Joining the emerging gourmet neighborhood of Higashi Azabu is a classy little sushi bar run by a young husband and wife team. Set in a sophisticated ambiance, Sugaya is founded on passion to create their own signature dishes using the best catches from across Japan. Enjoy the subtle details of the beautiful space as you savor their fine selection of white fish, monkfish liver and sea urchin.
Chef Takayuki Sugaya opened his restaurant in December 2018 after building his craftsmanship at a number of Tokyo establishments. With the property facing a busy road, the chef made sure to design a peaceful flow from the moment you walked through the entrance. Behind the crisp white noren curtains, a narrow stepping stone path guides you to a hinoki cypress door, leaving the bustling cityscape behind.
Inside, a hall set with Japanese cedar wood stretches towards the arch-way entrance of the main room. In the well-lit space, a large Kiso hinoki cypress counter is fixed around the kitchen. Only seven lucky guests get to sit around the L-shaped counter where each seat is set with a beautiful walnut chair designed by a craftsman in Hida in Gifu Prefecture.
The flat and open counter allows a great view of the tall chef preparing each dish. It makes you feel at peace just watching his refined moves as he presses the shari rice with his slender fingers. “I think my fingers are too long to make sushi,” he says with a little laugh as he glances to his wife who helps run the restaurant. His humble nature and his wife’s warm hospitality create such a pleasant atmosphere.
When naming his restaurant, he picked a letter that is used in Amida Nyorai, reflecting his love for buddhas and culture of Kyoto. The character also carries the meaning of the word to spread or to extend. The calligraphy of the restaurant’s name on the building is the work of the chef himself.
The restaurant opens right on time, so if you arrive early, please kindly wait outside until the wife invites you in.
Enjoy the subtle details of the beautiful space
The chef’s omakase menu starts with a few seasonal bites, followed by a series of nigiris that become the center of the meal. The small dishes are for the most part raw and light delicacies as grilled or steamed foods could curb your appetite before the main nigiri courses.
A lover of white fish himself, the variety of daily selection incredible, especially during the winter season. He is also proud of the strips of tuna he selects, and always has several variations to offer.
The nigiris are made with a good pinch of salt for a crisp flavor. While the shari is pressed firmly together, the grains fall apart lightly in your mouth. The nikiri soy sauce uses a delicate blend of regular soy sauce and tamari soy sauce, flavored with mirin, sugar and sake.
The Spanish mackerel sashimi is a reflection of the chef’s exquisite aesthetics. The slices are so tender they melt like butter on your tongue. Caught off the shores of Choshi, the fish is matured for three days and cured in kombu for 15 minutes. Next to the sliced fish is a little morsel of horseradish. Flavored with scallions and bonito flakes, the condiment adds a refreshing contrast.
Next, he places two separate sets of flounder sashimi. On one side are fillets of the Akashi fish, so rich in flavor and scent. On the other side is engawa, a part of the fin, that is loved for its wonderful texture. The muscular strips are blanched in boiling salt water and cured to enrich its umami.
Served in a little dark bowl, you may mistake the next dish for a piece of braised pork belly. Browned beautifully on the edges, the thick brown slice is monkfish liver. The pink strip across is a layer of fat, making this delicacy so sweet and flavorful.
The blue fish of the day is gizzard shad from Amakusa in Kumamoto Prefecture. The beautifully slit slice is cured in salt for 40 minutes and in vinegar for another 20 minutes for a balanced flavor. The Japanese horse mackerel from Kagoshima Prefecture is equally delicious.
An unusual pick for a nigiri is the pen shell. Sent from Aichi Prefecture, the chef has added cross-hatch slits with his knife to give it that great texture and softness. Hidden underneath the shellfish is a sheet of seaweed that unleashes the aroma of the ocean as you bite in. The morsel is salted and rested for about 10 min before it gets served.
The marbled piece of fatty otoro tuna is beyond perfection. Caught off Shimoda on the southeastern Izu Peninsula, the rich layer is cut from a 150 kg fish. The light pink slice has an incredible shine and simply melts in your mouth. The “double” sea urchin has become a signature course. As the name suggests, the gunkan sushi has a huge piece of purple sea urchin on top, while another layer of Hokkaido sea urchin is hidden inside the wrapped around seaweed. The two different flavors burst and meld together with every bite.
Sugaya procures most of his fresh ingredients from Asahi Suisan, a top-class fish vendor in Kyoto. Since his Sushi Shin days, the chef has been dealing with them for over twelve years. The tuna is sourced from Yamayuki in Toyosu, where he can get his hands on his favorite high quality catches that are fished using fixed nets.
The seaweed comes from Maruyama Nori, which has been perfecting the craft of seaweed making for over 160 years. Their kontobi seaweed is loved for its freshness and deep aroma. The wasabi comes from Mazuma in Gotemba. For the shari, he has handpicked aged hitomebore from Iwate Prefecture for the sweet and large grains. The vinegar is a blend of four different kinds, including a vintage made by Yokoi.
To complement the selected ingredients, the selection of drinks is equally superb. He always stocks as many as twenty different kinds of Champagne, including more unusual finds such as Jacquesson and Pol Roger. He has handpicked mostly Burgundy wines that pair well with Japanese food as well as about ten rare sake vintages.
Suzu is a round and hollow Japanese Shinto bells with a beautiful jingle. Sugaya has chosen the traditional instrument as the restaurant’s logo and motif, as printed on various places such as the entrance wall. He also treasures the little tin statue of Hotei, the god of happiness, that he bought from a Kyoto craftsman as good luck when he opened the restaurant. Elsewhere, he uses metal artifacts to add a traditional yet modern accent to the space. The chopstick holders are made by Nousaku, another metal craftsman in Toyama Prefecture with over a 100-year history. Also made out of tin is the one-stem flower base in which the wife thoughtfully arranges the day’s flower to welcome every single guest.
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000