Daisan Harumi: Sushi restaurant in Shimbashi, Tokyo
Reviewed by Lukas Kratochvil
Tucked away in a little side street in Shimbashi, this largely undiscovered jewel in Tokyo's sushi crown will humble and delight even the most demanding raw fish aficionado.
At first, I was skeptical when a fish-enthusiast friend insisted he had found some of the best sushi in Tokyo. Four months and several meals later, I am a convert with a mission to pass on the Gospel according to Poseidon to those seeking pescatory salvation.
Kazuo Nagayama has been pleasing the palate of his customers, nay disciples, for 45 years. He has also written several books on sushi and designs all of the crockery at Daisan Harumi. He made his own wasabi grater and harvests his own nori (seaweed). An artist through and through, his obsession with detail has infected his no less able long-time assistant Kawashima-san, who was our host last Saturday.
We ordered green tea and the basic omakase (chef's choice) menu consisting of 10 items of sushi.
First up was the white-fleshed kawahagi (file fish), served with a dollop of paste made from its own liver. The fish was firm-fleshed but tender, with a subtle flavour complimented by the paste. A wonderful start.
This was followed by shin ika (young cuttlefish). The cuttlefish was uncharacteristically tender, quickly morphing into a creamy mixture in the mouth.
Offering number three was head and shoulders above even Daisan Harumi's most illustrious competitors: shime- saba (vinegar-pickled mackerel). This is a temperamental creature, often excessively pungent, metallic or overly vinegared. Daisan Harumi's shime-saba, however, has an intense, full flavour which is counter balanced by the acidity of the vinegar.
Then, and I say this without exaggeration, the best scallop I had ever had: tennen hotate (wild scallop). Stunningly fresh, plump and sweet, this scallop will stay in my mind for a long time.
The next two offerings consisted of tuna; first, akami (lean meat) followed by chuutoro (medium-fatty belly meat). The standard of akami varies widely and Daisan Harumi's had an excellent clean, full flavour.
The chuutoro was divine. Buttery and melt-in-your-mouth, it cannot be described as anything other than sensual.
The chuutoro had barely melted when the tennen kurumaebi (wild prawn) arrived. The sweet and juicy prawn made me curse all those limp, tasteless kurumaebi I had previously digested at less illustrious establishments.
A very decent, briny aoyagi (round clam) was followed by the highlight of the day: uni (sea urchin). Uni has an unusual flavour and texture that is often challenging to foreigners and varies widely in quality. This one was stunning: dark-golden coloured with a creamy, velvety and smooth texture (think the melting inside of very fresh pan-fried foie gras) with hints of burnt malt and caramel. Uni at its very best.
Next we were treated to mushi anago (steamed sea eel) topped with a sauce (tsume) containing flakes of yuzu skin (a Japanese citrus fruit) that caused the female contingent of our party to emit positively X-rated sounds.
After we recovered from the eel-induced ecstasy, the prawn made its second grand entrance. Its grilled head and shell (onigara yaki) was crunchy, crispy and delicious.
We finished off with the obligatory tamagoyaki (egg omelette served at the end of a sushi meal). Sushi restaurants are measured by the quality of their tamagoyaki, and this one is up there with the best. It had a fluffy, light texture with a hint of smokiness derived from dried bonito flakes, and it was a fitting end to a tremendously memorable meal.
Space does not permit to wax lyrical about Daisan Harumi's obsession with detail and quality. There is a story attached to all of the seafood on offer. A discussion about Daisan Harumi's rice (perfect temperature, texture and flavour) could fill an entire review.
This tiny restaurant (counter and two tables) offers serious sushi of the highest quality. Nagayama-san is as serious as his sushi and expects his customers to be his willing students. He is friendly but firm, and you will leave his restaurant armed with new knowledge, a satisfied stomach and the realisation that sushi will never be the same again.
Daisan Harumi is excellent value at 15,000 to 17,000 yen on weekdays, and an astonishing 7,000 - 10,000 yen on Saturdays (lunch and dinner).
Name Daisan Harumi 第三春美鮨
1-17-7 Shinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0004
Opening times Mon-Fri 11:30am-1:30pm, 5:30pm-10:30pm; Sat 11:30am-1:30pm, 5:30pm-9:00pm; closed Sun
Credit cards? Yes
Foreigner friendly? No English menu and no English spoken, but their sushi book contains fish names in English
Non-smoking section? All non-smoking