Sukiyabashi Jiro – Roppongi Hills

In the world of food, there are a few widely accepted meccas of cuisine. When it comes to sushi, I feel all can agree that Japan stands at the pinnacle of what can be achieved by a lone sliver of raw fish. Now I know I caused a bit of a ruckus with my post claiming to have found the worlds greatest pizza. While I won’t repeat the mistake of speaking for others again, I must share with you, the finest sushi (In my opinion) I have had the opportunity to sample. Sukiyabashi Jiro, located in the Roppongi Hills neighborhood of Tokyo, forever changed what I thought I knew of sushi. I have had some extremely fine sushi here in the states, the likes of Nobu, and Masa, both of which I had the pleasure of sharing with my esteemed colleague. However, Sukiyabashi Jiro trounced them both with ease. Located on the backside of a nondescript office building, among various other shops and convenience stores, Sukiyabashi Jiro carries none of the flash of many high end sushi joints in the States. As with many other things in Japan, this restaurant allows itself a subdued elegance which is reflected most noticeably on the food. Now for a little background of Sukiyabashi Jiro. The original restaurant by the same name (albeit with two more Michelin stars) located in Ginza, is strictly off limits to foreigners without a Japanese escort. The chefs make a daily pilgrimage to the Tsukiji fish market to scout the freshest catches of the day. Upon returning to the kitchen, each fish is placed in a special refrigerator kept at a specific temperature to ensure the highest quality. Now while I wasn’t able to visit Jiro-san’s, the old man didn’t leave me hanging, luckily he had a son, Takashi, who opened up his own Sukiyabashi Jiro. What welcomed myself and a good friend upon entering was a modest, well designed room, a fine wood bar with ten stools, Takashi and his assistant.

I can’t describe the peacefulness of the room, no dance music blasting from the sound system, no trendy decor, no roar of the hip crowd clamoring for their negi-toro rolls and bamboo’s of YK-35. No, just me, Matt, the chef, and his wonderful array of fresh fish. Upon being seated by the hostess, we were immediately brought two glasses of cold sake and a moist towel. The anticipation for what was to follow was almost too much for the two of us to handle. We had been eating practically nothing but sushi since we set foot on Japanese soil (as per the vow we both took not to eat anything but Japanese fare), but we knew this was something special, the chef knew we were in for something special, and I like to think he knew we’d appreciate what he was about to bestow upon us. No menus, the chef already knew what he was going to serve before our reservation had been made, no this was strictly omakase or “it’s up to you” in Japanese. This style of dining usually begins with the lightest pieces to the heavier, richer pieces. Now before I get into the fish itself, allow me to diverge a bit. This dinner was on our last night in Japan, so up to this point we had gleaned some important lessons in Japanese dining etiquette.

#1. Nigiri is to be eaten with your hands unless presented on a plate from the sushi chef. We learned this at a previous meal when the chef gestured to pick some pieces up with our hands, and some with our chopsticks. The moist towel is to clean your fingers after each piece.

#2. If you are given soy sauce, always lightly dip with the fish side down. It is considered bad etiquette to leave pieces of rice floating in the soy sauce dish.

#3. Nigiri is meant to be eaten in one bite. In Japan I noticed the pieces were much smaller than here in the States.

#4. Wasabi is placed on the fish when the chef prepares it, no need to mix any in with your soy sauce. No little green ball sitting on your plate, this is the fresh stuff, grated right in front of you.

This may sound unnecessarily rigid, even snobby. I found that it lent an elegance and order to the meal, which ended up feeling more like an sacred ritual rather than just another fueling. At Sukiyabashi Jiro, the chef even took care of the soy sauce for us, using a small brush he would lightly coat the fish with soy sauce to accentuate it’s flavor while allowing it to be the main event. Now for the fish, and since I felt it might be a little disrespectful to bring my huge camera to document our momentous meal, I wasn’t able to get any pictures. However, my food blog colleague at Luxeat was kind enough to share her images, as they illustrate more or less some of the treats we had.

Very nice light Hirame (Fluke) to start us off with a light brush of soy sauce. After our first bite, we realized that the quality of fish we were experiencing was above and beyond anything we’ve had before. Each piece was as tender and succulent as the finest piece of toro here in the States.

A wonderfully pearl-like Ika (Squid) was sweet and tender as could be.

Awabi (Abalone)

Chutoro (Medium grade fatty tuna) This stuff was ridiculous, I thought I loved toro before, but my goodness! The chefs at  Sukiyabashi Jiro lovingly led us through all three grades of toro. These cuts of tuna were of the highest quality available. The flesh would literally, and I mean literally, begin to melt as it hit your tongue. At the end of the meal they asked if there was anything else we’d like to have again, I don’t think I need to tell you what I asked for.The only thing I regret is not having a photo of the Otoro. I do have a toro picture from the place we hit up just a few hours after landing in Japan, so that’ll have to do.

Now I had had Uni (Sea Urchin) before. But I hadn’t HAD sea urchin until I had it here. Everywhere else I had tried it, it was always very briny. Here, it was almost dessert it was so sweet. I equate it to the finest whole foie gras, but even more velvety, with the most amazing mouth feel. After taking a culinary tour of the most delectable morsels the sea has to offer, it was a sad moment when we finally had to say our sincere thank yous and goodbyes to the chef and hostess, who seemed just as thankful to us for visiting them. This meal is easily in my top 5 best ever in my life, and as my colleague mentioned in the Joël post, it was great to share it with one of my best friends. So to anyone planning on traveling to Tokyo in the future, I highly suggest you make a stop at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Roppongi Hills, the rice alone has the power to move you on an emotional level.

11 thoughts on “Sukiyabashi Jiro – Roppongi Hills

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review « Eataduck's Blog

  2. Well, speaking of Sukiyabashi Jiro, three days ago I went to this restaurant in order to take some pictures of it to write a little article about this three-stars sushi-ya. Went I arrived there, a gentle couple – mister, his wife and their little baby in his/her cart – of american tourists were taking pictures themselves. After one or two more shots, the Wife went to the restroom while Mister gave me the place. I’ve just began when a young cook went out and shouted loudly I was not allowed to take pictures of the inside of the restaurant. As I made him note I was far away from it he repeated his defiant order: don’t take pictures ! I told him I was outside the restaurant which meant I could take picture without hurting any law and then the young cook pointed with his finger the restaurant sign saying I was allowed just to shoot that part of the restaurant. What an outrage ! What a misbehaviour ! This restaurant is very low on the “welcome criterium” and it trashes his reputation, the Michelin judgement and the so-called “sense of hospitality” of Japan that is a vast joke as the american tourist admitted after the incident, as we had a little discussion about what japanese tourists do when they visit foreign countries – which include taking pictures with violent flashes of Renaissance paintings – but can’t stand a foreigner taking pictures of some public places, shop windows and so on. A private and a national shame !

    • That’s interesting. Did you visit the one I wrote about in Roppongi or the original? My experience at the Roppongi location was fantastic, the staff were very polite, even thankful for our visit. We were treated well and were never bothered about photographs. It sounds like you caught one of the staff on a bad night is all. I’ve traveled to Japan on multiple occasions and have been met with nothing but kindness and respect. Either way, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the food is amazing, hopefully we can both agree on that, unless of course you didn’t eat there after your unpleasant encounter. Thanks for reading!

  3. I was wondering if I really should do the effort to get a seat at this place, now I am not in doubt anymore. Great review! How did you actually book your seats or did you just step by? We are going to Tokyo in March, so plenty of time to do it right… Thanks for posting!

    • The hotel I was staying at in Tokyo helped me get the table. It was very last minute but they made the call for us. It wasn’t packed by any means either, there were only two other parties there that night, it was very peaceful. I’m glad my review helped you out, let me know how it is after you go! Have a great trip and thanks for reading!

  4. What is wrong with you Americans? At a three star restaurant both staff and visitors do not want people running around with a camera. This is no joke – in most fine restaurants cameras are not allowed –though it may not always be a sign. If you want to take photos of your food there is a lot of McDonalds around in Tokyo or cheap restaurants were you can piss on other people’s privacy.

    • I’ll just ignore the racial stereotype and chalk it up to your frustration. If you actually read my post you’ll see that I also felt it was disrespectful to bring a camera into such a revered establishment, especially in a country not my own. All the pictures were taken by someone with cultural sensitivities far below what you would approve of. Next time I’ll rely on your judgement, rather than opinion the proprietors of the restaurants I eat at to decide whether it’s appropriate to document the wonderful work these people do to give them their deserved credit. Thanks for reading!

    • Awesome! Thanks for reporting back on your trip! I’m so glad you had a good time. I wish now that I had taken pics myself as the staff was exceedingly gracious and accommodating, At least I’ve got my memories 🙂

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