Tokyo Table Trip

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Review of Kiyota (Nov2022 Visit)


Kiyota (not Hanare)
Sashimi: 8/10, Nigiri: 6.5/10, CP: 4/10

Alongside Jiro and Sawada, Kiyota is one of Ginza’s legendary sushi temples. Its decorated ~60 year history began with the first-generation chef Shigezo Fujimoto, who was said to be one of the most skilled chefs of his time. (He was also the master of the chef Kikuo Shimizu who authored the informative book “Edomae Sushi”, available in English.) The second generation chef, Niizu Takeaki, was also reportedly very skilled and particular about tuna; the third generation chef, Masashi Kimura, has been described on TTT by Saito-san as one of the leading sushi chefs in Japan, and he helms the notoriously expensive Kiyota Hanare. The fourth generation chef is Norihiko Yoshizawa, and it is he who stands behind the counter at the main shop today.

The space inside the restaurant is evidently luxurious. Like Namba Hibiya, the floors are carpeted and evoke a posh feel. The perfectly smooth hinoki counter is suave and maybe a bit too bright, thanks to a row of seven penetrating lightbulbs that dangle right above. A shelf towards the left of the counter holds numerous cups and glasses, some of which have the characters “きよ田” ingrained onto them, so I imagine they are custom-made. Behind the counter, a long and well-lit shoji screen, plus sinks with golden faucets, also add to the sense of opulence. The entire space is completely isolated from the outside world; I felt like I was in a secret underground bunker.

Kiyota used to be one of the most expensive sushi restaurants in Japan, but today this is no longer the case. I went for dinner and ordered a “nigiri-centered course” that was quoted at ¥~38,500. Granted, there is a ~¥55k menu, but then again top sushi-ya like Hatsune, Tenzushi, and maybe even Sugita are charging close to or more than that amount. While Kiyota used to be introduction-only and a favorite gathering spot of socialites, individuals with boundless corporate expense accounts, and perhaps sketchy characters (these categories are not mutually exclusive btw), today it seems to have fallen out of favor, with people gravitating towards trendier and more modern restaurants. As such, it’s very easy to get seats at here; there are plenty of empty slots on Omakase.

My meal actually started off on a high note, with several courses of sashimi. Tai and hirame kobujime were very good, with strong depth of flavor for white fish. Ikura was lightly marinated in soy sauce (every other place I went to served it raw as it’s in season) and was soft, custardy, and well-balanced. Awabi sashimi was soft and oceanic. A sashimi “trio” of shimofuri, akami, and kohada was then presented all at once. To go on a bit of a tangent here: “Harakami” is the belly part of the tuna near the head; it is further divided into categories like “harakami-ichiban” which is closest to the head, followed by harakami-niban and harakami-sanban which are further away from the head. Apparently the cut closest to the head (harakami-ichiban) is the most prized, and fetches ridiculous prices to the tune of ¥50,000-100,000+ per kg. Well, I’m sure you know Kiyota is known for sourcing some of the highest-quality tuna in the nation, and makes extensive use of “harakami-ichiban." The price of the meal reflects this.

The tuna here lived up to my expectations: the toro was the smoothest and most buttery that I have ever tasted, melting in the mouth and leaving plenty of fatty notes on the tongue. The akami was less compelling (I prefer versions that have more blood and iron flavor) but was still pretty good. Kohada sashimi was pure and well balanced. The final appetizer dish was a grilled slab of ootoro, charred to near perfection and dissolving in the mouth like butter once again. Overall, I thought the sashimi was a simple yet formidable degustation of the ingredient quality, and I was very pleased.

Unfortunately, nigiri is where the course started going downhill for me. There were three main reasons as to why. First, the shari was very purist, lacking salinity and virtually any acidity. While the neutrality of the shari made it synergize with all sorts of toppings, I can’t say I enjoyed the seasoning; it reminded me of the shari at Kanesaka / Saito-style sushiyas like Tsubomi that I considered a bit too plain.

Second, I found some of the pieces to be unbalanced in completion. Yoshizawa-san uses hontegaeshi to form nigiri, which is a cool technique that I see less and less in the modern day. I’m not sure if it’s because of that, but the resulting sushi takes on a long, submarine/torpedo-like shape where the fish wraps all around the rice, and the rice is more rectangular than circular. (This is similar to the shape of sushi at Sawada. The polar opposite of this would be the shape of sushi at, say, Tomidokoro, where the rice is more oval and bulbous.) Anyway, I don’t like the way this “long” nigiri breaks apart in the mouth, and also there were some pieces where the shari disappeared within like 0.5 seconds of chewing. If I were to guess, I don’t think Yoshizawa-san has had enough experience forming nigiri, as the proportioning was very inconsistent. It didn’t help that the size of the sushi here was probably the smallest that I’ve had at any sushi restaurant in Japan (petite-size sushi is not to my personal taste) :(

Third, besides the tuna, I thought the neta here was mostly pedestrian. Four ingredients from the sashimi course were repeated in the nigiri sequence as well, and I must say they worked better as sashimi (not a good sign, lol). Throughout the course, we were also served several small maki including uni maki, kobashira maki, and akami/toro maki; none of these stood out. The silver fish was very basic, and the other neta used were very conservatively prepped, again reminding me of Saito-style sushiya where the fish is minimally aged. I was incredibly excited to try the anago with kinome leaf, which is the piece of sushi that reportedly made Yuji Matsuo of “Sushidokoro Tsukuta” want to become a sushi chef (and he actually ended up training at Kiyota!!). Yet it was a letdown, with a fascinating crispy texture but flat flavor reminiscent of grilled codfish. Maybe the best items served during my dinner were tuna, kappa maki, and kanpyo maki, which was disappointing to say the least.

Don’t get me wrong, I perfectly enjoy ultra-simple and purist sushi e.g. at Hashiguchi and Chikamatsu, but I felt that while Kiyota tried to emulate a similar philosophy, the execution was just not great.

The service was polite and efficient, although there were some mix-ups during the meal. The main sous chef, who sliced some of the sashimi, erroneously seasoned some of the akami sashimi with soy sauce, which Yoshizawa-san pointed out (but strangely, he also did not replace those pieces). The sous chef also cut the kohada in some incorrect manner, which Yoshizawa-san also noticed; the result was a few pieces of kohada were wastefully thrown into the trash bin. And a few times Yoshizawa-san asked for some stuff from the kitchen but was met with no response, so he had to yell a few times or go in there himself to sort things out. The overall coordination between the team was not the best (if you want a real and proper show, go to Sakai in Fukuoka or a Sho-style restaurant). Thankfully, everyone was nice and there was some English spoken. I had expected the ambiance to be uptight, but it was actually quite pleasant.

Overall, I’m sorry if I’m offending millionaires, actors and actresses, tuna savants, corporate executives, the Japanese underworld, and lord knows who else; but I can’t seriously recommend Kiyota to any real sushi foodie. I found the sushi here to be more cosmetic and glitzy than anything, and I do not believe it would satisfy a diehard foodie, especially if you enjoy more traditional preparations and value items like kohada, kanpyo, hamaguri, anago, and tamago. I feel like while it might have been a very popular place in the 80's or 90's, Kiyota has had its day in the sun. For the same price, and for those looking for top-class tuna / premium ingredients, I’d recommend Inomata over Kiyota in a heartbeat.

Endnote: During my sushi trip I went to a number of konbini, purchasing and devouring a few pieces of salted tori karaage each time. I have to say all the chicken was really good. As I left Kiyota and walked into the Ginza night, I thought to myself, surely tori karaage is more filling and satisfying than what I just ate. . . ~_~


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@Justin very interesting perspectives and enjoyable read. Thanks again!

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Thank you for the write up! Great as always.

Hopefully, someone can share their experience at Kiyota Hanare as well

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Guys, thanks for taking the time to read my long paragraphs lol. I promise I'm almost done spamming the Community. Anyway, I went to a few other places this trip, but I've written about them before so here are just some quick impressions:

• Sushi Take (2nd visit): Not as good as my 1st visit. The atmosphere was quite stale (Take-san looked like she was either really sleep deprived or hung over). Shako and anago were the highlights. On the whole, the meal was not bad but I don't think I'll be back in a while.

• Inomata (2nd visit): Very high-level sushi with a much better balance than my previous meal here, maybe because he has toned down on the marinated items. Shari was nothing to write home about but neta was outstanding. Excellent customer service; the location and price are not the best. Still highly recommend for nigiri lovers.

• Kosaza in Shimbashi (1st visit): A decent place if you can't get reservations elsewhere, run by a lovely pair of elderly brothers. Neta was prepped in old-school styles and generally well done, but shari was minimally seasoned and way too packed/dense. The menu was extensive, with over 30 ingredients IIRC; okonomi is available as well. It was surprisingly expensive; I don't think I'll be back soon.

• Hashiguchi (2nd visit): While I feel there are a few things that prevent Hashiguchi from being the ultimate sushi restaurant, I still think it is a must-visit. Flavors are subtle and take a while to process, but the balance is formidable, with the silver fish executed to near-perfection. And while I did not find my meals here mind-blowing, they were very consistent, and I find myself wanting to return again and again. At the end of the day, isn't that the hallmark of a great restaurant?

• Ichijo (4th visit): While the shari's recipe has changed and it is (unfortunately) nowhere as punchy as before, I still find the sushi here really addicting and almost perfectly calibrated to my personal palate. I think his simmered items including anago, hamaguri, and kanpyo are off the charts, second only to Shimizu's. 11 pieces + tamago + kanpyo + 3 add-ons went for roughly ¥14,000 which I thought was incredible value compared to the other places I visited.

None of the above was hard to book, especially with 1-2 months advance notice. Hope this is useful to some readers. Until next time!

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Thanks for the additional notes Justin!

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Thanks for the honest opinions, very valuable.

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@Shi Thanks for reading ^_^

@TheTokyoGourmet Actually, I was inspired by what you wrote in the thread on shokuoku. As you wrote, "What would help is if people didn't just boast about restaurants they've been to without offering an opinion or not saying anything critical at all and/or just saying that everything was great when it really wasn't. If there were more critical voices demand would be more sensible." I figured since this is a website for actual foodies rather than star-chasers and Instagram champions, there is no point for me to say that every meal I had was a 10/10, and I might as well be more truthful when certain experiences were less than desirable!

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Was at Kiyota on Nov 22 as well and it was a pretty ordinary meal. Have always wanted to given the reputation of the shop and how the second master has helped train Araki. To learn more about the lineage, I went to Sushi Tsukuta in Karatsu and Kiyota. Did find some similarities such as the use of hontegaeshi and a pretty salty shari but other than that, his skills doesn’t match up to Tsukuta or Araki. A few observations:

1) Some of the otsumami and nigiri ingredients are repeated and it just reeks of laziness. Plenty of neta to choose from during the season and he picked just about the most standard ones. And to repeat between otsumami and nigiri just doesn’t make any sense to me

2) Quality of Maguro is decent but can find better

3) Nigiri skills just not there. Proportion is off and asked for larger shari but the ratio barely changed. Some of the most ugly nigiri I have seen and the shari shape is inconsistent. Knife work on neta is poor resulting in different shapes. Some of the sushi can’t even stand on their own and fell on its side

4) Sake list is filled with juyondai and only 2-3 other choices. Pretty poor selection. Good for making money but bad match for his food

A friend has kindly treated me and it was good that I get to try it. But have zero desire to return. No idea how he got such a high tabelog score

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@Just_Ingest, just read this again as @DanielfromHK bumped it, all your other reviews again and your last comment. I love the detail in your reviews and your writing style. Thanks for the kind comment. I bumped Tsuruhachi up my queue following your review.

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