May 12, '15

On Sushi Kanesaka & dining in Tokyo

at Sushi Kanesaka

I have special sentiments for Sushi Kanesaka as it was one of the first fine sushi shops I’ve been in Tokyo. When I started travelling there for eating, food tourism, how we know it, was still in its infancy phase in Japan. Things began to change when in 2009 Michelin guide opened the curtain of secrecy and, by awarding the endless amount of Michelin stars to Tokyo restaurants, showed the world how extraordinary Tokyo restaurants scene is. Suddenly the world media flocked the Japanese capital (and, later, Kyoto too) marvelling about the beauty of kaiseki or the perfect nigiri. Soon the so-called “foodies” followed.

Kanesaka's - san long term assistant Sanpei-san
Kanesaka’s – san long term assistant Sanpei-san

Of course, there have been always people travelling to Japan and eating there, but I’ve never seen so many foreigners dining independently at the upscale Tokyo restaurants like nowadays. This comes with its good and its bad. Good, because 6 years forward since I first ate at Kanesaka, even the most hidden Tokyo gems are more open to international visitors. Bad, because gaijins have brought with them some bad habits too. Not bothering to cancel restaurant reservation and simply not showing up would be one of them. Thus, more and more restaurants in Japan ask for a credit card as a guarantee. Like one can imagine, for an 8 or 10 places restaurant no-shows can result in big losses, especially that all the products are freshly bought for that particular meal.

Being ignorant should not be considered as “bad” per se, but when someone asked for a cheese course last time I was at Harutaka, I wondered why to pay so much money for a meal (over 30 000 Yen per person) and still not even try to understand what it is about. (Harutaka-san dealt with the request in a typical Japanese stoic way. “No, sorry”, – was the answer.)

What brings us back to Kanesaka. Does dealing with foreign tourists and business travellers on the daily basis (who surely are less demanding than Japanese) made Kanesaka-san more lax and less dedicated to his craft? Or is it his rapid business expansion to blame, with already two locations in Singapore,  Tokyo (Palace hotel) and, soon, Macau (and… an extra table in the original shop). Either explanation might be, my omakase meal at Kanesaka lacked consistency and attention to detail. Some pieces like hairy crab sashimi or medium fatty tuna nigiri were very decent, but the overall experience was chaotic, yet premium-priced (what one would pay at the best Tokyo sushi restaurants). Like many foreigners, Kanesaka’s – san friendly attitude was what first attracted me to his restaurant, but as Tokyo becomes more and more open to foreign diners, I think one should judge sushi-ya by its quality rather on how well does the sushi master speak English.

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