At an unlisted location in a wealthy neighborhood whose details are only disclosed to the fortunate few, you might think this chef has his sights on the high-end market, but in fact, the vision for Sushi Taira is much simpler. A true craftsman, Chef Taira just wants to make delicious nigiri sushi. He stands proud before his own sushi counter, like the master of his own castle. Striking a very dignified pose and with a wonderfully positive energy – this first truly independent foray really suits him.
From the sushi restaurants of top hotels in Kyoto and Osaka to head chef at renowned sushi restaurant Umi in Aoyama, Koichi Taira now has his very own space: Sushi Taira. Located at an undisclosed address in the high-end neighborhood of Moto Azabu, guests are only informed of the details once a reservation is confirmed. Even after arriving at the designated location, there is still no sign to suggest you are in the right place. You press the doorbell with slightly trembling hands, relieved to be invited through the glass door toward a hanging noren. Cast iron branding on the traditional curtain contains the character for rice field, with motifs of dragonflies and rice.
Once seated, it is time to lap up this exclusive experience watching the chef serve up sumptuous nigiri from the stunning 400-year-old timber counter made from Kiso Valley hinoki cypress. The grand, nine-seat, L-shaped counter has stunningly even tree rings. So enamored is the chef with the timber that he presents the nigiri sushi to guests directly on the counter. An eye-catching icebox behind the counter allows the chef to preserve the fish in the perfect conditions.
Chef Taira wants his guests to feel relaxed and calm in his space, so the ceiling and walls are finished in subdued tones, with additional straw in the juraku walls and bamboo added to the ceiling. Antiques and ceramic works dotted around the restaurant reveal the chef’s rich aesthetic sense, and the Sakai knives adorning the walls are the works of HIDE – the father-son team of Hideaki and Shinichiro Yamamoto. The enthralling piece occupying pride of place within the counter is a bespoke steamer made for Taira by renowned potter Ippento Nakagawa of the Shigarayaki Kumoigama kiln. Once you have lapped up the visual pleasure of the interior it is time to devour the chef’s magical creations.
A true craftsman
After six to eight simple seasonal appetizer bites, the nigiri sushi always begins with kohada gizzard shad. But how it proceeds beyond that depends entirely on the catch each day. At his fingertips the chef has his shari rice ovals – a blend of two cultivars – prepared two ways: mostly red vinegar with a touch of rice vinegar for richer toppings; and mostly rice vinegar with just a few drops of the red for aroma to pair with lighter toppings. Then he has his three soy sauce varieties with which the seafood is lovingly brushed just before serving: one for white fish, one for maguro, and a rich, velvety reduction.
Taira is fastidious about texture and makes sure some of his dishes have the perfect al dente bite, like the Oita Prefecture kuruma-ebi shrimp boiled then bathed in soy sauce until it reaches body temperature, and boiled Kagoshima hamaguri clams heated low and slow for 40 minutes. The stock created in the latter process is combined with zarame sugar crystals to create a luscious sauce the clam is brushed with right before being presented to guests.
A special touch the chef employs to maximize the enjoyment of maguro is to warm guests’ palates by prefacing it with a steamed or grilled dish. When the otoro from a 160-kilogram tuna caught in a round haul net touches your tongue, it melts in the most perfect way like butter.
Some of the other delectable mouthfuls include Joban seabass steeped in vinegar overnight and served atop white vinegar rice ovals; slices of shinko young gizzard shad fished in the waters of Saga Prefecture atop red vinegar ovals; and the chef’s unique sushi of sea urchin from Rishiri, Hokkaido, with its wonderful affinity with the white vinegar shari.
The rice served at Sushi Taira is a blend of two varieties. The first is winter-rested rice grown by a master of organic farming, Minoru Ishii in Tome City, Miyagi Prefecture. The second is Tono #4 from Iwate Prefecture. Beyond rice and vinegar combinations, the seemingly endless options at the chef’s fingertips continue with moisture-rich wasabi for appetizers from Azumino, Nagano, and a stickier variety for nigiri sushi grown in Gotemba, Shizuoka.
Maguro is supplied by Yamayuki – a premier supplier at Toyosu Market – where many other ingredients are sourced, but a rich array of ingredients also arrives direct from suppliers around Japan. The island of Kyushu is represented in aka-uni sea urchin, abalone and amadai tilefish from Fukuoka, and items such as hata grouper, kue longtooth grouper, and squid from Kagoshima. Hamo daggertooth pike conger, kochi flathead, octopus, and others come from Awajishima on the Seto Inland Sea; and crab, torigai Japanese egg cockle, tilefish and nodoguro blackthroat seaperch are delivered fresh from Kyoto.
Chef Taira adores his collection of artworks and accoutrements and has placed them at every turn in the restaurant for guests to enjoy. A rare blue porcelain pot with an ayu sweetfish motif is the work of Manji Inoue, a ceramicist designated as a Japanese living national treasure, who is also an adviser to both the Japan Kogei Association and the Arita Ceramic Art Association. The pot has been proudly displayed since opening alongside a plaque penned by the artist with the characters for ‘Taira’. The white porcelain bowls used during service represent Inoue’s signature works, and it the artist’s enduring dedication to this style amid typically showier Arita ware that fascinates Taira and draws him to the visit the kiln two or three times a year.
The stunning dragon Karatsu ware object is the work of Naoki Kojima at Sogen Kiln. Through multiple visits to the kiln, Taira has learned about Kojima’s adventures into the mountains in search of clay and glazes for his distinctive pieces.
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000