As is all the rage these days, Sushi Ichi is a sister outpost of a Michelin starred restaurant in Tokyo - Ginza, to be exact. The décor is classic high-end Japanese Sushi restaurant - wood everywhere, a gorgeous hinoki counter to run your fingers over, and - this is important - not a single one of those glass refrigeration units in sight. Top restaurants always keep their fish cold the traditional way - in wooden boxes on top of ice - so as not to dry out the fish.
Menu-wise, we like that all but the cheapest of the sets available come with some hot, cooked dishes (in contrast with Shinji, which serves only sushi on all but their top-priced omakase meals). As we're here for lunch and don't really want to stuff too much, the darling orders the Ume 梅 set meal ($60 for appetizer, nigiri sushi (8 pieces), miso soup, dessert) and I go for the Tsubaki 椿 ($110 for appetizer, assorted dishes (2), nigiri sushi (8 pieces), miso soup, dessert).
Onward to the food! First up, an amuse bouche for me - Nanohana (rapeseed plant) with Tofu Skin - refreshing and creamy.
For Appetizers, the darling gets some Japanese tofu and vegetables, topped with ladies fingers tempura and some snow crab. I get some stewed Aji (Spanish Mackerel) with bamboo shoot on a bed of sakura-flavoured sticky/glutinous rice. While both appetizers were nice, we enjoyed the heartiness of the sticky rice and fish that little bit more.
For the first of my cooked dishes, I don't exactly know what to call it so I won't even try. It's an assortment of different seasonal ingredients - some mentaiko (cod fish roe) with spring onion, king bean, prawn, grilled needle fish, octopus and pumpkin. All were very lightly seasoned, presumably to let the flavors and textures of the ingredient itself take center stage.
The second of the cooked dishes - Sakura Ebi (mini shrimp) in very seasoned tempura batter. I thought this was only just "pretty good," as the flavorings and crunchiness in the batter pretty much drowned out the sakura ebi entirely.
While we transition from the cooked dishes to the sushi, just wanted to take a short time out to the experience of eating at a sushi counter, right in front of the sushi chef. Our opinion is that the skill of the Chef isn't everything - his personality is almost equally as important. A grumpy, non-communicative chef can sour the mood greatly. On the other hand if you get someone like Chef Ozura Kazuo, we feel that the constant chatter, friendliness and laughter go a long way to increasing the overall enjoyment of the meal. Definitely worth to perhaps request to sit with Kazuo-San if you're paying a visit.
Anyway moving back to the food and on to the Sushi, then! The darling and I both get the same number of nigiri - eight - but as hers' is the cheaper set there's some differences in the neta - for example for our tuna nigiri I got a nice oily and juicy chu-toro (medium fatty tuna) whereas she had to 'settle' for akami (lean tuna).
Chef Kazuo served us up a couple of unfamiliar ingredients - Aoyagi (Surf Clam, pictured above) and Tairagai (Pen Shell, pictured below). It's always nice trying new sushi but personally I've never been a big fan of all the various -gi and -gai clams. Don't quite appreciate the texture (normally too hard/crunchy) or the taste (normally quite bland).
We find that compared to Shinji, Sushi Ichi seems to take a more traditional approach to their sushi. Other than salt on our squid sushi, everything else is pretty standard soy sauce and wasabi (freshly grated, of course).
Oh, I also got a mini-chirashi, with bits of raw fish and a heaping of ikura (salmon roe). Like we've mentioned in the past, we don't quite know why ikura served in these high end places is savoury but not salty, whereas ikura in practically every other lower end restuarant is salty as heck.
To finish - anago (sea eel) and kanpyo (a type of gourd named calabash) maki, and a sweet custardy egg that feels more like a dessert than a normal tamagoyaki.
A small bonus before dessert - mini horseradish maki. Because Chef Kazuo says we should eat something spicy before the dessert.
Speaking of desserts, we only really have the choice of several different flavors of sorbets - raspberry and yuzu pictured here. Our recommendation is to go for yuzu as it's light and airy, whereas the raspberry is perhaps a tad bit too sour.
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, especially with the jovial Chef Kazuo keeping us company. However we have to say that Shinji does still marginally serve up the better food. The sushi here at Sushi Ichi is still very, very good, but the shari (rice) just lacks a bit of flavor and the neta toppings aren't quite as imaginative and marinated/flavored as well.
Sushi Ichi is open for lunch and dinner on Tuesday - Sunday (closed on Mondays). Reservations can be made online via their website.