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Oct 24, 2010 09:18 AM

Sawada review

Here are my thoughts on what was a fantastic experience at Sawada in April:

It’s been several months since I returned from Japan, and I still not have finished my restaurant reviews. Of course, this is mainly due to my natural laziness, moving to another country and switching jobs. But I still believe that I’m taking my time because as long as I haven’t finished, there still is the need to remember, which makes me feel like I’m still in Tokyo a bit longer, indefinitely enjoying these exceptional meals.

Some, in particular, are unforgettable. Those are the ones that help getting up in the morning to go to work. Of course, there are very few of these meals. Going to the restaurant becomes more and more like the desperate quest of a junky looking for his “first time” feeling. With time passing by, the probability of such an event happening feels more and more unlikely. So when a meal achieves to set up a new landmark, far above all others, as in a real “next level” experience, heaven might not be far away. This lunch at Sawada was one of those meals.

Sawada wasn’t really planned. Too expensive, too austere, I thought. And before landing in Japan, I did not know what to expect sushi-wise. But Kyubey, then Masa opened my eyes: the difference between what was available here and the best I had before was substantial. And as Masa amazed me, and ended up a bit earlier than I would have liked, I could not help but make a last sushi reservation, or else I would have been frustrated for a really long time. The choice was Cornelian, but I then decided, once again, to trust chuckeats by choosing Sawada. And it would really have been a cruel thing to miss this meal.

I only managed to get a lunch reservation, the day after Aronia de Takazawa. Thankfully, I had reserved for 2PM. The restaurant is quite hidden, on the first floor of a small building in a street parallel to Ginza. Yet, once inside, one immediately understand the seriousness of this place.

It’s tiny: one immaculate wood counter, and six seatings. Behind it, Sawada works silently, totally focused on his art. One touch of originality in this very traditional and masculine world, Sawada works with a female assistant, helping with service and some preparations. From where we seat, we could distinguish the fridges, a grill, and most importantly a few lacquered boxes, used as jewel case holding Sawada’s sea treasures.

The first impression was a bit intimidating. It was alright to take photos, but we should stop if another client would come in. Also, taking notes during the meal was possible, but we had to use a desk blotter so as to protect the wooden counter. This did not seem unreasonable, but clearly set a different mood than the playfulness of Masa.

As for the meal in itself, I’m afraid I could not say a lot more about it. The mainline is that every fish and seafood that were passed to us that day were at least as good, and very often of a much better quality than everything else we tasted elsewhere. Higher highs, incredible regularity: that’s Sawada. I feared that the law of diminishing returns would strike its full force here, this was unexpectedly not the case. Of course, this restaurant, while twice as expensive as Masa, may not be twice better. Yet, there is an appreciable difference between those two, totally worth the price, even for me. As a rough indication, this sushi-only menu ended up costing 23,000 JPY per person. We had the choice to opt for a sashimi+sushi menu for (at least) 32,000 per person.

All the pieces, about twenty, followed one another and were as many crushing blows. Nothing was left to say. Even the rice, sometimes criticized here and there, was perfectly fine by me. It’s however true that I like it well-vinegared. Preparation, seasoning, products, everything was spot on, with nothing lacking nor in excess.
Lightning was particularly tough, but I still expect the photos to speak for themselves as to the quality of this meal.
The showstopper was the grilled toro. After crafting the sushi with the fattiest toro in stock that day, glowing charcoal were approached on top of the fish for a few seconds. The result: a fantastic grilled piece, which mouthfeel was a bit akin to the best Japanese beef.

The question that naturally comes to the mind, as for much of these highly-priced restaurants is: is it really worth it? Once again, yes, I’m totally convinced it is. Maybe, however, having tasted slightly inferior sushi (which could have constituted a “best of my life” meal already) a few days before helped tasting the difference. Anyone in Tokyo with sufficient financial means should go to Sawada. Is there better? Maybe, I don’t know. If that’s the case, I’ll wait a long time before tasting it. As for now, I left this meal without an ounce of frustration, but quite on the contrary, with a fantastic feeling of accomplishment. I haven’t eaten raw fish since then, and I don’t really miss it.

Full review with pictures:
Photo gallery:

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  1. thank you for the report. planning to go in February for dinner. have been presalivating for months

    1. Nice review. The Yen 32k menu includes another 8 to 10 sashimi and that itself is another highlight of the meal.

      3 Replies
      1. re: FourSeasons

        I understand there is no sushi only option for dinner, correct?

        1. re: shekamoo

          I always go there for lunch so I am not sure about the dinner options.

        2. re: FourSeasons

          Given the pristine quality of the fish and pics I've seen, I can only believe that it's phenomenal. Will definitely do next time I'm in Tokyo, hopefully in the next few years.

        3. Sawada is actually on the third floor, not the first floow. The female assistant is Sawada's wife.

          It is a singular experience.

          1. l thought Sawada was superb as well, especially the eel and his God knows how aged sauce.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

              Great meal. Just don't ask permission to handle his knives.

            2. i read on some other posts that ur not allowed to take photos? is that true? and how would u compare it to sushi saito / yoshitake?

              11 Replies
              1. re: jmui852

                Saito was excellent but Sawada was truly a singular experience. I've taken several friends to Sawada and, all three times, they declared it the best meal they've ever had.

                Sawada-san discourages photo-taking if there are other diners are in the room. I don't think he minds patrons taking photos as personal keepsakes but I suspect he's not a huge fan of ending up on someone's blog.

                1. re: BaronDestructo

                  am planning on going to tokyo this dec... mind if u check out this post and comment / give suggestions? thanks!

                  also i still dont get how so many ppl got to take pics at sawada while many bloggers say it is strictly not allowed.. arghhhh u think theres a way for me to get his permission to do so? thanks!

                  1. re: jmui852

                    err...yes you can (Obama) or indeed, you cannot (take picture?).. just guessing Obama win ! So yes, you can take a few photos at sushi Sawada, but personnaly I do not like to take photos of each pieces. I rather enjoy the time the show in front of my eyes.
                    Here a review of the difference between sushi Sawada, sushi Saito and sushi Yoshitake. I favor nigiri , so my preference goes for the ones with best nigiris... That said, for a first timer, Sawada-san way is easiest to approach, even if sashimis are his best point..  

                  2. re: BaronDestructo

                    Hi, do they give you Ponzu or Soy Sauce to dip the nigiri at Sawada or Saito? I have read sometimes chef gets ofended, Thanks for reply

                    1. re: FrankFrank

                      As l recall Sawada puts a small brush stroke on the fish with whatever condiment and quantity he deems proper.

                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                        Thanks for your reply, I have seen that in reviews, but I like extra Sauce and some Chefs of that quality dont give extra ponzu or soy

                        1. re: FrankFrank

                          IIRC it would be a breach of proper deportment if you asked for extra whatever.

                          1. re: FrankFrank

                            You are not planning to soak your sushi rice into this extra soy sauce, are you?

                            1. re: babreu

                              NOT THE RICE, THE FISH ON TOP, JAJA, YOU THINK IS OK?

                              1. re: FrankFrank

                                I've never tried to ask for extra sauce, so I'm not sure if it is possible or not. Seems to me like almost an offense to the chef though.