Saturday, January 5, 2013

Tasting Tokyo: Our Best Airport Meal: Sushi @ Sushi Kyotatsu (すし京辰)

Happy New Year!  Hope you had, or are having, a great holiday—we certainly did.

I had intended to spend my break writing about our favourite meals in Europe, but thanks to cheap airfares from Grabaseat, we found ourselves in Tokyo on Christmas Day, with ten days for sampling as much as we could of what this great city had to offer.  With our limited language skills and a lack of knowledge about Japanese customs, we were uncomfortably in the dark about a lot of things, but that didn't stop us from having many excellent meals.  In fact, we only managed to have one meal that was bad in Tokyo (and even then there were parts of it that were good); the rest were what we considered above average, if not fantastic.

For many people, sushi is the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Japanese food.  Although not as plentiful as, say, ramen eateries in Tokyo, all the sushi places we tried served a greater range of sushi than we are used to in Auckland.  Mostly made with raw seafood (including shellfish, octopus tentacles and roe, as well as many types of fish), they were far more exciting than the chicken or canned tuna ones which seem to be more common here.  And more often than not, they were presented in the nigiri style (握り寿司, "hand-formed sushi"), with the flesh draped over the vinegared rice, rather than the makizushi (巻寿司, "rolled sushi") we generally see here.

Amazingly, the best sushi we had on our trip was at the most unlikely of places: the airport.  Given that even in such food-focused countries as Singapore, we were served terrible airport food, we did not have high expectations at Narita Airport. However, Sushi Kyotatsu (すし京辰), located opposite Gate 33 in Terminal 1, was even better than the tiny sushi shop I was going to rave about, where you had to eat standing up in front of the chef who made your sushi to order.  And we were only able to try it because the boarding for our flight home was delayed by 15 minutes.

A selection of sushi at Sushi Kyotatsu.
That's right, 15 minutes was all it took for us to walk in, be seated at the counter, say hello to the four chefs, clean our hands on hot towels, go through the menu, order, watch the sushi being made, eat, and pay the bill, all without feeling rushed.  Admittedly, the restaurant was empty when we entered, but two other groups came in while we were eating and there was still a chef to spare.  Sushi is the ultimate fast food, and I guess they are used to customers being in a hurry.

One of four chefs brushing our tuna with marinade.
We ordered the first item on the menu, a sushi set (8 pieces including a block of seasoned egg for ¥2,800 or around NZ$40), part of which you see above. Immediately, the chefs started making the sushi one by one, shaping the seasoned rice (which had a darker colour than we have seen elsewhere), applying wasabi, and attaching fresh seafood.  We liked the semi-fatty tuna sushi so much that we ordered an extra couple of pieces.  At ¥500 or over NZ$7 per piece, this was the most expensive sushi we have had, but then again, it was also by far the best.

Even more expensive sushi, which we did not order.
Perhaps one day, we will have the opportunity to try the sushi at Jiro Ono's famous three-Michelin-starred establishment, which we saw—and were blown away by—in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Reservations at the 10-seater basement restaurant, a glass door away from a Ginza subway station entrance, are notoriously hard to get. A meal there, excluding drinks, costs ¥30,000 (~ NZ$430, cash only, no credit cards), and consists of around 20 pieces of sushi chosen by the chef, served one by one, over 15 or 20 minutes.  You are looking at paying over NZ$20 per minute (or per piece of sushi), but that is probably a good thing, because I think we would feel pretty uncomfortable under Jiro's gaze.  Until then, Sushi Kyotatsu is good enough for us.

Restaurant Details

Sushi Kyotatsu (すし京辰)
Terminal 1, No.3 Satellite, 3rd Floor, Narita Airport, Japan
+81 (0)476 321 777

Opening hours:
Mondays to Sundays 8:30am - 9pm (last order 8:30pm)

The sign we saw on the way to our gate.

Entrance to Sushi Kyotatsu.

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