Yes, the holy grail of sushi itself.
Sushi Saito HONTEN.
After years of trying, from attempting to use the hotel concierge to the card concierge to local friends, I finally got the chance to try the much-acclaimed Sushi Saito which is rated as the best sushi restaurant on Tabelog and has three Michelin stars. Credit goes to a wonderful friend and respected foodie who kindly offered the reservation, without whom I would not have this opportunity to write this review. However, yours truly was not served by the Sushi God himself but by one of his retainers (read: apprentice). Some amongst his biggest worshipers may say that this is not the true Sushi Saito experience- you have to be served by Takashi Saito himself to have the “hon mono” experience. Alas, the “main counter” can only be accessed by celebrities, respected chefs & foodies
as well as the most pious Saito worshipers who take pleasure in numbering their visits and playing the teachers’ pet to curry favor.
So how was the sushi at Sushi Saito? Was it mind-blowingly good?
My answer: NO.
In a nutshell, my experience here was shockingly sub-par with too many technical errors to qualify Sushi Saito as a restaurant worth travelling close to 7000km
(in economy class) just for food. The sushi is at such a shockingly low level that even Saito-san’s “God hands” cannot salvage it, let alone elevate it to a level that is worthy to be called the best.
Granted- it could have been a shitty off-day, which everyone has!
(This picture speaks volumes about the hype that the Saito worshipers created about the place being 100% consistent….crab shell in tsumami?)
Let’s have a look at the items that totally missed the mark:
Akami (Marinated Tuna) Nigiri- Flat and near flavourless with a very strong ferrous hit- texture is its only redeeming quality. As the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover!
Otoro (Fatty Tuna) Nigiri– Sinewy as hell, mono-dimensional fat taste. Profoundly bad.
Aji(Horse Mackerel) Nigiri- tasteless to the level that it could be mistaken for a shiromi (white fish), a far cry from the splendid Aji in their KL branch
Kohada (Gizzard Shad)- unbalanced, overly acidic. Again, the color looks fab but the taste is drab!
Tamagoyaki– sloppy custard with poor consistency and texture, feels like broken curd on a lemon tart.
One thing that is noticeable in the list above: items that are supposedly the very manifestation of Edomae Sushi such as Kohada, Akami and Tamagoyaki are lacking in quality!
I posted my thoughts on Instagram before taking the time to write them out here and received some feedback from some trustworthy foodies that the experience with Saito-san serving me on the main counter personally will be much better, which I do not concur with, mainly because:
Sushi is 80% prep– nearly all the items served are prepared well BEFORE service.
The kohada is salted & cured well before service.
The maguro is aged well before service.
The tamagoyaki is cooked well before service.
To be served such sub-par sushi, even by the apprentice’s hands, speaks volumes about the quality control processes in this sushi-ya. Even if Saito-san really has God-level hands he can maybe only elevate the nigiri another 10-15% more- it makes a noticeable difference, yes, but it definitely cannot save the sushi from such poor neta. The kohada would still be unbalanced, the maguro would still be ferrous and the tamagoyaki would still be a sloppy mess. The only way to save these pieces is during prep.
Non-sequitur side-point: Sushi Saito has a much acclaimed Kuruma-Ebi piece that many call the absolute best in the world. Guess who makes it, Saito-san or his apprentice?
All of this was compounded by terrible service by the staff, with the notable exception of the itamae that night who was fabulous. I won’t go too much into the details of the lackluster, lackadaisical service (oops-that kinda summarises it) but it is truly appalling for a top-rated restaurant in Japan. I dare say I got warmer and better service at yakitori joints!
For the sake of objectivity, these items were definitely world-class:
Anago Nigiri- One of the best renditions, and possibly the best “served hot” anago I’ve had.
Chutoro- Perfect balance between the essence of lean tuna flesh and fat- with the desirable slight tinge of blood.
Buri Zuke- The only piece showing off some finesse- balanced, clear flavours with a nice amount of “clean” fattiness to provide that smash-your-head-into-the-counter goodness.
And yes, the otsumami was very good (other than the crab shell), in particular the shirauo which had a fantastic crisp bite, seasoned to perfection. The trademark grilled nodoguro was very good but not the best I’ve had, same with the octopus. There was some nice detail to attention when the shirako came warm instead of cold, I kind of wished this level of detail to attention continued into the nigiri course.
Shirauo (Glassfish) served with Yuzu zest
Shirako served with Ponzu
Mushi-Awabi & Tako
All in all, I would rate the Saito meal as a below average meal.
Cuisine: 2.75/5 (3.5/5 for tsumami, 2/5 for nigiri)
Cost Performance: 2.5/5
Overall: 2.625 (just above 50%!)
1F, Ark Hills South Tower, 1-4-5 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo