Sushi Kobikicho Tomoki
Hidden behind the grand Kabukiza theater is a little sushi restaurant that is built on old traditions. Perfected with original techniques, the unchanged flavors of Kobikicho Tomoki has been treasured by long-time fans. Praised with two Michelin-stars in the competitive Tokyo sushi scene, the meal here is a true reflection of refined Japanese aesthetics.
Chef Tomoki Kobayashi opened the restaurant over 13 years ago in the gourmet mecca of Ginza 4-Chome, where the quieter backstreets are filled with small eateries that have become favorites of Kabuki actors. The restaurant takes its name after the old neighborhood, which is historically known as the home of sawyers who came to work on the major restoration of the Edojo castle in the early Edo Period.
The interior of the restaurant is simple yet sophisticated, designed using traditional wooden architecture. The smooth wide counter, which fits as many as nine guests, is made from a single plank of 200-year old hinoki wood. The red retro chairs add a feeling of nostalgia, marked with dragonfly motifs for good luck. There is also a table in the back for four people.
As you get seated, the first thing your eyes will notice is the majestic chest on the wall with large metal latches. It’s an antique fridge that is cooled using blocks of ice. Made of hinoki wood, the craftsmanship on the design is just breathtaking. Blocks of fresh fish rest in the cool chambers.
Behind the beautiful noren curtain that hangs behind the counter is the kitchen, where the chef’s wife keeps herself busy. Unlike most wives who serve as maître d's, her role is to prepare the key ingredients for their signature recipes. “But it’s still the taisho (the big boss), who determines the flavor at the end,” she adds humbly.
Perfected with original techniques
Going against popular trend for a more contemporary approach to sushi, Kobikicho Tomoki’s cuisine is founded upon old methods. Every dish is carefully prepared using the finest ingredients, built on multiple steps that add up to impeccable flavors.
Every day, the chef selects and prepares a range of 18 to 24 kinds of seasonal fish, of which he serves around 15 as nigiri. Typically, a few refreshing small dishes starts the meal, followed by some lighter nigiris to create a pleasant flow. The richer nigiris are served towards the second half of the meal, before finishing with sweet slices of egg and makimono.
The vinegared rice follows a traditional recipe. Using more vinegar and salt, the grains have a bolder and sharper flavor that many guests quickly get hooked on. “This is what sushi rice used to taste like,” compliments Hikari Hayakawa, an author who has published a number of books on sushi. The rice is warmed in small batches right before it is pressed into small morsels. The chef also prepares two different nikiri dipping soy sauces, where one is a little sweeter than the other.
The glistening piece of anago is just one example of how much work goes into a dish. The chef stands closely by the pot of salt-water eel as it’s gently cooked in sweetened soy broth. He tastes it as many as six times in 20 minutes and makes little adjustments each time. The fluffy and soft strip is drizzled with sweetened sauce made from the fish broth. A little sprinkle of yuzu citrus peel adds a refreshing finish. If the flavor is not right, he simply won’t serve it that day.
But Kobikicho Tomoki is not all about ancient techniques, but offers an array of creative small dishes, including the signature horsehair crab appetizer. The chunks of meat are gently rinsed and then boiled for 20-25 minutes in salted water. The meat is mounted back into the shell and served as a big oval. The sauce, infused with the umami of the crab, dashi broth, dried tuna fish flakes, light soy sauce, rice vinegar and mirin, brings out the flavor even more.
The sea urchin gunkan maki is another popular recipe, which the chef tumbled upon by surprise. One day, he was preparing the ingredients while picking at some pickles that he received as a gift. He popped a piece of Narazuke (vegetables pickled in sake lees) in his mouth after tasting some sea urchin, and was amazed how delicious they tasted together. Since then, the sea urchin maki, which typically uses top-quality Murasaki uni from Hakodate, comes topped with a thin slice of sweet Narazuke pickle.
In the kitchen, the wife starts preparing the abalone, sourced from Oma in Aomori Prefecture. She carefully manages the various steps, from washing and boiling and then cooking it using a pressure cooker. Flavored with sake, salt and kombu dashi, the thick slices are served warm to bring out its gorgeous aroma. And without the cumbersome preparation, you couldn’t get that soft texture.
The deep red akami slices of tuna come from a 230 kg catch from Choshi in Chiba Prefecture. The meat is matured between three to five days to deepen its flavor, before marinating it lightly in soy. Japanese horse mackerel comes from Izumi in Kagoshima Prefecture. Topped with some tree onions and grated ginger, the sweet fat of the fish and the refreshing condiments blend beautifully in your mouth. The plump shrimp is shipped from Kyushu Island in the south. Boiled quickly just before it’s served, every bite unleashes its sweet aroma. The thick slice of egg, served towards the end of the meal, is simply a treat. Made using grated Shiba shrimp and pike conger, the flavorful mixture is slow cooked four to five hours.
The fish comes from either Toyosu market or directly from local vendors, with whom Kobayashi has built relationships with over the years. He especially likes to search for rare ingredients that are sourced from the central market. For example, he loves the grouper that he gets sent from Karatsu, the octopus from Akashi, the sword tip squid from Hagi and the snow crab from Tottori. The wild mozuku seaweed that he gets from Awaji Island is a true delicacy. He is constantly looking for high quality ingredients, and his network of selected vendors continues to grow.
The rice is a blend of different aged varieties from areas like Hachirogata in Akita Prefecture and Naruko in Miyagi Prefecture. The grains are cooked al dente for firm texture.
The selection of local sake pairs with the meal beautifully. He stocks about eight different vintages at all times, including names like Daishichi, Hitakami and Hokusetsu. He also offers Jitsuraku from Sawanotsuru, a brewery he came across during a bike trip. For wine, he serves Gruner Veltliner from Austria, after he asked one of his frequent guests, also a wine specialist, to pick a vintage that he thought went well the best with the restaurant’s cuisine.
Set on the wall behind the open counter, the antique fridge is a true piece of craftsmanship. The panels are made out of hinoki wood, engraved with designs of sea turtles, symbol of prosperity. The chambers are cooled with ice instead of electricity, which allows the space to maintain a higher level of moisture. The humidity helps keep the ingredients in the best condition, Kobayashi explains. He sources the blocks of ice from an old ice maker in central Tokyo.
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥4,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥4,000