An experience filled with unique touches makes Sushi Akira stand out in Tokyo’s sea of sushi restaurants. Driven by an energetic young chef with a solid self-defined concept, the appeal goes well beyond the power of youth to share the worldview of a chef with the most profound respect for his roots.
Sushi Akira occupies a quiet spot in the high-end neighborhood of Hiroo, not far from the chef’s training ground at Sushisho Masa in Nishi Azabu. Opened by Chef Maeiwa in late 2019, the reason for the restaurant’s popularity becomes clear the moment you sink your teeth into the delicious appetizers and nigiri sushi harnessing seafood, sake, and seasonings from the chef’s beloved home prefecture of Wakayama.
Warm light points the way to the sign for Sushi Akira, along Gaien-nishi Dori. While written with different characters, the restaurant is named in honor of the chef’s grandfather Akira, a choice that reflects the chef’s conviction always to be humble and respect tradition. A cozy space awaits when you open the door with eight comfortable chairs along an L-shaped counter. The single-level counter creates an excellent opportunity for conversation between guests and the chef, and great insight into the beautiful ingredients and precision techniques behind the chef’s degustation course. The very crisp, clean interior in white tones feels familiar and fitting for a sushi restaurant until you spy heat lamps installed on the ceiling on the chef’s side of the counter. That is when you know this will be no ordinary sushi dining experience.
An experience filled with unique touches
The degustation course of eight appetizers and a dozen or so nigiri sushi is a feast for the eyes and the taste buds, weaving together respect for traditional sushi techniques with a creative sensibility. The first appetizer is luscious, steamed abalone. The chef allows the natural flavors of the protein in this and other early dishes to shine by avoiding additional sauces or seasonings.
Sea urchin from Amakusa in Kumamoto is topped with a generous ladleful of rich abalone dashi. Next is an appetizer of Botan shrimp wafting of delicious aromas of soy sauce with which it is sprayed while sizzling over charcoals. The specific variety is Mitsuboshi Soy Sauce, the creation of Wakayama soy sauce brewery Horikawaya, whose history extends more than 300 years.
Then it is time for the nigiri sushi. Counting backward from precisely when the guests will be eating it, the rice is cooked in a cast enamel pot called vermicular, a fine example of Japanese craftsmanship. Seasoned with only akazu red vinegar and salt, the first item to crown the chef’s rice in the nigiri course is chutoro. This may seem unusual, but there is good reason behind each of the chef’s choices. Having just been made, the rice has a prominent tartness and briny flavor, which is a perfect match for the medium-fatty flesh of tuna. As the vinegar flavor settles, a white-fleshed fish topping appears. The chef constantly makes adjustments to match subtle changes in the rice. Each morsel is prepared with minimal handling – enough to bring it together but not so much that it cannot gently fall apart in your mouth.
The grip is a little tighter for kohada gizzard shad and shellfish but looser for fatty tuna, anago conger, and squid with crisscross diagonal cuts, always yielding the perfect balance for the rice and topping to melt in guests’ mouths.
The inclusion of mushi-zushi steamed sushi dishes leaves a deep impression, as it highlights Chef Maeiwa’s Kansai roots. One such dish features hairy crab from Kushiro, Hokkaido, accented by the aroma of green shiso leaf. In another, the morsels of sushi are shaped like temari, traditional Japanese handballs, and topped with buttery pieces of blackthroat seaperch from the bountiful ocean waters of Tsushima, Nagasaki. The touch of ponzu leaves a deliciously refreshing aftertaste.
Chef Maeiwa places each sushi morsel on matte black lacquerware dishes, which upon careful inspection from the side, each have a single red line. He loves the striking appearance of the specially made dishes as the canvas for his carefully crafted sushi creations. The wonderfully modulated course ends with the chef’s signature tamagoyaki omelet made with minced scallop paste for an umami-rich, delicately sweet final bite. Softer than castella cake but with more body than souffle, it makes for a sublime finale.
Out of respect for his roots, the chef sources most of his ingredients fresh from Wakayama. This even goes as far as the water used in his cooking – the same type as that used by Heiwa Shuzo in its sake production. Wakayama fish like kue longtooth grouper, shimaaji striped horse mackerel, and fuedai star snapper arrive from Nishiki Market in Kyoto. Other items are supplied directly from fishermen in Amakusa, Kumamoto, and Imabari, Ehime. Tuna is provided by the wholesaler and maguro-specialist Yunoka at Toyosu Market.
Saika Ginjo Akazu by Wakayama brewery Kokonoe Saika is Maeiwa’s vinegar of choice. It has deep flavor and elegant, smooth mouthfeel characteristic of barrel-aged vinegar that help to accentuate the innate flavors of seafood toppings. For rice, Maeiwa is an avid fan of the Aomori Prefecture–grown variety Seiten no Hekireki (meaning “a bolt out of the blue”) because of its superb balance of stickiness and smooth flavor and distinctive subtly sweet aftertaste. The all-important salt component of Maeiwa’s cooking relies on Tosa no Shiomaru sea salt scooped from ocean waters at high tide and dried in the sun’s heat.
The love for Wakayama extends beyond food ingredients into the drink selection featuring HEIWA CRAFT beer and sake brands like Heiwa Shuzo’s Kido, Kuroushi by Nate Sake Brewery Company, and Kurumazaka by Yoshimura Hideo Shoten. The diverse wine collection includes champagne, whites, and reds, mainly from France.
Heat lamps are installed within the counter at Sushi Akira, a feature frequently found at Italian and French cuisine restaurants but a great rarity at sushi eateries. The chef chose the white design for its affinity with the crisp interior, but the significance of the heat lamps is in their functionality, not in their appearance. Chef Maeiwa wants to serve each dish in its best form: delectably warming hot dishes and refreshingly chilled cold dishes. He uses the lamps to warm tableware before use, adjust the temperature of seafood ingredients, and maintain heat in his mushi-zushi steamed sushi dishes, a popular winter treat in the Kansai region.
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000