Fudomae Sushi Iwasawa
不動前 すし 岩澤
Nigiri: 6.25/10 Tsumami: 7.5/10 CP: 6/10
Correct me if I’m wrong, but recently I’ve been getting the impression that Sho-style restaurants (except maybe the honten) have fallen out of favor. A few years ago there were new openings left and right - see the TTT article on “The Sushi Sho Mafia Sweeping Over Tokyo” - but nowadays it’s up-and-coming disciples from famous places that are absorbing all the attention. Also, when it comes to Sho-style restaurants, it seems increasingly difficult to evaluate what makes one different from another. They are all practicing the main elements of Keiji Nakazawa’s style (random flow of tsumami/nigiri; different types of rice for different types of neta etc.), but it may be hard to pinpoint what makes them stand out from each other, resulting in a lack of originality. This is mostly what I felt at Iwasawa.
The sushi-ya is a ~10 minute walk from Gotanda Station. It is located on the street level of a building near the road and is very easy to find. On the day of my meal, the 9-seat counter was occupied by at least 5 foreigners (including us) and a few Japanese men who were able to speak foreign languages. As you may know, Iwasawa-san hails from Sushi Sho Saito and is able to speak English and Chinese well. A tall and steady figure, he provides warm hospitality and introduces all the fish names in English, making this a charming experience for sushi newbies and foreigners. There is certainly a lack of “local ambiance” here as you do not hear tons of Japanese spoken at the counter. I do not mind this - I place foremost emphasis on the food, but unfortunately I was not very impressed :(
In total there were around 10 tsumami, 3 pickled vegetable “courses”, and 10 pieces of nigiri. Most of what was served was very small and bite-sized compared to other places I visited. For instance, the two aji rolls (tsumami) were so tiny that both of them would equal the size of one roll served at, say, Hashimoto! The tsumami could really be described as “tiny snacks” rather than “appetizers” (for comparison, the portions were much smaller than at Takumi Shingo). Overall, the tsumami was pretty good, with highlights being the ika somen and grilled mehikari. Flavor profiles were clean and not heavy at all, although nothing really stood out as being extraordinary.
Nigiri was interspersed throughout the course, and shiro or aka shari was used depending on the neta, as is the case at Sho-style restaurants. The nigiri here was like delicate glasswork, so beautiful and shiny that they almost looked too pretty to eat. While the nigiri was not bad, several issues I had were:
- Both kinds of shari, especially the shiro shari, were extremely mildly seasoned, to the point that I could taste almost no vinegar in the rice.
- The sushi was really quite small. In Singapore, we frequently have people coming into sushi restaurants requesting small rice or (god forbid) no rice at all. Iwasawa-san’s sushi reminded me of some of those Singapore style nigiri. The nigiri still spread apart nicely in the mouth, although I prefer bigger sushi, especially when I’m in Japan.
- Iwasawa-san barely brushed shoyu onto each piece - it was literally maybe one light tap of the brush on each fish. While this allowed the natural flavors of the neta to shine through, the bland shari did not help at all, making for a balance that seemed almost too clean, too pristine.
While there were some very good pieces (kohada, ankimo narazuke, kuromutsu skin), many of them also did not leave a lasting impression. Vocabulary I would use to describe the sushi would include “kirei,” “kawaii,” “chiisai,” “petite,” effeminate even (think Kanesaka/Ichiyanagi style sushi) and while I’m sure some people like this, I have a feeling hardcore sushi eaters would not enjoy it so much. And back to what I mentioned at the start: I felt that while Iwasawa-san was able to produce sushi that came straight out of a textbook - they would get straight A’s in terms of appearance and proportioning - his food also lacked personality. He did introduce a selection of items you could add on - including a dashi-marinated kuruma ebi, kuromutsu skin which would be grilled and made into nigiri, and plum (ume) nigiri - and these were more unique. I only wish they were included in the main course so that the meal would be more interesting. Instead, Iwasawa-san’s selection of nigiri neta was very “safe” (ika, kohada, tuna, etc.) and although I did get the infamous ankimo narazuke, I didn’t get any other Sho-style originals like kinmedai grilled with its skin or the “ohagi” toro taku nigiri. In general, the impact of his nigiri was restrained, muted, and extremely clean tasting. It comes down to preferences, but surely I prefer more old-school and more intense Edomae preparations.
The price came up to ¥25,500 per person including 2-3 add ons; I would not consider this to be great value. I would still rank the food above Sushi Sho Masa although definitely below Takumi Shingo. I do buy some foodies’ criticisms that it is difficult to focus on the nigiri here given there are so many tsumami thrown in between, although I was fully expecting this from the start. Overall, I’d say Iwasawa is a perfectly decent Sho-style restaurant, with a cozy ambiance and good hospitality. It’s just that if you asked me to recall, in a year’s time, some interesting/idiosyncratic properties about this place, I doubt I’ll be able to share that much. . .
1. I don’t drink, which may have contributed to my reduced enjoyment at this place (and Sho-style restaurants in general). I think I'm going to take an extended break from Sho places now . . .
2. Compared to other Sho-style places, Iwasawa-san seems to do a few things differently. First, there is a clearly-defined course that everyone gets - that is to say, although nigiri and tsumami are interspersed, all diners get the same stuff in the same order. This was not the case when I went to Shingo, where every group got a different flow of items, i.e. our 3rd nigiri might be their 10th. It was still immensely interesting to watch the well-coordinated nature of the chefs here. Second, Iwasawa-san served all the sushi with shiro shari before moving onto all the sushi with aka shari. This was not the case when I went to both Shingo and Sho Masa (they switched back and forth between the rice numerous times).
I'm sorry to hear the experience wasn't optimal for you but appreciate, as always, your insights here!