Yes, the Sushi Geek™ has finally made it to Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten! After a few failed attempts to secure a reservation on previous trips, I finally was able to get a lunch booking at what is probably the most famous sushi shop in the world. Now, much has been written about this legendary restaurant, and there are hundreds of reviews already already floating around the Internet. So rather than writing yet another review, I thought I'd do something a little bit different. So, without further ado - here are THE SUSHI GEEK™'S TOP 10 THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT JIRO:
1 - Yes, the sushi really is that good. I've eaten a lot of sushi in a lot of really great sushi restaurants, and I might have to say that the sushi at Jiro is the best I've ever had. I had high expectations, and it surpassed them. On the day that I visited (November 22nd 2016), the following tane (sushi toppings) were served in this order:
Karei (flat fish)
shima-aji (stripped jack)
chu-toro (semi fatty tuna)
oo-toro (fatty tuna)
kohada (gizzard shad)
mushi-awabi (steamed abalone)
aji (jack mackerel)
akagai (ark shell)
sayori (needle fish)
kurumaebi (boiled prawn, sliced into 2 pieces)
hamaguri (clam shell)
aji-su (vinegared jack mackerel)
uni (sea urchin)
kobashira (clam adductor muscle)
ikura (salmon roe)
anago (sea eel), and
Twenty one pieces of perfection.
Every piece was absolutely amazing, and possibly the best I've had. The absolute highlight was the aji-su (vinegared jack mackerel) - a preparation technique that I had never experienced before for this particular fish. Other highlights: the maguro trio, the kuruma ebi, and the kohada, but really, every piece was a highlight.
Of course, it goes without saying that the quality of the tane is incredibly high, and that the preparation techniques are flawless. But what elevates Jiro's sushi is definitely the shari (sushi rice) - Jiro's shari is seasoned using komezu (rice vinegar) and salt. It is very sour but also refreshing and light. Somehow, it works incredibly well with all the toppings, creating nigiri that is bold in flavor, yet perfectly balanced. It's truly magical... sushi shouldn't taste this good!
2 - There have been many recent reports regarding taishō (sushi master) Jiro Ono not being able to work due to health issues (he is, after all, 91 years old), but I'm happy to report that Jiro Ono-san was there when I visited. He looked happy and healthy, and was preparing sushi at a furious pace!
3 - Contrary to many reports found on the Internet, Jiro Ono and his son Yoshikazu are not rude to customers. Or I should say they are not rude to customers who don't behave like buffoons. They are very focused and not particularly cordial, but if you know how to behave in a sushiya (sushi shop) and follow their requests, they will treat you just fine. Just don't expect them to chat with you. Funny story: an American customer (the entire counter was 100% foreigners when I went) got full after about 12 pieces and asked Jiro-san if she could get the rest to go. You should have seen his face! Priceless. He just told her "no" and continued to make her sushi. Don't ask daft questions or behave poorly in the restaurant, and you will be treated with respect.
4 - Contrary to many reports found on the Internet, the restaurant is very easy to find. Simply make your way to Sukiyabashi crossing (one of the main crossings in Ginza - yes, the restaurant is named after the area of Ginza it is located in) and look for a clothing store called "The Suit Company", it is on the southeast corner of the crossing. Directly next to the store, there is a subway entrance as pictured below:
Go down that flight of stairs, and you will see this sign advertising four businesses located here. Jiro's sign is the 2nd from the right, next to the BirdLand sign.
Go through the doors located on the left of the sign and you will arrive in a hallway where Sukiyabashi Jiro is located. I have no idea why so many people have such a hard time finding this place.
5 - Sukiyabashi Jiro is not a good option as a first "high end" sushi experience in Tokyo. Trust me on this one: if you haven't eaten a LOT of high-end sushi and really developed your sushi palate, you won't appreciate the nuances that make the sushi here so special. As a matter of fact, you might actually find Jiro's strongly vinegared rice to be too intense in flavor. Add to this the somewhat sterile and cold ambiance and the fact that the meal is over so quickly, and it doesn't make for a good first experience at all. Don't waste your time and money eating here unless you're a very experienced sushi eater, you'll come away disappointed. Try the very good Kyubey or Sushi Iwa as a first time experience instead.
6 - Talking about speed of the meal, yes, everything you've heard is true - be prepared for the meal to take 30 minutes or less. I ate 21 pieces (counting the double pieces of kurumaebi) in 22 minutes, but the pace felt fine to me. The sushi is so good and the shari so refreshing that I could have eaten another 21 pieces without any problems. Just be aware that they want you to come in, eat sushi FAST, then move on. This is not a restaurant where one lingers. Understand this before coming here so that your expectations are properly calibrated, and you will enjoy the experience.
7 - If you want Jiro Ono-san to make your sushi, get there early. I was instructed by my hotel concierge to arrive 10 minutes before my reservation time, which I did. When I arrived, I found that four people where already waiting ahead of me:
It turns out that they seat customers in the order that the customers arrive in. So the first four customers sat with Jiro-san, and since I was fifth, I was the first to be seated with Yoshikazu-san. Jiro-san did make two of my 21 pieces, and I could not discern any difference whatsoever between his nigiri molding technique versus his son's. Some Internet critics have said that Jiro's nigiri making abilities are still significantly better than Yoshikazu's. Having tasted both within minutes of each other, I call BS on that.
8 - The chefs modulate the nigiri based on each client's eating style. If you eat sushi with chopsticks, the shari will of course be more tightly packed then if you eat it with your fingers. But the chefs also carefully observe each customer, and further adjust the nigiri to each customer's need. As the meal progressed and the chef realized that I could proficiently transport nigiri from the counter to my mouth, Yoshikazu-san packed the rice less and less as he formed the nigiri. It actually became a bit of a challenge to get the pieces into my mouth towards the end - but the taste and texture of the sushi further improved as the shari literally dissolved into individual grains as it entered my mouth.
9 - Getting a reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro takes a good hotel concierge and a little luck. The restaurant typically accepts reservations on the 1st of the month, for the following month. So for example, bookings for November are accepted starting on October 1st. Foreign customers must use a reputable hotel concierge to make the booking, and a credit card needs to be filed with the concierge service in case of a no-show. I've previously been unsuccessful booking Jiro Hoten (Honten meaning main shop or head branch) using the Park Hyatt concierge service, although I've heard of plenty of people landing a reservation through them. On this last trip, I decided to stay at the Tokyo Station Hotel, having heard that the head concierge Mrs Mori was one of the very best in town. And indeed she was able to secure the booking on the exact date I had requested. Having said that, a booking is never guaranteed; there is always a bit of luck involved. And the success rate with the top hotel concierge services (Tokyo Station, Peninsula, Park Hyatt, Mandarin Oriental, Aman, etc) are all probably pretty close to each other.
10 - The meal will set you back ¥30,000 plus tax. Yes, my lunch cost roughly $14 per minute I was there, which is not cheap by any means. Jiro might actually be the most expensive "per minute" restaurant in the world. Was it worth it? Yes, in my opinion it is worth every penny, and I cannot wait to go back.
Sukiyabashi Jiro Ginza 4-2-15 Ginza Tsukamoto Sogyo Bldg. B1F Chuo, Tokyo