This new sushi bar on the edge of Jing'an is elegantly spare and simple – just a counter top surrounded by 10 chairs encased in a glass box lined with wooden Venetian blinds. The floor is staffed by two kimono-clad waitresses, doting and deferent to the extreme.
Behind the counter is Chef/Owner and Tokyo transplant Kenji Naramoto. A minster of the Sancho Tokyo Sushi Academy, he comes to Shanghai with some impressive credentials. And they speak volumes of his sushi style – pure, traditionalist, and simple. You could probably count on all your fingers the ingredients he’s using -- fish, rice, soy, vinegar, sake, daikon, wasabi, yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit), and that’s about it – but the variety of flavors and textures he creates is almost endless.
Take, for instance, this dish…
Mackerel roe and kelp in a soy sauce and vinegar marinade topped with shreds of dried bonito – simple, sweet and slightly tart with a pleasantly rubbery crunch.
Ankimo, monkfish liver, the foie gras of the sea. He starts by gently steaming it, then he rolls it, brushes it with sake, and serves it in a shallow pool of ponzu, topped with a dab of grated daikon tinted with chilies and chopped chives. It’s no doubt a strict textbook example, but this dish is pretty difficult to improve upon.
Then there is Karasumi, dried mullet roe. Here, you can see Naramoto searing a slab of it...
A pleasantly carbony caramelized shell forms on the outside. Then he slices it and tops it with a thin slice of daikon and a few salmon eggs. On the surface, it’s a seemingly simple dish, but there is so much going on – the crisp, fresh bittersweetness of the daikon, the taffy-like texture of the karasumi, the gently bursting salinity of the salmon roe. It looks like this...
Chawanmushi is another classic…
A piping hot steamed egg custard studded with soft gingko seeds, shiitakes, scallops and squid. But what really makes it sing is the little bundle of shredded yuzu skin he places on top. As the steam rises from the custard, it disperses the perfumey aromatics of the zest.
Then, comes the nigiri course. Naramoto cuts off a hunk of fresh wasabi and grates it into a small pile on the cutting board.
Every piece he packs gets a little dose of this stuff. It’s a beautiful combination with flounder, which he slices into thin tendrils and braids before he packs it on the rice. Yuzu zest adds another dimension, especially to meltingly tender squid. Then, of course, there are the no-brainers: Seared slices of otoro (fatty tuna) and sea eel that melt in your mouth like a pat of butter, or slightly springy steamed abalone, lovingly brushed with teriyaki sauce and bound with a ribbon of nori.
So, how much does all of this cost? Well, I’ve got good news and I've got bad news. Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Naramoto only does a set menu and, unfortunately, it’ll set you back quite a bit. Officially, it’s 1000rmb. This gets you a starter, an assorted sashimi course, three or four cooked courses, six or seven pieces of nigiri, a maki course, a few pieces of tamago (japanese omelet), and they finish it all off with a bowl of miso soup. Don't worry, you will
leave full, but that is seriously steep. Now for the good news: They’ve just opened, so they’re offering all of this for an introductory price of 680rmb. But I’m going to be optimistic here and hope that Mr. Naramoto takes a look at the competition
and comes to his senses (fingers crossed).
Sushi Naramoto opened January 5th. For a full listing, click here