Food: 7.5/10 CP: 7/10
I have wanted to visit this sushi-ya ever since I read Shuto Saito’s TTT article featuring it. Thanks to the help of my friend, I was finally able to go!
The restaurant is located on the 2F of an unglamorous building in Shinbashi. You have to navigate through alleys of massage parlors before you finally reach the entrance. To be frank, in terms of location this was my least favorite sushi place. Thankfully, once you pass through the noren you can forget about the exterior for a while (although there is no restroom inside the sushi-ya, so if you need to do your business, you need to go back into the mall and pass those massage parlors again, RIP)
The taisho is Igarashi-san, and his background has been covered in the TTT article I mentioned. After a quick welcome, we sat down at the compact counter and started off with three courses of sashimi: karei, shako, and mirugai. The 3 slices of karei were humongous (foreshadowing the size of the nigiri); the shako was very good; the mirugai was a bit whatever. Clean flavors shone throughout.
Then we had 14 pieces of large nigiri. My thoughts on the main features of the nigiri:
1) When I say they were large, I mean they were really large. The toppings were ginormously thick-cut, and the shari was seriously sizable. I found the size of the overall nigiri to be a mixed bag: some of the pieces were difficult to put in the mouth and chew (e.g. katsuo, anago were overwhelmingly large), but the slightly smaller/more balanced ones were comfortably wholesome.
2) For its reputation as an “old-school” place and naturally inviting comparisons to the “Shimizu/old school aka shari” style restaurants, the shari was weaker than I expected it to be. It was a combo of somewhat sour and salty but not overwhelming in any way (it was nowhere as strong as the shari at, say, Shimizu). It worked well with most of the neta, and it was not punishing on the palate, so I felt I could eat many pieces without getting fatigued. My only gripe was that it got stickier throughout the night, and it was not as warm as I would have liked, so the texture and temperature were less than perfect.
3) Most notable to me was that the nigiri was NOT brushed with nikiri shoyu. I’ve never encountered this at another high-end sushi place before! Instead, you have to dip the pieces in soy sauce yourself, and the shoyu provided was NOT nikiri shoyu (i.e. not sweetened with sake/mirin). Or you can go really old-school and eat the sushi with no shoyu at all. Certainly Igarashi-san did excellent work with less than top-of-the-line ingredients, so the "unseasoned" nigiri was good, but at the same time I feel that not using nikiri-shoyu prevented the sushi from reaching great heights. (I did not like the shoyu he gave, which reminded me of a generic supermarket product. Oops)
We ended with the infamous Tsuruhachi tuna futomaki and half a kanpyo maki. Usually I can eat a decent amount of kanpyo but I was too full here - be prepared to consume a serious amount of rice at Tsuruhachi, lol. Highlights of the meal were a monstrously fatty iwashi; hamaguri with enticing tsume sauce; and the maguro futomaki (some people may look at this and call it one-dimensional but I thought it was really delicious). However, if I’m being honest there were also a number of particularly average pieces, including akagai, ikura, and uni. And as I mentioned, it didn’t help that I did not enjoy the soy sauce here.
When it came to preparations, from slicing the toppings to shaping the sushi, Igarashi-san was a one-man show. He would also pop into his kitchen from time-to-time to do on-the-spot grilling of several neta. His movements were brisk and dexterous, and he operated quickly and efficiently without being flustered, maintaining a good tempo throughout the meal. He is obviously a very skilled sushi master and it was a pleasure to watch him work.
On the flipside, precisely because he’s a one man show, apparently he sometimes works so much that he ends up spending the night at his shop. I wonder why some sushi masters do not hire apprentices. Besides the obviously brutal nature of the work, could it be that many young trainees prefer to flock to more “sexy” places like Saito, Sugita, Namba, which are more than well-staffed? I also grimly wonder that, if that were the case, would truly old-school sushi restaurants like Tsuruhachi disappear eventually? Would they be replaced by a modernist sushi ecosystem where okonomi is unheard of; where ¥35,000+ meals are the norm; where chefs fight to the death for the most expensive ingredients; where classic items that require technical skill (e.g. hamaguri) fall out of favor; where reservation books are perennially filled by champagne-chugging socialites? Some of these things are happening already, and I shudder at the thought.
The bill came to ~¥18,000 per person. This was slightly less than what I paid at Sushi Take earlier in the day for a similarly generous quantity of food, so it was a good-value meal. My impression of Shinbashi Tsuruhachi is that if I lived near the area and could speak Japanese, I could see myself coming here with relative frequency to order 8-10 nigiri per meal. But as it turns out, I don’t live in Japan, the entry barrier for non-Japanese speakers is high, and the sushi did not blow my mind, so my sushi journey continues!
Thanks Justin for the great review. Probably not to everyone's preference if they like elegant sushi.
Still ideal for those who like old-school Edo sushi if one manages to get a Japanese companion.
I would still hope to visit there 1 day.
Justin is back in business! Thank you for your great review!
Great review, Justin!!
Yes, I am back with a vengeance, although my writing skills have sharply deteriorated since a few years ago...still, thanks to everyone and Saito-san for reading! I've written up a few other reviews and am planning to post a few more while they're still fresh in my memory.
As always appreciate the review and insights here! To reiterate what the others have already expressed happy to see you writing again