Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Sushi Kanesaka

After one full day of trying to get into Michelin sushi places I was almost a broken man. We couldn't get in anywhere. Yesterday I almost begged Michelle to stop the relentless pursuit of perfection and just grab some sushi, anywhere. I mean, we're in Tokyo. The average sushi has got to be better than average at home? I'm so glad she can be stubborn sometimes. Lunch today was at Sushi Kanesaka. A small place hidden in the basement of a nondescript building at the bottom end of Ginza, near Shiodome. We even turned up shortly after they'd opened at 11.30am thinking that we'd have more chance if we got in early. We'd dropped in here yesterday trying to get dinner but, again, Georgia was the sticking point. Chef Shinji Kanesaka, though, suggested we could come back for lunch. Really I asked? And he said sure. I doubt he expected us to front up the very next day. And we did, and he was a man of his word. His offsiders looked a little dubious but as soon as we sat down they thawed a little too.

At the end of our lunch Shinji Kanesaka popped over the counter to say goodbye and put his hat on Georgia's head for the photo.
Sushi Kanesaka has been double starred (2 Michelin stars) in the past, however I think at the moment he has been awarded only one star. Michelle and I discussed this later. We've found that while the 2 and 3 star places are sublime, sometimes they can over finesse or try for too much individuality and that can distract from a great sushi experience. Sometimes the 1 star places are more "honest" maybe, and the sushi experience can be as great as a 2 or 3 without the bells and whistles.

Grilled kobashira - Scallops
We sat down at the counter right in front of Kanesaka. Georgia sat between us. We were asked if we wanted the short set or the long. That was a no brainer. The long course of course. After asking us if we could eat anything we were away. Typically sushi meals start of with some sashimi, then a couple of possibly cooked pieces of fish, then the nigiri sushi and finally miso soup, rice and a dessert. It is formulaic in that the style doesn't change much but the content is usually seasonal. The menu can be completely different on a day to day basis. Last time we were in Tokyo it was February so many sushi joints would serve up variations of moon fish liver. Fish foie gras. I asked Kanesaka if it was still the season for moon fish but, sadly, no. But then again there could be something equally as delicious now that isn't available in February. Did I say delicious? I could mean weird. Think of sperm. Hold that thought, I'll get back to that in a later post.

Baby shrimp and uni - sea urchin roe
As you may or may not know our little 2 year old Georgia is a sushi connoisseur. She loves it. Mostly she loves salmon sushi but she loves many many (if there are more than a few of anything Georgia will say "many many" :) ) types of raw fish. We asked Kanesaka for a couple of small pieces of sushi which he was happy to oblige. In the meantime we our dishes which were starting to come in quick succession. Unfortunately for Michelle and me Georgia has our taste. She likes what we do. When a small dish of raw shrimp topped with sea urchin roe appears of course she loves it. We just have to get used to having smaller portions ourselves I guess. Kanesaka was watching with an amused expression his face so it wasn't long before a small dish of raw shrimp is placed in front of Georgia for her. The shrimp and roe, by the way, are oh so delicious.
Hairy crab
More shrimp please
We were lucky enough to be served by Chef Kanesaka himself. It was a reasonably quiet lunch and there were only a couple of other diners. If all 14 seats are taken up Kanesaka looks after one end of the counter and his apprentice the other. As it was the apprentice was only setting up the other end for the evening and helping Kanesaka. At one point the apprentice was making too much noise and Kanesaka turned around a told gave him a short "Kudasai" (please).
Even the cooked fish is to die for
Slicing the bonito
Georgia tried just about everything and loved it but we had to keep re-ordering the tuna sushi. She got hers before we did by the way. It amused Kanesaka how she kept putting it away. Each piece of sushi he made for Georgia was made with the same care and attention to detail as he did for every other customer. The only concession he made was to make them slightly smaller for little hands and mouth.

Knife magic turning chunks of tuna into... something wonderful.
What makes or breaks sushi is the rice. Every sushi chef has his, most are men but Shinji told us there are a few women now, own way of preparing the rice. Different vinegars, some more some less, salty or less salty, al dente or slightly softer. Kanesaka's was excellent. Slightly al dente and you can feel every grain and not too vinegary or salty.

Chu-toro tuna
Blue fin tuna
For people like us this is the ultimate in dining experience. It isn't just the food, although it is to die for, it is the whole theatre of the occasion. What really makes it for us is having Georgia there with us. We hoped that a trip to Japan and a visit to one of these sushi places would work with her and it has. In spades. We smile and laugh at her enthusiasm for the sushi. She is shy at first but gradually warms to Kanesaka and by the time we're ready to go she can wave goodbye to him. It has been sensational. Every dish that is served makes me want to smile and cry at the same time. An emotional business eating food is sometimes.

The fattiest most succulent o-toro tuna ever.
As I said, what an experience. Shinji Kanesaka is a really affable guy. He really made us feel welcome. I know he has apparently lost one star but this was as good a sushi meal as we've had in Tokyo. We've eaten at 3 starred places before (Sushi Saito for one) and we liked it here as much. I've read that Saito is actually a former apprentice of Kanesaka and Kanesaka is a part owner of Sushi Saito. Small world in sushi circles in Tokyo then. Kanesaka told us that we were very welcome to come again and he looked forward to seeing us again. Georgia may have been the sticking point originally but I think she won him over for us in the end. He was very keen to jump the counter for the traditional photos at the end of the meal. He even gave me his business card for a souvenir. We'll definitely be back.
Slicing the prawn
Prawn nigiri
Kohada - herring.
Kasugodai - Baby Sea Bream
Mackerel (I think)
A box of gold - uni, sea urchin roe
A couple more pieces of chu-toro for Georgia. You didn't think she'd get the cheap cuts did you?
Tamago (egg custard) and anago (sea eel). Delicious
Tuna roll. Beautiful tuna and rice rolled in an amazing crispy sheet of seaweed.
Shinji Kanesaka came around to say goodbye.
Sushi Kanesaka

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