‘Go to The Tsukiji Market,’ goes the well-trod refrain of anyone with a remote interest in food who has been to Tokyo. ‘You’ll have the best sashimi of your life, hands down’, they’ll tell you while they spin you tales of the near five hundred seafood species laid out for your consideration at the largest and oldest fish market in the world. What I neglected to confirm on the day that I made my pre-dawn pilgrimage across the city’s vast rail network toward the market was that it was, in fact, open at all.
It turns out that on the one day I allocated to exploring Tsukiji’s teaming market stalls and the adjacent streets lined with sushiya was a national holiday – one of the few throughout the year that the market closes (it’s also typically closed on Mondays and Wednesdays, and for a week during the heatwaves of the summer months, which just so happens to be this week). Despondent, and ravenous, I made for the nearest sushi bar, one selected not so much for its credentials as for the absence of a queue snaking around the block. It turns out that at the Tsukiji Market, a breezy entrance into a seat at the bar amounts to a devastating red flag: the sashimi I sampled within was far from the best of my life. It was, quite literally, a hard swallow.
All of which is to say that the arrival of Tokyo’s hottest young sushi chef, Hiroyuki Sato, in Sydney this week is looking like something of a heaven sent corrective to my ill-fated experience at Tsukiji. Sato, the chef behind the restaurant Hakkoku はっこく has accepted an invitation from restaurateur Maurice Terzini and Executive Chef Monty Koludrovic of the Icebergs Dining Room and Bar to prepare six-course tuna dining experience for Australian diners inspired by his daily pilgrimage to Tsukiji.
For Terzini and Koludrovic, who first met Sato earlier this year on a trip to Tokyo, the collaboration doubles as a chance to not only relive a once in a lifetime experience, but share some of what made it so special with local diners.
“On a recent trip to Tokyo, we were being shown around by a dear friend Yuki San,” Koludrovic says, retelling the story of an unforgettable evening at Hakkoku. “Yuki was a sommelier at Noma and knows a few people around town. He was very generous with his connections and making some unachievable bookings for us. Hakkoku had only just opened the week before and was a hotly anticipated opening for Tokyo, as chef Sato San brings with him an incredible pedigree from working in other restaurants. It was an impossible booking, but one we luckily found ourselves with.
“On arrival, we found the place completely engulfed in incredible white flower gifts of good fortune from the industry and friends,” Koludrovic continues. “It felt very special. The meal was mind blowing – 30 courses of amazing nigiri and a couple of salads. Each one a treasure. It wasn’t super traditional but it was not garish or without respect to tradition. As we wrapped up dinner we were chatting with Sato San and I said if ever he was in Sydney he must come and visit Bondi and see us. He said ‘Yes, great, I will come in August.’ The rest is history.”
Koludrovic says that the occasion marks the first time that the group has welcomed “someone so well respected from the industry in Japan” – but the experience has not been without its challenges. “We have leaned on some very close friends and colleagues to help us achieve something we believe will be very special,” says Koludrovic, who lists the revered seafood authority John Susman from Fishheads, Narito Ishii from Pyrmont Seafoods, “San San from Tokyo and lastly but not least, Ken and Toshi from Masuya” as being instrumental to the collaboration.
Hiroyuki Sato’s new restaurant, which opened in early February, is the successor to his time at Sushi Tokami, the sushiya where for five years prior he won three Michelin stars for his progressive interpretation of Edo-mae, or Tokyo style, sushi. At Hakkoku, the restaurant’s name presenting as a play on the words ‘black’ and ‘white’, Sato privileges each grain of shari – sushi rice – seasoned with different akazu red vinegars to produce a saltier, sweeter bed with a distinctive red tinge onto which he rests generous slices of his chosen fish.
With just 12 seats available at the intimate bar dining counters of Hakkoku, demand for Sato’s prodigious talent remains at a constant high both at home and abroad. Sato’s one-night-only Icebergs guest residency sold-out so quickly that a second event has been scheduled to appease expectant fans. This coming Sunday, Sato will host a Delfino Aperitivo event at The Dolphin Hotel, where diners will be able to see the chef ply his extraordinary trade at the event’s singular happy hour prices (and on a walk-in until sold-out basis). Who needs the Tsukiji Market? Not me.
Hiroyuki Sato will prepare a six course tuna menu with matching saké by sommelier James Hird at Icebergs on Thursday August 16. The event has sold out. More information is available here. For those unable to attend, Sato will host an Aperitivo session at The Dolphin Hotel on Sunday August 19. More information is available here.
Tile and cover image: Supplied