Shuto Saito's Tokyo Sushi Adventure vol.3 ～A visit to ‘Shimbashi Shimizu’
Shimbashi at night is permeated with a vulgar atmosphere.
Numerous drunken businessmen pass you by, swaying from one side of the road to the other.
I slowly took my steps forward, circling in slalom.
Right in the narrow alleyway near the Karasumori Shrine, there stands a modest sushi shop.
At a glance, you cannot differentiate it from any other shop, but it is well-known that the most popular sushi chef stands at the kitchen counter of this shop.
His name is Kunihiro Shimizu, the owner of ‘Shimbashi Shimizu’.
Deeply influenced by ‘Kanda Tsuruhachi Sushi-banashi’, a biography of Yukio Moro-oka, the founder of ‘Tsuruhachi’, Shimizu apprenticed for 11 years to Hisataka Ishimaru of ‘Shimbashi Tsuruhachi’, who was the direct apprentice of Moro-oka.
Shimizu started his own shop in 1999, where he chose to open his place right across his parent-shop, the very place he worked as an apprentice.
His shop became famous in no time, where Shimizu was counted as one of the well-known trio along with Koji Sawada of ‘Sawada’ and Mitsuhiro Araki of ‘The Araki’.
Keeping in mind that Shimizu has taught two superstars already; Daisuke Matsumoto of ‘Sushi Matsumoto’ and Fumie Takeuchi of ‘Sushitake’, it can be said that Shimizu has a greater presence as a master.
His influence is not limited to his direct apprentices.
There are numerous other chefs who call themselves admirers of Shimizu’s craft, including Taka-aki Sugita of ‘Sugita’, Taichi Ishikawa of ‘Sushi Taichi’, Sintaro Suzuki of ‘Sushi Shin’, Kentaro Imamura of ‘Sushi Imamura’, Satoshi Ichijo of ‘Sushi Ichijo’, Yuichi Arai of ‘Sushi Arai’…and the list is endless.
The owner of ‘Shimbashi Tsuruhachi buten’ and Shimizu’s fellow-apprentice Hirokazu Igarashi praised Shimizu as being “the most skillful man I have ever seen”.
Henceforth, I was so intrigued with the craft of a man of such popularity, that I delightedly dragged my self over to Shimbashi one day after work.
I stayed at the shop for about an hour.
In that hour, I witnessed more-than-enough scenes that prove the man’s popularity.
It was definitely one of the five greatest experiences I ever had in my long sushi life.
Personally, I can describe the reason why Shimizu is supported by such many people, in exactly 5 keywords.
Let me explain them below.
Those are the adjectives that describe his sushi.
Hirame (Flounder), Kasugo (Baby snapper), Sumi-ika (Squid)…
The famous Akazu (red vinegar) flavored Shari (Vinegar seasoned rice) gives a solid accent to your tongue.
The Kohada (Gizzard shad) is marinated with sour vinegar and it makes one wonder if a sour & sour combination is still tasteful, yet unlike your expectations, the taste is magical.
Saba (Mackerel) was spectacular as well.
Nowadays many sushi chefs will not marinate Saba (Mackerel) much as to appeal its freshness, yet Shimizu marinates Saba (Mackerel) very well with salt and vinegar.
Since it is the season where Saba (Mackerel) is very fat and tasteful, it gets even better when it is marinated with salt and vinegar.
Finally, when it meets the Shari, the effect of its umami doubles and triples.
Akami (Tuna), Chu Toro (Medium-fatty tuna) and Oh-Toro (Fatty tuna)…
Each sushi looks like it is pressed hard and shaped rigidly, yet when you put it in your mouth, it spreads and splits gently in an instant.
Shimizu adjusts the size of the sushi, custom made for each customer.
His skill of nigiri is just splendid.
And the clams.
The clams are just awesome at his place.
Akagai (Ark shell), Miru-gai (Geoduck), Kobashira (Baby scallops), Aoyagi (Yellow clam), Hamaguri (Orient clam)…
Of course, the careful preparation is the ingredient to its taste, yet the Akazu also adds to the umami of the clams.
The Kuruma-ebi (Kuruma-shrimp) is also recommended.
The careful control of temperature emphasizes the umami and sweetness of the shrimp, where you can fully taste its deep flavor.
You wouldn’t have to be an expert to understand the value of the sushi here.
Shimizu is definitely smart and intelligent.
The manner of his talk shows in length of his intelligence.
If one of the customers start to complain about how it was difficult to find the shop, Shimizu would joke about how being lost while looking his shop is actually part of the course meal experience.
If one orders Ryokucha-hai (shochu-liquor made by cutting it with green tea), he would joyfully answer, saying he doesn’t serve any shochu, but instead they have a stock-full of green tea.
If I say “the Kai (clams) are great today!” he would answer with a dajare “Sou-kai? (Really?)”.
When a customer whose stomach is already full asks him of how many more servings are left in the course menu, he would say “15” and invite a warm laughter among customers.
Then he would serve an half-portion salted Anago (Sea eel) sushi as the finale to the course menu.
If someone praises him by saying “this is an one-and-only experience!”, he would reply “of course, there’s only one me and every other shop is the same. The rest is up to how much the sushi fits the taste of the customers”.
If a customer asks “you must be really happy when you see all the people smile when they eat your sushi”, he would reply with a sly look on his face, saying “not at all. My pleasure is in the counting of cash after closing the shop”.
If you continue to visit his shop for a year, you would be able to publish a book, just from his sayings.
His talks are full of wit, and I believe having such ability to commentate with esprit is necessary for successful sushi chefs, yet I have never seen anyone else who exercises it at his level.
Shimizu does not slack in teaching his apprentices.
His has a 28-year old apprentice at his side and he is another splendid chef.
The apprentice would carefully observe Shimizu and the customers, always anticipating his next move.
He would cast the wine glass to the light, checking for any missed spots.
His tidiness is probably the product of Shimizu’s teachings.
When a customer returned a sake bottle, he would gently pour the sake until the last drop from the bottle, without even taking a glance into it.
His careful eye, and his delicate but precise judgment left me in amazement.
I would pay to just watch this man work in front of me.
There was a scene where a customer mistakenly came into the shop, where the customer had the wrong shop.
Shimizu immediately told the customer to wait and the apprentice was already on his way to gently guide the customer to where she originally wanted to go.
The hospitality of the shop struck me with awe.
That day, a customer from Taiwan spilled a bowl of soup.
However, this was an opportunity for the shop to show its worth.
Within 0.6 seconds of the spill the hostess of the shop would be wiping the customer’s clothing while Shimizu, having a gentle smile on his face, quietly orders his apprentice to quickly prepare a new bowl of soup for the customer.
“Are you ok? Did any of the soup spill on you?” He would kindly ask.
20 seconds after the whole incident, everything was back to normal.
The speed of their reaction and the extent of their hospitality are simply out of the ordinary.
A standing example for all other restaurants.
The reservation system of ‘Shimbashi Shimizu’ is quite original.
All the gourmet websites have it down as the shop to be only accepting reservations for the day, but actually you can reserve the place from a week ahead.
However, they also keep a slot only for reservations for the day.
Therefore, if you suddenly come to an idea that you want to taste one of the best Edomae sushi in town, you can call to reserve in the morning and expect to be able to reserve a seat on that day.
When there are a number of restaurants where you can only make reservations for months ahead, ‘Shimbashi Shimizu’ should be praised for its wonderful and open-hearted system.
You may have noticed already, but the five qualities I listed above are all essential factors for a sushi chef.
Yet not many have each of those qualities at the finest level, and this is why Shimizu is so popular among all sushi lovers.
After this experience, I honestly thought that all the sushi chefs in Tokyo should emulate this man.
Blogger. Sushi geek.
By coincidence, he became fascinated by the world of Edomae-style Sushi.
Where exactly is the best sushi restaurant in Japan?"
In 2016, to answer that question, he decided to embark on a quest to discover the "No.1 Sushi Restaurant".
He traveled everywhere, dining at one famous sushi restaurant after another, and his restaurant reviews - combining personal observations with his actual experiences - caused a sensation among Japanese foodies.
He fell in love with some particular restaurants along the way, and still visits to enjoy their lip-smacking sushi.