Sushi Saito in Tokyo is a three Michelin starred sushi bar ranked twenty-sixth in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2018. None other than Joël Robuchon once declared Sushi Saito to be the best sushi restaurant in the world. Earlier this month, a branch of Sushi Saito opened in Hong Kong and I had the good fortune of being invited to join a friend for lunch during its fifth day of operation. I was not disappointed.
In Tokyo, Sushi Saito is located somewhat inconspicuously in the Ark Hills office complex of the Akasaka business district. In Hong Kong, Sushi Saito has opened in the glamorous confines of the 45th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel in a space carved out from the exclusive Peak Suite. Chef Saito chose Hong Kong for his first overseas operation in recognition of the vibrant dining scene in the city and as it is one of few places where fish could be flown in directly from Tsukiji Market in Tokyo on a daily basis.
For the moment, Sushi Saito in Hong Kong consists of a single bar with eight seats led by Chef Kobayashi, an eight year acolyte of Chef Saito in Tokyo. A second bar with eight additional seats is slated to open soon with Chef Fujimoto at the helm. Kobayashi has a reserved but warm personality lending to a pleasantly restrained environment while the more extroverted Fujimoto portends a livelier atmosphere at the second bar. For now, Sushi Saito is serving fixed course meals only. The lunch set is HKD1,480 per person and includes two warm appetizers followed by 10 pieces of sushi, tamago and miso soup.
For the warm appetizers, first came kegani, a cooked Japanese hairy crab claw tastefully sliced in two atop a mound of sweet shredded crab meat. This was followed by a piece of expertly grilled, crispy-skinned black throat rockfish served with both grated and pickled daikon radish. Both of these were good but Sushi Saito really starts to impress when the sushi itself begins to arrive.
Chef Saito is a traditionalist serving classic Edo style sushi where the emphasis is on perfecting the combination of vinegared rice, fish and that little dollop of freshly grated wasabi. As I have alluded to in previous columns, when evaluating sushi one is judging against an idealized benchmark and there is nowhere to go but down. Thus, a successful traditional sushi restaurant is one that hits as closely to this ideal as possible. Sushi Saito seeks to bring this standard to Hong Kong and succeeds.
The first offering of golden throated snapper was translucent pink with a subtle flavor to complement Sushi Saito’s sushi rice. The baby snapper which came next is served with a thin layer of skin for a slightly stronger taste and added texture. The shiro ebi or white shrimp, a specialty that until recent years was only available in the Japanese prefecture of Toyama, was delicious. The soft, sweet flesh of the small shrimp simply melts in your mouth.
Tuna comes next. First is a vinegar cured piece of lean tuna called magurozuke. The deep red flesh of the marinated tuna was pleasant to look at and delicious to bite; certainly as good as any piece of magurozuke I have had in Japan. Beautiful medium fatty tuna, or jutoro, came next. Pale pink in color, this generous chunk of tuna was smooth and rich with the right amount of oily feel on the tongue.
Next came squid. Bad, overcooked squid can be tough and tasteless. Good raw squid is chewy and sublime. At Sushi Saito, the squid is excellent. Ribbons of the thinly sliced cephalopod grace the sushi rice in expert fashion for a beautiful and tasty result. Thereafter, a piece of glistening cured mackerel is draped over the rice and topped with roasted sesame seeds. For a different touch, this piece of sushi is then enveloped by a piece of crisp nori seaweed. The nutty flavor of the sesame along with the crisp, salty nori is a perfect balance for the oily mackerel within.
The uni or sea urchin which came next is usually my favorite and it did not disappoint. This month’s uni comes from Aomori, the northernmost prefecture of Japan’s main island of Honshu. It was rich and delicious with just a hint of briny flavor. The cooked anago or sea eel that came next was also excellent. Then, the last sushi item of the course as is typical was a roll or maki, and Sushi Saito serves a traditional toro maki with spring onion.
After the fish came miso soup and the sweet egg or tamago dish that is classically served towards the end of a sushi set. The tamago at Sushi Saito was particularly special. Rather than a boring slice of steamed, sweetened omelet, the tamago at Sushi Saito consisted of two tender cubes of egg custard flavored with sugar, sake and just a touch of shrimp powder for a hint of saltiness but nothing fishy at all. This was the most elevated example of a simple tamago course that I have ever tasted. It took what is often my least favorite item in a sushi course and converted it into a delicious morsel of dessert.
In sum, it does appear that Chef Saito and his team has succeeded in bringing classic Edo style sushi to Hong Kong. Sushi Saito is not the place to go for creative concoctions but it is now the place to go for sushi if, that is, you can get a reservation. Good luck and happy eating.
About the Hungry Lawyer: Marc Rubinstein, born in Baltimore, USA, has been in Asia for more than 20 years, with 15 of those in Hong Kong. He has split his career between banks and law firms, and is currently the general counsel of an Asia-based real estate and alternative energy investor. Marc is a co-founder and co-chair of the Hong Kong Gay & Lesbian Attorneys Network. In addition to being a hungry lawyer, he has run three marathons, eight half-marathons, completed the Hong Kong Oxfam Trailwalker and won the U.S. National Debate Tournament way back in 1991.
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