Having visited Japan several times now, the definition of spring in this country has come to be defined as much by the food served in its restaurants as does the advent of the cherry blossoms. At Sushi Ryusuke, examples of this were plentiful from the get-go: uni chawanmushi, hot, savoury, redolent of the sea. A plate of finely-sliced hirame, unconventionally – but deliciously – rained on with a cheeky shave of black truffle from the preceding winter. Hotate, massive in girth, sweet and chewy, wrapped in toasty nori.
These are just some of the things that I love eating in this season, and Ryusuke’s delivers it in spades.
Date Last Visited: 16/Mar/2018
Address: Ginza, Tokyo
Highlight Dishes: hirame w/truffle, uni chawanmushi, anago nigiri
Price Guide (approx): 30,500 JPY for omakase including otsumami ($370 AUD at time of writing), sushi-only option available
Using the term ‘upstart’ to describe relatively new restaurants in Japan feels wrong. It might be an appropriate moniker for some hot-shot 26-year old blitzing into the food scene with a new venture, not Yamane Ryusuke, a shokunin who has spent decades honing his culinary craft in a setting that befitts its cultural importance.
But then again, it would have been difficult to know that his eponymous Ryusuke – having only opened two years prior – is a relatively new restaurant, other than its showroom-ready state: its wood-clad interior and polished, fully bespoke toujiki(ceramics) crockery. The operation itself is already so slick, it’s as if he’s been doing this for decades.
Which in fact, is the case – he honed his skills at Ginza Kyubey, considered the spawning point and alma mater for many great sushi chefs of the times. In fact, he was so good there, he was serving sushi directly to customers by his fifth year – the equivalent to skipping three grades of school in normal terms. But opening his own restaurant is where the upstart begins to make his own mark on the Tokyo sushi scene.
Now opening a new sushi restaurant in Tokyo – Ginza, no less – is about as daring as setting up your pho pots in Cabramatta. Good luck to those who try, but absolute skill is nothing short of mandatory.
Then again, for Sushi Ryusuke to charge 30,000 JPY for its omakase, essentially equivalent pricing to almost every other high-end sushi-ya is either utter foolishness, or absolute confidence in the final product. 22 products, to be precise: 9 otsumami, 11 nigiri and two desserts was my particular prix fixe.
There’s excellence to be found in all three sections of the menu, but to keep the talk straight, the otsumami is where the bangers are at. In addition to those plates with which I started this piece, the hotaru ika – a posterchild for Spring – was particularly memorable. Served diced up instead of whole as is usually the case, Ryusuke presents a different textural angle on a classic, but it’s just as delicious. Engawa , one of my perennial favourites in sashimi, was much welcomed, to the point of ‘so sweet! so good!’ in my notes revealing more than I ever could in this retrospective.
If anything, the shiro-ebi w/crab roe was too salty for my liking – starkly contrasting with the other plates – though the shrimp maintianed its chewy, slightly gooey texture. The only non-conformant starter, as it were.
A cheeky cheesey crab croquette, highly unconventional but highly fun – as per Ryusuke’s insistance to be unconventional if not wildly deviant – resets the scene for act II: nigiri.
And they are solid. As with all great sushi-ya, the shari (sushi rice) is where itamae (master chef) differentiate themselves. Ryuske’s is highly nuanced, with the master settling on a particular strain grown in Yamagata called Akita Komachi. A particular point of differentiation is in his switching of shari depending on the type of neta (sushi topping) served: gomezu (white vinegar) shari, for the lighter, whiter pieces, and a blend of akazu (red vinegar) shari, for richer, heavier neta. It’s served at room temperature either slightly sweet, or slightly earthy and acidic. It’s not wow-inducing per se, with more memorable examples I can name, but not once did I doubt Ryusuke’s choice of any neta-sharing pairing.
For some of the white fish, it’s not a stretch to say Ryusuke ends up getting awfully close to under-seasoning: tai, aori ika and torigai all suffered from this. In the case of the latter, the seasoning was weak enough such that the torigai’s ‘ocean funk’ was threatning to show through.
But the stronger neta were an umami-licious force unto themselves, marrying better than most couples with the akazu shari, coated with a deft flick of Ryusuke’s earthy, tamari-esque shoyu. The nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch) was particularly memorable – this is white fish that exhibits the flavour and texture of an ootoro, without the greasiness. One of the best fish of Spring, I was consistently served this piece on my Japan trip, and I never got tired of it. Of course, there is actual maguro too – in chutoro & ootoro form. All were – to my complete non-surprise – pockets of indulgence.
Kohada exhibited a little bit of mackerel funk which is decidedly middle-of-the-pack in the grand scheme of grand sushi-ya: better than some places, worse than others. Speaking of funk, the kuruma ebi was pretty much eating prawn head-flavoured prawn; one that’s absolutely for the prawn lovers. Oddly enough, the actual aji – a fish that’s more often than not full of pungency – was devoid of it.
In such a short time, Ryusuke has already managed to forge such relationships with uni providores in Tsukiji such that he is consistently procuring the highest-grade of uni (marked as No.01). A gunkan of one such murasaki uni was generous, in such season that the term ‘foie gras of the sea’ is absolutely justified.
The best piece of all – and what I will call his signature dish (whether you like it or not, sorry!) – was undoubetdly the double anago, one half served with only salt, and one with shoyu. It’s one of the best examples of eel sushi I’ve had – the flesh is tender, melty and sweet. Credit to Ryusuke’s technique – overnight brining to enhance its soft, fluffy texture – as well as a short sting on the hibachi grill that singes just the ends. Who doesn’t like burnt eel bits?
Tamagoyaki, in-between the texture of a sponge cake and something denser straddled the bridge between sweet and savoury well, paving the way into a Western-style finish of pistachio ice cream. As I mentioned before, expect the unconventional. Besides, ice cream is ice cream is ice cream. Yum.
It’s refreshing to experience a sushi-ya that so far – literally and figuratively – remains a hole in the (underground) wall. At this rate though, Ryusuke will blow up, much like Ryusuke’s good friend Arai, about who I’m sure you’ve heard a thing or two (they’re friends and left Kyubey at the same time to start up their respective establishments). At this point, the omakase is already a strong showing, and with some further refinement along white fish and some of the oddly funkier bits, has the potential to become one of ‘those’ restaurants. You know the kind I’m talking about. Heck, reservations already need to be made well in advance, should you wish to guarantee a seat.
It’ll be a good one.
This post is based on independently-paid visits to Sushi Ryusuke
Hankering for more sushi? Check out some of my other Japan sushi visits!
- A great selection of otsumami
- That anago <3
- Nuanced use of shari to appropriately match neta strength
- Seasoning balance issues with some nigiri
- Lacks a bit of a ‘wow’ factor; Ryusuke will have to fully mature his own particular style
Would I return: yes, in a year or so.
F7 | S3 | A3