Having been called “the dustbin” by my children—because I’ll eat just about anything put in front of me and invariably enjoy it to the last mouthful—it occurred to me recently that one of the few international cuisines to have passed me by, in its true form at any rate, is Japanese food…and sushi in particular. I have tried it or imitations of it of course, but never experienced the real deal. So when offered the opportunity to dine at Sushi Zo, the omakase-style restaurant established by renowned “sushi architect” Keizo Seki, I accepted with alacrity
A native of Osaka, Seki has become something of a legend in the sushi world with his outlets in Los Angeles and New York earning Michelin stars. His latest restaurant at Athenee Plaza Tower on Wireless Road has an intimate feel with minimalist décor and seating for just 12 patrons at each of the two daily servings (5pm and 8:30pm, hence advance booking are recommended).
(Related: Opinion: Stars Don’t Come Cheap!)
Omakase translates as “I’ll leave it up to you” so there is no menu—you get whatever the chef is serving on the day—and for a sushi novice it is comforting to be placed in the dextrous hands of the genial Toshi Onishi, Sushi Zo’s executive chef and manager in Bangkok, for the 20-course experience.
To ensure a year-round supply of premium ingredients, ultra-fresh fish and seafood is flown in daily from Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market, from the temperate waters off Kyushu, the most southwesterly of Japan’s four main islands, and from the pristine cold waters of Hokkaido in the north.
Speaking of water, chef Onishi is a stickler for authenticity, insisting that his Japanese rice is made with deep-well water from his native Hokkaido and seasoned with specific proportions of red and white Japanese vinegar. “This ensures fully flavoured and textured rice, which is served close to body temperature,” he explains. “Also, we prefer the Ittai-kan style in which a balance is struck between the neta [seafood] and shari [sushi rice]—hence we use smaller amounts of rice and we don’t pack it so tight so as to create that balance.”
In fact, balance is the watchword at Sushi Zo and it impacts the order in which the dishes arrives; so you experience the light and bright citrus flavours of hirame (halibut) with yuzu juice and zest, or sawara (Spanish mackerel) with ginger, chives and ponzu sauce early in the meal before progressing to more flavoured and textured offerings such as rich steak-like akami (tuna) with soy sauce or madai (red sea bream) served in a dome of smoke, which has the delicious charcoal taste of the barbecue. This highlights another point, one especially useful for a sushi newbie, in that no little dishes of soy sauce, wasabi or other seasonings are provided here. Rather it is the chef who imparts the creative flavours to each piece he serves, thus ensuring that all-important balance.
(More restaurant reviews: The Family Fare of Lady L)
Then there is the culinary theatre involved. Watching Onishi and his team produce bite-sized masterpieces with knife skills that a neurosurgeon would be proud of is a mesmeric experience and only serves to heighten the anticipation of enjoyment prior to each morsel…even down to a dessert box containing a wonderful Hokkaido ice cream as rich as buttermilk and a delicious sponge-like steamed egg custard.
In the days after visiting the restaurant I bumped into a friend, a sushi aficionado, and happened to mention my first omakase experience. His reaction? “Wow! Lucky you, talk about starting at the top. It’s all down-hill from here.” Say it ain’t zo!
Sushi Zo, Athenee Plaza Tower, 63 Wireless Road, Tues-Sun 5pm-9:30pm; 0-2168-8490, sushizobangkok.com