dish #16 (above) – And the very dish which I came to Hatsunzushi for; Giant tuna sushi roll (tekka maki) comprised of marinated tuna (maguro zuke), medium fatty tuna (chutoro), premium fatty tuna (otoro) and minced tuna. And it was the size of my palm! Super huge.

17) Dish #17 (above) – Gourd sushi roll.

18) Dish #18 (above) – I really enjoyed Nakaji san’s rendition of the rolled egg omelette (tamago). Although I could do without the sushi rice. Keke.

Nakaji san put a lot of attention to the temperature of topping (neta) and sushi rice (shari). And before we kick-started our dinner, he explained how his sushi should be consumed:

   1. Hold the sushi with one’s fingers (Although I extend my entire hand cause his sushi was big)
   2. Eat sushi with topping (neta) touching one’s tongue first (And for that, most of us had to tilt our heads back to fit everything into our mouths)
   3. Count to 5 seconds before eating

And if I didn’t hear Nakaji san wrongly, the intention of chewing only after 5 seconds was to allow the enzyme in our saliva to work its magic.

And Hatsunzushi was managed by husband and wife team. They must be the cutest sushi-ya couple. “There are 2 types of Japanese ladies”, Nakaji san said. “One, is a strong woman. Second, is a stronger woman. My wife… She is a stronger woman.” Haha.

Would I recommend 2 Michelin stars Hatsunzushi? A definite yes! I enjoyed myself immensely. Although one would need to cross the hurdle of securing a reservation. The Japanese customer beside me said he made his reservation at least 7 months prior. In fact, I later learnt from Nakaji san at the end of the meal that he squeezed a slot in for me. So yes, I am very grateful for that!

And I paid ¥32,400 (after GST and service charge) for my meal.

HATSUNEZUSHI 初音鮨
5-20-2 Nishikamata, Ota, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 大田区 西蒲田 5-20-2)
+81 3 3731 2403, Website, Tablelog
Overall: 8.5
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 9
Sat : 12:00 (Lunch Seating)
Ambience: 9
Mon – Sat : 17:30, 20:00 (Dinner Seating)
Value: 8
Service: 8
* Closed on Sun

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