A funny thing happened on the way to Sawada. I got lost.
OK, I didn't get lost, I just couldn't find the restaurant. Let me backtrack a little. It's Thursday morning. I'm laying in bed in my hotel room, under the weather and very jet-lagged. I finally get enough motivation to get ready, then head out to the train station. I miss the train to Ginza by about 7 seconds. I run out of the station and hop in a cab instead. We get to Ginza, but the driver can't find Sawada! He drops me off on Harumi Dori, Ginza's main street. I think to myself "no problem, I know Ginza inside out, and I have 9 minutes to spare. I got this!" I enter Sawada's address into Google Maps, then walk to the exact dot shown on the map. It's not here! I can't find it! I walk around the block twice, looking frantically. I check my watch. 11:56. Four minutes left until my noon booking. I ask an old construction worker for help. Bad move. He's got no idea what this crazy gaijin is raving on about. TWO MINUTES LEFT UNTIL NOON. I'm panicking. I run into a shop and ask a shopkeeper. Yes, she's heard of the famous Sushi Sawada. It's five buildings over, she tells me. I run out of there, sprinting half a block to the building she pointed out, finally seeing the Sawada sign. I had walked past it twice in my jet-lagged stupor! I run up the three flights of stairs, nervous as hell. I'M NOW FIVE MINUTES LATE! Open the door, bow deeply, and utter "Watashi wa hontōni okurete mōshiwakearimasen!" in my incredibly bad Japanese. Luckily for me, they accept my apology and allow me to sit down for lunch.
I've finally made it to Sawada, the legendary shop!
Still, I feel like a jerk. Seventeen trips to Tokyo. Countless visits to countless restaurants, and it finally happened. I pulled the rookie tourist move. I arrived late for a restaurant booking. Shame on me!
The moral of the story? If you think it will take you 20 minutes to get to a sushi shop and find it, give yourself 40 minutes. Don't assume you know your way around Tokyo. Don't get cocky and overconfident. Don't be that guy. Don't be me.
OK. After that long tirade and bit of self-loathing, let's talk about my lunch at Sawada.
So much has already been said about this legendary shop: Sawada earned two Michelin stars in 2008, and has always managed to hold on to them. It is very difficult to book, and very expensive. Sawada-san and his lovely wife are the only two people working at this six-seat counter, they have no assistants. Sawada is known for sourcing some of the best hon-maguro and uni in the world. No electricity is used for food preparation in the shop. It is a very serious shop because sushi is serious business. All those things are true.
So, what did I think? I really liked my sushi lunch at Sawada. I didn't love it, I really liked it. Maybe my expectations were too high, maybe my taste buds were a little off due to being under the weather, or maybe the sushi at Sawada is just not my absolute favorite. Who knows? I'll need to go back to figure this out.
I found the komesu (rice vinegar) seasoned shari (sushi rice) preparation to be very good, if not my favorite. The rice is on the firm side and quite a bit salty, so very tasty with nihonshu. I was expecting more impact from the vinegar, as I had heard that the sourness level was Jiro-like. That wasn't the case on my visit, the shari's vinegar taste was more muted than I had expected. The sushi neta are all of very high quality, and are prepared with obvious skill and care. Again, the hon-maguro and uni are highlights here, both of these neta feature prominently in the lunch course. I believe four pieces of maguro sushi were served, and two pieces of uni, including Sawada's famous uni tower. The aburi maguro, cooked over a bincho-tan grill, was a highlight. But then, who wouldn't love that? Ultimately, every piece of sushi served was very good.
Sawada-san and his wife are lovely hosts, but the shop is definitely a full-on "sushi temple" - quiet reverence is the name of the game here, and one is expected to behave accordingly.
Sawada is one of those shops that any Sushi Geek should visit at least once or twice, just like Sukiyabashi Jiro, Kyubey, Daisan Harumi, and other classic shops of that ilk. Me, I'll definitely visit again one of these days when I'm not under the weather, and I'll make sure to give myself ample time to find the place.
PS: no photos are allowed inside the shop, hence the boring sign photos.
Sawada - 5-9-19 Ginza Chuo Tokyo