A beginner’s guide to high end sushi restaurants in Tokyo

This little “guide” is based on my dining experiences at some of the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo over the last 5 years. It might sound simplistic to Tokyoites,but hopefully useful for those who have never been to this fantastic city!

Ika (squid) nigiri at Kimura sushi (2 Michelin stars)
Ika (squid) nigiri at Kimura sushi (2 Michelin stars)

 

  • One thing you should know before going to Tokyo is that the quality of sushi there (especially at the high end sushi shops) will spoil you forever. Sushi as we know it was created in the beginning of the 19th century as an early form of fast food. It is called Edomae nigirizushi because the fish used for making nigiris would be caught in the Edo bay (“Edo”is what Tokyo used to be called; “mae” means “in front”) and then sold nearby by the street vendors. Nowadays sushi making is a sophisticated craft that requires years of training and an extraordinary knowledge of fish. A young sushi chef apprentice will only be allowed to touch fish after a few years of learning how to make rice.Rice is as significant as fish in the art of sushi making. Once you visit some of the best sushi places in Tokyo, you will notice that rice will differ from one place to another as each sushi master has his own distinctive style of vinegared rice preparation.
Tsukji market which soon will be moved to a new location
Tsukji market which soon will be moved to a new location
  • Needless to say, the choice of fish at Tokyo sushi shops is much wider than in Europe or the US . There are hundreds and hundreds of different kinds of fish, clams and crustaceans sold at Tsukiji (the biggest fish market in the world) where Tokyo sushi chefs go to do their shopping almost every morning. Fish used for sushi making will depend on the season and will not necessarily be served completely raw. For example gizzard shad will be pickled for a few days, eel will be grilled, tiger prawn will be boiled moments before serving; I’ve seen some chefs marinating tuna for a few minutes…
Kinmedai ( Splendid Alfonsino)
Kinmedai ( Splendid Alfonsino)
  • They say that there are over 160 000 restaurants and eateries in Tokyo and it’s the city that has most Michelin starred restaurants in the world. Even if some won’t agree with me, Michelin is a good guide for those who are not local, don’t speak Japanese or don’t travel to Tokyo that often. Finally it’s thanks to Michelin  worldwide publicity that Tokyo has gained a reputation of a gastronomic paradise. You can see Michelin 2013 here.  A guide that is considered “more authentic” by  globe trotting foodies though is a Japanese language website called Tabelog.com. I have recently compiled a list of the best Tokyo sushi restaurants according to Tabelog.com users which you can find here. Finally there are some great blogs whose authors  travel to Japan frequently  like Andy Hayler ,Streelife ,or are based there  Food Sake Tokyo , Tokyo Food File.
3 Michelin starred Sushi Saito -  the first on the right
3 Michelin starred Sushi Saito – the first door on the right
  • Most of the chefs and hosts of the high end sushi shops I’ve been didn’t speak any or spoke very little English. So unless you speak Japanese or have local acquaintances, you will need to ask your hotel concierge to reserve the restaurants for you. I’ve never had any particular problems getting into most of the high end sushi shops in Tokyo, but some places are much harder to book than others. To name two – Sushi Saito ,which needs to be booked months in advance and Sukiyabashi Jiro where a “non concierge” Japanese speaker needs to call for you.
  • Don’t be surprised if you will be asked to give your credit card number in order to secure your reservation. I think it’s because there are too many foreigners who reserve and don’t show up, something that a Japanese would never do…
Shinjuku
Tokyo at night
  • Once you have your reservation, you should get a printed map of the area where the restaurant is located . Even if the concierge will note on your map the most recognizable shops, metro stations or  buildings, thanks to which you should find your restaurant, you still might need some help from your taxi driver or passers-by. Japanese addressing system is very different from the one used in the West, while high end restaurants exteriors in Japan are completely unassuming and often are located at ordinary office buildings or… at a parking garage like the case of Sushi Saito. It has happened to me many times that I would wonder around for half an hour before finding the restaurant I was going to. So just go in advance.
Lost in Tokyo...
Lost in Tokyo…
  • There are three ways of ordering  sushi in Japan – omakase (chef”s choice),okonomi (your choice) or okimari (set menu). From my personal experience, I’ve been always expected to order omakase at all the high end sushi-yas I’ve been. But I’ve also noticed that most of the Japanese diners that I happened to share sushi counters with went for omakase. When you think about it, it’s the best way to enjoy the best fish of the season. Usually sushi omakase starts with white and non fatty fish and ends with fatty fish,clams,maki (rolls) and tamagoyaki (Japanese style omelette). Most of the sushi restaurants (except for Sukiyabashi Jiro) also serve otsumami, various cold or warm snacks, before serving nigiris. So omakase might end up with 15 to over 20 various different morsels and nigiris. (Lunch omakases are usually smaller.) Each nigiri will have different  fish topping and what surprised me most in the beginning that so little high end sushi shops serve salmon, which is very popular outside of Japan…
One of the otsumami at Yoshitake (3 Michelin stars)
One of the otsumami at Yoshitake (3 Michelin stars)
  • You can eat nigiris with chopsticks or with your fingers. A small wet towel is provided for that purpose.
  • As for drinks, wine is rarely served at traditional Edo-mae sushi restaurants (Sushi Saito and Sushi Yoshitake are the rare exceptions). Beer, sake,shōchū, tea or water are the drinks of choice.
Sake at Yoshitake
Sake at Yoshitake
  • Price for a  lunch omakase can start from around ¥ 5000 (~40 € ), while dinner –  from  ¥ 10 000 (~80 € ) and can go up to  ¥ 30 000 (~250 €) or over . Sushi omakase at high end sushi restaurants rarely costs less than ¥ 15 000  or ¥ 20 000. For example ,my dinner  at Miyako sushi cost me something around ¥ 15 000; at Sushi Yoshitake – around ¥ 25 000; my 25 minutes lunch at Sukiyabashi Jiro was ¥ 31 500.
At Sushi Saito
At Sushi Saito ( 3 Michelin stars and number 1 on tabelog.com)
  • Most of the restaurants in Tokyo accept international credit cards, but there are quite a few which don’t, so it’s always good to find out in advance and to have some cash. Keep in mind that not all the ATM machines in Japan will distribute cash if you are using an international credit card. The only places I’ve ever been able to withdraw money were Citibank , 7-Eleven convenience stores and at the Narita airport.
  • Service charge is included in the final bill – you don’t need to tip in Japan. If you tip, you might be misunderstood.
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View comments (15)
  • Sander

    hi Aiste,

    I finally tried Sushi Saito!! It was mind-blowing. I love watching him make sushi. It’s nothing short of an orchestra. Such precise movement and rhythm. Absolutely loving it. I did manage to order some extra sushi. ahhhhh!! Takashi Saito is one of the most humble men I know. He smiles a lot and does make the whole experience memorable. I cannot wait to go back for more.

    I also went to Ukai Tei Ginza for the highest quality beef. OMG!! As a beef fanatic, it really was a melt-in-your-mouth experience. 300 oz of fatty goodness seemed to be too little. haha.

    The highlight of my trip was RyuGin…not only did I have whale tongue and turtle served as the first couple course, EVERYTHING was meticulously prepared with high level of finesse and the result was perfection!! Having been to so many fine dining restaurants all over the globe, EASILY I choose RyuGin is my number 1. Flawless. ahhhhh!!!

    I also went to Narisawa which was great but not memorable. Don’t get me wrong everything tasted great. Service was impeccable. Unfortunately they overcooked my fish on the fish course…:( quite mild/bland flavor across board.

    I have to agree with you that TOKYO has got to be my favorite food city.

    Keep up the amazing posts Aiste.

    sander

    • Luxeat

      Your trip sounds fantastic- thanks for sharing!! I was at Ryugin once, but it didn’t impress me, maybe I should return there 😉

  • Thanks for the guide very nice tips, I’m going to Japan in a few weeks so very helpful 🙂

    • Luxeat

      Hope you enjoy Japan 😉

  • I love Ryugin. Aiste, you need to give it one more chance.

    This is a great post and filled with wonderful information.

    • luxeat

      Hi Yukari! I will try again Ryugin for sure. Maybe we could do that together next time I am in Tokyo 😉 ? Hope you are doing well and enjoying your summer.

  • Yes, would love to go with you to Ryugin. We are well. Looking forward to seeing you up on the big screen!

  • Fatfree

    Hi Aiste. As a sushi lover, I’m a big fan of your blog. I went to Taku, Daisan Harumi, Hashiguchi, Sukiyabashi Jiro, and Sushi Sawada last year. To me, Jiro served the best sushi course, while Sawada provided the best overall sushi experience. I had no luck with reservation at Miyako and Sushi Saito…hope I’ll be able to get reservation on my next trip. Anyway, very thankful for your posts and really jealous of your life style and food experience :).

    • luxeat

      Thank you! Glad my blog can be useful 🙂 Can’t wait to return to Tokyo..

  • Douglas Mak

    What’s a good place for around 8,000 – 10,000 yen per person?

  • Jack Reacher

    Tasting Sushi for the first time was a very good experience. I never went to Japan, but first tried Sushi in New York at Sushi Restaurant. But thanks for sharing your guidance for Sushi restaurants in Tokyo. Whenever in future I will visit Japan remember your guidance blog. 🙂

  • Anna

    Hi, how do you book SUSHI YOSHITAKE, as I see you need to use a hotel concierge to book. Is there any other way?

  • Glen

    Do you get the sense that requesting no wasabi at Tokyo sushi restaurants is frowned upon? Will many of Tokyo’s best sushi restaurants not even be willing to accommodate this request? I love sushi but I cannot tolerate wasabi – it ruins the experience for me. Part of me wants to spend hundreds of dollars for a once-in-a-lifetime sushi experience, but another part of me does not want to risk doing so if it means I have to eat wasabi.

  • Lei Huang

    Thank you for the information. Super helpful. Just curious, will a four-star hotel be able to make reservation at Sushi Saito? Or does it have to be high-end five star hotel?