I waited five hours in line for this meal. I didn’t expect there to be anyone waiting though when I arrived at 1:30am but there they were, seven diehards. By the time 4:30am rolled around, this had turned into 70 people…
It’s fair to say that Sushi Dai is popular. Extremely so. But this is no cheap music style popularity. The sushi here is good. Perhaps not in an elegant refined kind of way but more like a returning from the wild waters with a catch of class in tow. But then, what else should you expect from a 13-seat sushi bar nestled within Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish markets?
Chatting with a Sushi Dai veteran waiting next to me, I was told that in most places in Tokyo, the sushi we were about to eat would have set us back anywhere between 10-15,000 yen. That’s roughly $100-150. Sushi Dai only charges 4,000 yen. You do the math. Mr Veteran had no idea why Sushi Dai kept its prices so reasonable but we were all glad for it.
Like everyone else, I ordered the chef’s choice set. That’s 12 pieces of sushi including an egg omelette and my own choice from what was on offer that day.
We were offered some customary green tea and miso soup before the first dish was served. The first couple of pieces tend to have gentler and milder flavours so to see that fatty tuna was first on the list was a surprise. These days fatty tuna usually appears later but upon tasting it, I got a sense as to Sushi Dai’s thinking.
Each piece of sushi in this course was characterised by the way toppings all melted into the rice beneath it. Even the cockle clam, with its typical shellfish ocean crunch, melted away. The thick slab of yellowtail followed the same pattern, a brush of freshness whilst dissolving into the rice as you ate.
The sea urchin, I was told, came from Aomori, up in the north of the country and instead of a blast of salt water, the piece offered a tender vanishing act. I’m not sure where it went but I had the distinct feeling of wanting to get back on the boat to find some more. The salmon roe, too, played the same trick on me.
The flounder, golden eye snapper, horse mackerel were all delicately fleshy. The tuna and cucumber rolls were lovely with the tuna being smeared into the rice a kind of evidence of its hand crafted nature.
The final sushi chosen by the chef was the sea-eel. If the fatty tuna was the master of the melt then the sea eel must have been its teacher. I cannot impress upon you enough just how incredible this cream-like piece was.
As a fan of the silver skinned fish toppings, I chose the cured mackerel. Needless to say, it melted and was thoroughly enjoyable on the palate.
If you ever have the chance to eat sushi at Sushi Dai, please do so. I cannot recommend this place any more highly. The staff are very friendly and serve your sushi at a relaxed pace. And while I didn’t do so, ordering a la carte is easy and very reasonably priced.
By the way, I should mention that the first guy in line had been waiting since 10:30pm the previous evening. He evidently thought that Sushi Dai was worth the wait. Having tried it, I can tell you, it is.
Very much so.
In the corner by the entrance of Sushi Masa in Camperdown sits a sushi counter. I love sushi counters. Sushi ought to be eaten at a sushi counter...
...but I'm with my family now and the kids need a place to sit. The waitress is very accommodating and helps us to our table. It's a nice little place, well designed with large windows and simple decor. I note the daily specials on the wall and the karaage tuna and kisu tempura both catch my eye. Maybe next time though as we have already settled on our orders - the lunchtime sushi set for $15.50 - sushi, salad, agedashi tofu and miso soup. This should be good.
I enjoy the entree dishes first. My wife comments that the salad is nice (and it is) but that the dressing is quite strong. It seems that I am going to need a lot of ginger to remove the taste before I move on to the sushi. It's okay, we're eating a lunch set though I do take a peek at the counter.
The sushi arrives. It looks nice though I am thinking that the plate is a tad large. The stars of the show, all eight pieces plus rolls, look a bit lonely sitting on it. But it's okay, it's just a lunch set. I glance over at the counter...
I begin with the snapper whose texture I almost miss. I'm thinking to myself that I would like to try this one ala carte one evening. I try the fatty tuna. It's nicely formed and thick but alas, no melt. The salmon tastes basic and the aburi salmon has a quick singe of flavour to it but not much going on in the way of fat. Going through the rest of the pieces - the prawn, flying fish roe, egg, eel and tuna & salmon rolls - I am thinking to myself, not to worry, it's only a lunch set...
...I steal another glance at the counter. Sushi Masa, next time, I'm going ala carte.
Tokyo overflows with sushi bars. From the cheapest sushi train joints chugging away with staple toppings such as, err, prosciutto and SPAM to bank account breaking high end dining experiences, you simply cannot not find a place where you can eat sushi.
Sydney's cupboard, on the other hand, is somewhat bare - at least when compared to its Japanese big sister. But we are not without hope here. I'll travel around Sydney, try out the sushi where I can find it and give you my expertly expert sounding opinion...
A note though. I believe sushi dining to be a whole package experience. For sure, the food and its quality & taste make up the bulk of any review but I also take into account the general ambience of the meal and its service. Authentic Japanese cuisine satisfies all of the senses and I'm looking for a sushi experience that respects that culinary tradition.
Established way back in 1987, Sapporo Japanese Restaurant, in Crow's Nest, certainly has the history. Walking in, one feels a sort of slipping back into another age. A rugby age to be more precise.
The walls were completely covered in rugby jerseys. Along with the carpeted floors and TV screen, I wondered if I were in a pub or a sushi bar. Yes, I spotted the sushi counter but still...
The Wallabies were winning in the halycon days of Sapporo's opening years, so I imagine that life was pretty good for the owners of Sapporo. I wondered what the sushi would be like.
Settling ourselves at a table, my wife chose the Value Lunch Box ($14.80) while yours truly went the gluttonous route and ordered the Deluxe Wattle ($43).
Now, this Deluxe Wattle promised me 10 pieces of sushi plus 6 rolls. Scampi was included in this and when the staff brought out the plate, I must say it looked impressive.
Unfortunately, we chose to sit at a rather small table so the sushi plate, which was almost spear-like in its length, didn't really fit on the table. Given the table size, perhaps a different plate could have been used? Anyway, we managed.
Apparently in the old days, one started a sushi meal with tuna but these days, the gentler tastes of the white-fleshed fish tend to go first. I followed this modern tradition and started with the snapper, halibut and kingfish. The toppings were textured enough without being too memorable. Moving onto the more strongly flavoured pieces, the tuna, salmon, grilled salmon, scallop and scampi, I found myself searching for something to be awed by. I didn't really find it though I did appreciate the little bit of succulence that the seared scallop and the scampi offered.
I finished off with the egg and was wondering where the tenth sushi was before spying the salmon roe hidden behind the leafy decorative piece. Trying it, well, wow, I liked it. The scent of the ocean was not overpowering at all, suggestive, as it was, only after several bites. I quite enjoyed this and its fragrant release is something I suspect would be quite the showpiece when ordered ala carte.
Finally, I went through the remaining 6 salmon & avocado rolls. Avocado doesn't excite me at all and while not untasty, I just don't feel it has anything to do with sushi. But I appreciate that it has its fans.
Sapporo Japanese Restaurant also has its fans. It has some history too but for the price, I would have preferred a bit more bang for my buck.
Like the Wallabies, I think that Sapporo may be due for a much needed win.
Watch me return when it does.