Udatsu Sushi is the kind of place where you could be sat next to a fisherman who caught your ingredients on one side and a Hollywood star on the other.
In a country with more than 30,000 sushi restaurants, standing out in such a crowded market is no easy feat. Tokyo in particular is awash with fine dining eateries serving Japan’s most famous dish and while the quality of the produce is rarely in question, when it comes to ambiance, many of these places are lacking. This is where Udatsu Sushi distinguishes itself from the rest.
An artistic restaurant hidden away in the backstreets of Nakameguro, it’s an intimate setting with dimmed lighting and pictures by contemporary artists on the walls. There’s a small private room for four and nine seats along the cypress counter where people from diverse backgrounds can connect with each other while enjoying the sumptuous dishes on offer. It also gives customers the opportunity to observe the sushi master working his magic up close.
Since opening in the spring of 2019, Udatsu Sushi has attracted a wide range of guests from around the globe including celebrities, entrepreneurs and renowned chefs. Given its gallery-like interior, it’s no surprise to hear the place has proved particularly popular for artists. Watching the skilled chef slice the ingredients with such intricacy in front of wonderful pieces of art makes it feel like you’re at an exhibition.
The restaurant is named after its owner and creative force, Hisashi Udatsu, a man determined to make each one of his customers feel cherished. This, he says, can only be achieved by putting the same amount of care and attention into every dish. Fundamental to his success as a chef is the way he blends the taste profiles of the fish and rice using two distinct styles of shari (vinegared sushi rice) with two types of Iio Jozo brewed vinegar.
The dishes look heavenly and taste even better than they appear. The omakase menu has more variety than your typical sushi restaurant including an innovative avocado and natto wrap intertwined with various ingredients such as crispy lotus root chips. The highlights of the course are the rolled vegetables with fish and the smoked fatty tuna which has a big reveal when the lid is lifted.
Udatsu takes much pleasure in seeing the smiles on the faces of his customers. Brought up by parents who owned a butcher’s shop, he’s been surrounded by food his whole life, though it was the raw fish being served in the shop next door rather than meat that piqued his curiosity most. As a child, he spent hours observing the local sushi master who was kind enough to take him under his wing.
“It was the only sushi shop in our neighborhood, and I went there before they opened just hanging around,” recalls Udatsu. “I’m sure I got in the way, asking too many questions, but I was fascinated by the work. Originally the dream was to be a baseball player, however, from the age of seven, that changed to sushi chef.”
Udatsu realized his dream at 18, getting his first job at a sushi shop in Kanda after graduating from a culinary high school. He then moved on to Sushi Ichi, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Ginza where he climbed the ranks to become sous-chef, a role he later undertook at Sushi Tou in Nishi-Azabu. At 33, he fulfilled another of his ambitions by taking charge of his own restaurant.
“We’re still in the middle of building the place up,” Udatsu tells TW. “The idea was to establish a style of restaurant you can’t see anywhere else. I have huge respect for sushi businesses with long histories but often when something’s passed down from generation to generation the idea is to maintain what’s gone before rather than trying to change things. Here it’s different. Originality is the key and I have to keep challenging myself in order to evolve.”
Open to new ideas, Udatsu’s built a reputation as a flexible chef who goes out of his way to accommodate his guests. He wants everyone who visits, including those with dietary restrictions, to enjoy the Japanese omakase tradition without feeling anxious. He procures the freshest vegetables so customers, if they wish, can enjoy a vegetarian sushi experience, something you won’t find in rival establishments.
The omakase course also features herbs and edible flowers sourced from the acclaimed Kajiya Farm near Hiroshima. Udatsu spent some time there to get a better understanding of the produce, indicating just how dedicated he is to his craft. From selecting and purchasing the ingredients to the washing of the rice, he’s meticulous in everything he does. Being seen as a good sushi chef isn’t enough. He wants to be the best.
To help him get to the top, he’s assembled a first-rate team and built strong relations with local vendors. This, he feels, is instrumental to the success of the business as they can be relied upon to get him the right ingredients. He works with a rice farmer in his hometown of Kunitachi who cultivates a rice that has the size and texture to Udatsu’s image of the perfect shari, which is then sold exclusively to Udatsu. At the fish market he’s developed close bonds with merchants and listens intently to what they say before making decisions.
“They’re professionals who know a thousand times more about discerning fish than I do,” says Udatsu. “If they tell me a fish isn’t good on a specific day, I won’t get it, regardless of whether I wanted it or not. We’ve developed a mutual trust over many years, and I provide feedback about what works well and what doesn’t. I also invite them to eat at the restaurant so they can see the quality that’s needed.”
“I’m constantly learning and growing as a chef,” continues Udatsu. “My work is my hobby and I love hearing customers say they enjoyed the food. Everyone who comes here deserves to be given special treatment. I do everything I can to satisfy their taste buds and ensure they’re happy when they leave.”
Learn more about Udatsu Sushi here.
Photos by Ryoko Ogawa