Classic, yet anything but conventional, from the old-fashioned restaurant name Hachizaemon to the rice not found anywhere else. The chef’s sushi infatuation is palpable, and while he seems shy at a glance, his vision is clear, and guests will be captivated by conversation on his bold choices as to rice and seafood toppings. Taking a fascinating and original approach, Hachizaemon has succeeded in differentiating itself in the highly competitive Ginza sushi market.
Hachizaemon can be found on the seventh floor of Ginza 745 – an all restaurant and bar building in Ginza, with the likes of modern Chinese favorite Renge equriosity and specialist crab cuisine Kitafuku each occupying an entire floor. This sushi restaurant captured the hearts of many at its original location in Shinkoyasu, Yokohama, even earning a Michelin star. But never shy of a challenge, Chef Isoyama closed the doors on his Yokohama location in 2015 to make a new start in Ginza.
The name Hachizaemon is a tribute to the chef’s grandfather, a banker born in the Meiji Period of the late 19th century. The chef says he finds it uninteresting when chefs simply use their own surname in their restaurant branding – another display of his penchant for the original. The simple, elegant space puts guests at ease, especially regulars who have followed the chef here from Yokohama, as the design is very similar to the original restaurant. The L-shaped counter seats nine guests, allowing for both couples and diners who may come alone. The chef originally planned even fewer seats, enabling him to focus entirely on quality in his work, but nine diners at each sitting will be very pleased to have the chance to admire Isoyama’s brilliant craftsmanship before partaking in those delicious morsels.
The space is given a decidedly regal feel with elegant seats adorned in purple upholstery that are very comfortable to sit in. Every day before opening, the chef lovingly brushes their delicate plush fabric. With no other fancy, distracting accoutrements, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the center of the impressive counter and the beautiful ears of rice on display there.
Classic, yet anything but conventional
Sushi craftsman Isoyama uses only the seafood that he declares to be definitively delicious. Those are the words of a polished chef who feels no pressure to serve what guests or tradition demands. And while he never sways from his routine of careful preparation, his highly original approach when it comes to the rice is intriguing. It is no exaggeration to say that this is a sushi dining experience only possible here.
The Hachizaemon course begins with appetizer dishes of sashimi of white-flesh fish, steamed abalone, kurumaebi prawns, maguro, or other blessings from the seas. One favorite is swordtip squid with superfine cuts, served simply with salt and lemon or kabosu citrus, as the season allows. The following thirteen or fourteen nigiri sushi pieces are an exhibition of quality more than variety, meaning the same fish may appear a few times – first with salt, next with sudachi citrus, and perhaps one more time with a brush of reduced soy-based sauce – but in such a manner that the diner never grows bored.
Isoyama prepares his sushi rice in a well-loved wooden platter and then shapes his rice ovals, gently bringing them up to body temperature. The ovals are topped with seafood such as fatty tuna from the head portion of a 150-kilogram maguro tuna brought into port at Oma, Aomori; Hokkaido Bafun sea urchin complemented by crisp seaweed from Ariake in Fukuoka; or fluffy simmered anago conger eel from Nagasaki, grilled briefly for added aroma, and topped with a rich reduction sauce. To make his delicious rolled sushi, Isoyama takes generous scoops of maguro from the fish with a spoon.
Isoyama’s creativity finds its way through every course right through to the closing dish of omelet, which is infused with the sweetness of seasonal fruits, like persimmons or apples, alongside mountain yam, shibaebi prawns, sugar, sake, salt and soy sauce.
Chef Isoyama rides his bicycle more than twenty minutes to the new market at Toyosu, arriving at 6 am each morning to source his products from among six fishmongers. A long-held relationship ensures Isoyama’ supply of premium wasabi from Gotemba, Shizuoka, but the product is so precious that it only comes in twice a week. Rice is flavored with a blend of red vinegars including Yokoi Vinegar’s Yohei and a mild salt from Akita Prefecture that has been slow-simmered at sixty-five degrees.
The drinks selection at Hachizaemon includes just one sake variety in a nod to the long-held tradition of sushi restaurants. It is a junmaishu from Kyoto’s Sawaya Matsumoto, a brand that has gained much attention in recent years and can be found on wine lists of many prominent restaurants around Japan today. In addition, Chef Isoyama offers two champagne varieties and three white wines, from Alsace and the Montrachet Grand Cru vineyard of Burgundy – beautiful choices that complement and accentuate the delicious flavors of his cuisine.
The rarely seen Kame no O variety is Isoyama’s choice for his sushi rice ovals. It is the perfect example of his extreme individuality in this field and an expression of his conviction to never imitate others. One of few pure strains in Japan, Isoyama’s first encounter with this rice was at a seminar run by natural farming expert Akinori Kimura, best known as the farmer of the “miracle apples”. The Kame no O rice used at Hachizaemon is cultivated in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, according to natural farming methods using not a single chemical, pesticide, or fertilizer.
Kame no O is a highly unusual choice for sushi rice, and you would be hard-pressed to find another restaurant in Japan using this rice for its sushi. For people who know and little about different rice varieties in Japan, if you have heard of Kame no O, it’s most likely in the context of sake brewing. Compared to common table rice varieties like Koshihikari and Akitakomachi, the Kame no O ears of rice grow far taller and are difficult to cultivate, with almost the entire process needing to be done by hand. This explains its more common role as a specialty rice variety for sake brewing.
The preparation process for eating is also vastly different: the rice is soaked for an incredibly long eight hours. But Isoyama’s insistence on using Kame no O, despite the labor-intensive process required to cook it, makes total sense the moment you taste its wondrous flavor and texture. With the beautiful ears of rice adorning the counter, and as you savor the delicious sushi, it is the perfect opportunity to talk with Chef Isoyama and learn from his long career, giving thanks for the rice that carries the precious seafood toppings.
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥5,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥5,000