Playful and approachable sushi cuisine – this friendly, English-speaking chef has created an atmosphere focusing on your comfort and fun Taking inspiration from Japanese and European cuisine, Sushi Shokunin Hatano Yoshiki creates innovative combinations that please adventurous epicureans and conservative sushi fans alike.
Sushi Shokunin Hatano Yoshiki is in Azabu-Juban, a charming neighbourhood of traditional and modern stores and eateries just a short walk from the Roppongi Hills area. Passing the floor to ceiling cellar, you proceed along a narrow passage, and there is a brief moment of tension and expectation. Stucco walls with a wavy pattern on your right, and a silver square motif decorating the walls along the left: there is calm and comfort, with a touch of sparkle. Then you see the chef’s warm smile, and you are welcomed into your seats at the counter. Small pots and coasters glimmer in silver and gold, contrasting with the clean, pale wood.
Most striking is a calligraphy piece immediately behind the chef. It looks like the character for chikara meaning power and strength, and yet it also appears to be a bird set to take flight. Drawn by one of Japan’s most prominent calligraphy artists, Sisyu, the piece has great significance for Hatano, who is constantly working to build his skills and strength, ready to fly out into the world.
Playful and approachable sushi cuisine
Enjoyment first. The chef’s mantra is that each moment is there to be enjoyed, and each ingredient should be tasted to the fullest. A sushi dining experience can often be stiff, with diners feeling inferior in the presence of a master sushi chef. Chef Hatano aims to make his sushi cuisine accessible, approachable and fun. The pure and natural flavors of freshly caught fish arrive before you ready to be enjoyed, the same way that many generations before have enjoyed Edomae sushi. But here there is a twist. After years of experimentation, Chef Hatano has created his own style of creative, innovative sushi taking Edomae traditions and fusing them with French and Italian culinary techniques. The French influence comes from the chef’s fascination with the layering of flavor in that cuisine; Italian elements feature because of similarity in climate between Japan and Italy.
Hatano’s playful nature is on show from the first amuse bouche, which he calls ‘kan-pie’. Playing on the Japanese word kanpai, meaning ‘Cheers!’, the bite-sized pastry pie filled with cream cheese and a traditional dish of pickled fish entrails is heartwarming and comforting. The velvety soymilk and onion soup with a slow-cooked scallop that follows is reminiscent of new England clam chowder.
Next, the nigiri sushi – six of Hatano’s personal favorites, and an additional six of the best pieces each day. Paying careful attention to the amount of rice and the slicing of the fish, Hatano rolls his plump fingers shaping every piece of nigiri sushi to achieve the perfect texture, flavor and temperature combination. They are served one at a time directly on the counter, enabling customers to savor each bite, whilst also paying respect to the fishermen and their craft, showcasing the flavors of their hard-earned catches.
Layers of the tender flesh of chutoro tuna; a Japanese tiger prawn with a Shiba prawn and egg yolk topping; and then the iridescent silver flesh of kohada gizzard shad, cut to look like a butterfly. The deep flavors of aged marinated maguro may be followed by the creamy taste of plump sea urchin. And the meal comes to an end with kanpyo-maki – sushi rolls encasing salty-sweet dried gourd – and castella tamago yaki. Prepared in the traditional Edomae style, the combination of egg with a paste made from prawns, mountain yams and flake, is so sweet and delicious that it may as well be dessert.
There is a great buzz in the restaurant as Hatano returns from his daily Tsukiji visits to begin preparation. An apprentice brings a tray of fish for Hatano to peruse. He examines and touches the pieces before advising for a further twelve minutes. With a focus on wild-caught seafood, sustainability drives the motivation to use some farmed seafood varieties. Even for those, Hatano plays close attention to the feed used to raise them, and only purchases through a trusted specialized dealer.
Hatano’s ‘Oasis Rice’ comes from a farmer in Kumamoto Prefecture, who grows the rice without any chemicals and according to traditional techniques. The encounter with this delicious rice was through a customer – the farmer himself. The steamed rice is combined with salt and a blend of three vinegars, including akazu vinegar made with age-old fermentation techniques.
Freshly harvested organic ginger is pickled and served to the customer in small cubes, not the typical thin slices. The soy sauce brushed on pieces of nigiri sushi is an original blend. A curious-looking wooden paddle has a grating surface made from shark skin, designed specifically for wasabi. According to Hatano, it gently draws out the goodness of flavor without breaking fibers or exposing unnecessary heat. You can see how Hatano has thought deeply about every element of the sushi experience, to make it tastier and more fun.
Apart from these typically Japanese ingredients, Hatano also uses products more readily associated with Italy, such as lemons and olive oil. Produced in an area of Japan that closely resembles the Italian climate – the Seto Inland Sea – it feels natural to Hatano to incorporate these flavors when preparing freshly caught fish from what many locals call “Japan’s Mediterranean”.
As with the sushi at Hatano Yoshiki, the beverage pairings are unique. Chef Hatano likes to serve new world wines and offers the unconventional pairing of red wine with his sushi. Drawn to U.S. winemakers who are free to make wines how they like, unlike their European counterparts who are often bound by many restrictions, Hatano especially loves California wines. He pairs a nicely chilled Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir with maguro, fatty tuna and eel. In terms of sake, Hatano loves the fruity aromas of Daiginjo varieties, and finds their sweetness matches beautifully with the natural sweetness of his sushi rice. The selection includes Aramasa from Akita, Kidoizumi from Chiba, and Tatsuriki from Hyogo. Sake is served in delicate glassware made by the Shotoku Glass Company, which is based in eastern Tokyo. The extremely thin glasses are hand-crafted and cast beautiful patterns onto the clean wooden counter as light passes through. Reminiscent of flowers like chrysanthemums, the pouring of sake adds a rippling and relaxing effect, like ocean waves lapping the sand.