Review of the Omakase at Jiro Sushi, December 2015 Visit
Last year when I traveled to Asia I tried to get a reservation at the famous Sukiyabashi Jiro Sushi but tried too late in the process and was unable to. This made me even more determined to procure a reservation on my next trip.
Reservation Process: Jiro Sushi only takes reservations on the first day of the month, the month before you would like to dine. So if you would like to dine sometime in December, you must request a reservation on the first of November. I read an article on Business Insider on how to get a reservation at Jiro Sushi and they advised having a hotel in Japan make the reservation for you. So I booked a hotel two months in advance, and asked the concierge to request a reservation on the first day of the month. I also gave an entire week I would be willing to dine at Jiro which may have helped my chances. I was happily surprised to see an email from the hotel concierge saying that they had faxed in my request to Jiro and received a response that we could dine on one date at 5:30PM. The hotel asked me to send them back a credit card authorization form to hold the reservation for the meal.
If you are not staying at a hotel that can make restaurant reservations on your behalf, Voyagin is a fabulous Japanese travel booking service you can use. They also provide a direct booking service for the Roppongi branch of Jiro.
Quick video of some of the pieces from the Omakase at Sushi Jiro
Continue to read the full review of the omakase
Cancellation Policy: Cancel 4 days before the reservation date, cancellations made on the day of the reservation must pay 15,000 JPY / $125 per person cancellation fee.
Dress Code: collared shirt and jacket required for men, smart attire for women [lot of drama around this read on…]
Price: minimum 30,000 JPY / $255 per person. Price changes depending on the fish used the day of your reservation. I was actually charged 35,100 JPY / $300 per person without any drinks or extras just the omakase.
Restaurant: The 3 michelin starred location has been operating since opening at its original location in Ginza Station. The second branch is operated by Chef Jiro Ono’s son in Roppongi. If you are traveling to Japan, I would recommend trying the original location in Ginza.
Location: Because the reservation policy is so strict, I actually tried to find the restaurant the day before the reservation so that there would be no reason to be late the day of the reservation. This was a good idea because locations can be tricky to find in Tokyo. Jiro is located near Gate C6 in the Ginza station. There are two black glass doors when you enter from the street level and go down the stairs into Gate C6 on the left. These doors are not really marked and look like two random doors but you must push through them and walk a bit to see the famous wooden doors with blue curtain.
I arrived a few minutes before the 5:30PM reservation and was second in line. The restaurant had not opened yet but I could hear the employees behind the doors. A little after 5:30PM, the doors opened and one of the employees ushered us in and sat us. The employee immediately spoke to both Chef Jiro Ono and Yoshikazu that my husband was not dressed in a collared shirt or jacket. They asked me whether the hotel had informed us that men must wear jackets and I showed them the confirmation which only said to wear “smart attire.” The employee asked us to get up from the seat and wait in the front of the restaurant without offering any explanation. At this point, after being sat and asked to get up and stand away from the bar, I was worried that we would not be able to dine at the restaurant because of the dress code. After waiting 5 minutes, they brought me a large cordless phone with the hotel on the line that made the reservation and told me to relay to the hotel what was written on my reservation confirmation about the dress code. After I got off the phone with the hotel, the employee spoke briefly with them. I waited another 5min while all the other diners were seated at the bar and one person had already started their omakase. Finally they told us to sit at the bar and the omakase promptly began.
At the 5:30PM seating not all seats at the bar were taken. Everyone was foreign and English speakers except for one Japanese woman who spoke with Yoshikazu the entire omakase. I noticed at other sushi restaurants in Japan its not uncommon for people to enjoy omakase solo while speaking to the chef. In the US I would feel self conscious to speak to the chef while they are working the entire time and serving other patrons but it seems OK to do this in Tokyo. We were sat in the middle, with one couple to the left of us, and two solo diners to our right. Each setting had a purple napkin which was a gift to the diners. Not sure if everyone gets this or only the foreign tourist diners. There is no explanation or speaking from any of the employees so I did not even know this was something I could take in the beginning. There was also a printed menu at each setting.
The sushi came out quickly as soon as we were sat. I was impressed by how quickly and methodically Jiro moved, making each diner’s piece of sushi- almost like a pro athlete who has the most consistent and beautiful swing. I have never seen such sharp consistency in movement behind a sushi counter like that. I sat in the middle of the bar right in front of Jiro and got to watch his masterwork. Although the documentary came out three years ago, Jiro looked exactly the same as in Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Everything was pristine and consistent. Before going to Sushi Jiro I watched the documentary and wondered what would the sushi taste like? I tried Sushi Kanesaka Ginza and Sushi Nakamura which were both very clean and not overly garnished. In New York the top sushi places all have a strong identity and each is unique, so I assumed Jiro would have a strong different identity as well. The first thing I noticed was how tart and sharp the vinegar in the rice is. The sharpness of the vinegar pairs well with the fish, shrimp, and clam as it helps to highlight here I am, this is my true taste. We requested no wasabi and the restaurant was willing to make this accommodation.
I really liked how there were no extra wild garnishes or sauces. There are a lot of restaurants in New York that drench cooked pieces in overly sweet or overpowering sauces and do not let you taste the actual fish. Here I felt the point was to show you the true flavor identity of each piece without garnishes or special sauce. Instead of walking away thinking about the temperature, texture, level of salt I walked away thinking about the flavor of each piece. I thoroughly enjoyed every piece except I had never tried mantis shrimp shako before and the chewiness was harder to get through. However there are many foods I don’t enjoy right away and you have to keep eating them to really figure out whether you like them or not. Unfortunately I have never seen shako in the US and don’t think I will get to try this again unless I go to Japan.
The atmosphere of the restaurant was unlike any other. I felt like all the diners felt so lucky to secure the reservation and were so reverent of the master chef that they were afraid to speak or act as they normally would at a restaurant. It was quiet because all the diners except for the chatty customer were intimidated. You can feel Jiro’s intensity and also the intensity of all the assistants and Yoshikazu. Because the atmosphere is so thick with concentrated quiet intensity the diners are quiet as well.
Some tasting notes– I did not take photos during the omakase because I wanted to enjoy the meal but did take quick video snaps.
Squid Sumi-Ika– one of the pieces I was most curious about. Every restaurant seems to cut this piece in different length, thickness, and size. Some make the cross hatch marks, some use a blowtorch, some are firm and chewy, others melt in your mouth. Because there are so many different tastes to squid, and I like squid very much, I was happy to see that this one was thick, chewy, lightly scored and really squiddish. Not the melt in your mouth thin piece but an aggressive proteiny squid.
Uni Sea Urchin– uni is almost always delicious, but I find even from the same supplier uni can have many different tastes. This uni was not too mineral or sharp, but not so dull that it seems bland. It was with this piece that the toasted nori really took the stage. I have never tasted such a smartly piece of nori. It’s rare to find a dish that was toasted just right. It’s a true art form that I have really only tasted a few times.
Steamed Abalone Mushi-Awabi– I am always interested to eat Abalone in Asia because they taste very different and much better than the ones here in the US. In Korea you find them at sushi restaurants most often as tough, thinly sliced, barely seasoned sashimi or grilled with a sweet soy sauce. This steamed abalone was amazing and not too dressed up. The most impressive abalone sushi I have tasted.
Boiled Prawn Kurumaebi– the famous piece at Jiro Sushi. Prettier and larger than other ebi. Probably the most beautiful piece of sushi I have seen. The day before I went to the Tsukiji Fish Market and saw the live ones. It is amazing to watch the assistant peel these perfectly cooked shrimp behind the bar. Usually peeling shrimp takes some finesse so that you don’t mar the shrimp, but he made it look so easy.
Ikura Salmon Roe– another best piece example. The ikura in Japan in general tastes fresher and the eggs seem to have better surface tension and are larger. The seasoning of the roe was the best I have tasted thus far.
Egg Tamago– the best way to end any omakase. Again the best tamago I have tasted. Not too sweet, not too dense, not too cakey. I went to Nakazawa last February and was excited to try the tamago from the maker in the documentary and was sorely disappointed. The one at Nakazawa was overly sweet and dense. The tamago at Sushi Jiro was completely different from the one I tasted at Nakazawa. To be fair I have only been to both restaurants once and perhaps it was on an off day at Nakazawa.
This really is the fastest omakase as is widely noted. Arrived at 5:30PM and even with the 10-15min wait over the dress code, and separate melon dessert and tea, I was done by 6:20PM.
So to sum up I was truly impressed by the consistency of taste, sharp acidic rice to bring out the flavor identity of the fish, toasted nori, and some of the best examples of sushi pieces I have tasted to date (boiled prawn, aji jack mackerel, salmon roe ikura, tamago). I liked that there were no crazy sauces or garnishes or over preparation. It is really just about the flavor of the fish. This was definitely an experience worth the trip to Japan. At the end of the meal I debated whether to ask Chef Jiro Ono for a photo. I don’t travel to Asia too often and decided I might as well ask. I waited until the last diners in this seating were served and asked the nicest looking employee to ask the chef if he would take a photo with us. He ushered us outside the restaurant and we waited a few minutes but Jiro emerged. Outside his restaurant he seemed friendlier but not in an American over the top friendly way. I was surprised to see even a bit of a smile on his face. We bowed to thank him an then my husband got overzealous and asked the employee to ask Jiro to sign our menus and stamp with his signature stamp. When the other diners saw him doing this for us I could see how excited they were and they asked for the same. It was really cute because they probably don’t know what a signature stamp is since they only exists in Asia.
Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten
Dinner: Daily 5:30pm-8:30pm except Saturday
Price Range: $$$$
Payment Accepted: credit card
Accepts Reservations: yes