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Aug 1, 2013 02:45 AM

Sushi Sora - Mandarin Hotel

Have you heard of sushi-yasan in hotels ?
Sushi Kyubei (Hotel Okura), sushi Kanesaka (Hotel Palace), perhaps now you've heard of Sushi Mao. Now its closed and moved to Ginza 1 chome under the name sushi Ichi Yanagi (disappointing!). Sushi Sora, in the Mandarin Hotel, was the only sushi-yasan in a hotel that I would have recommend. Their lunch had some good points like the 'shari(rice)', the rice is stored for 2 years, the vinegar is a blend of old red vinegar and vinegar kasu.
Recently, sake is in vogue and there have been many articles written about the manager Izuhasan, the sake sommelier that won the 'kikisakura' price. So I decided to invite the fine connoisseur on sake Wekabeka with me, and get her opinion on the sake.
Sushi Sora was fully booked except Sunday's diner, and Izuhasan was on holiday. But, on the phone, I was told they have 20 sorts of sake, so I thought we would have plenty to choose from. There were only a few available in 180ml servings. Disappointingly the most interesting sake was by bottle at a 'crazy' price ! The service was great though, offering a tasting before choosing the sake. The sake was listed by the rice used, and not only by region. As a novice, I always felt the rice was the most important, but even the yeast is of importance to give the flavor. Hours passed so quickly, I forgot to ask the details about the rice to Wekabeka.

Sake :
- Masumi Junmai Daiginjo Sanka (Yamada Nishiki), Nagano.
- Hokusetsu Junmai (Gohyakumangoku), Sado Island.
- Yamaguchi Dassai 39 (Yamada Nishiki), Yamaguchi.

So concerning the the sushi, I will give you the best first :

Sora mame dashi
Mizunasu with sumiso sauce

An assortment of 3 tsumami plates :
Shiroshita garei (marbled sole/flounder)+ iwashi (sardine cured in vinegar).
Tako no ashi, Shiroshita garei no kimo, engawa.
Meiji maguro aburi (6 kg!!), aji.

Shinko (baby kohada)
Hon-maguro (Aomori)
Kisu kombuzuke
Ezo murasaki uni (Yagishiri Island sea urchin, Hokkaido).

Miso and junsai broth.

We changed to tsumami instead of continuing the nigiri course.

Tsumami plate :
Ebi kimi su oboro zuke (cured in sweet vinegar with minced egg yolk).
Awabi (simmered, tsume sauce).

Dessert :
Hakumomo compote with hakumomo and lemon yokan (white peach dessert)

Even though the ingredients used were all seasonal, still the only things that stood out were the 'shiroshita garei', and the high quality 'ezo murasaki uni'. Apart from that, the 'iwashi(sardine)' was awful, even cured in vinegar it had a taste of fish going to go off ! Maguro(tuna) nigiri was just okay, the baby batty was only fat, the t'ako(octopus)' leggs almost took my life off !! End of the leggs of 'tako' can sometimes contain poison !
Yes, it was down in quality, considering the price 25,000jpy/pp with sake, and things were different compared to the lunch. The difference, in my opinion, comes from the storage of the fish. There were some questionable fishy smells in the restaurant. The storage of the fish kept at good temperature gives mature flesh fragrance that is delicious.
The hotel should take care of their image by the quality of their products, not in doing publicity !! A second guess is that the hotel is managing the restaurant, furniture equipment is from the hotel, and a team of 5 chefs (different) is not what the best sushi-yasan's are made up of..

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  1. I concur with Ninisix's review. I'm not in any way as experienced in the art of sushi as my esteemed dining companion, but even I noticed that the rice was too cool and under seasoned.
    I will add that the Meiji maguro sashimi had an unpleasant, congealed fat aftertaste, which makes me think it was served too cold. There are definitely some problems with storage/refrigeration.

    In regards to the sake list, it was an interesting selection, and I appreciated the focus on rice rather than region. The service was outstanding too. However, for a menu that professed to being a selection of the best sake from small, family run kura (BTW, that explanation was only written in English) I had to laugh when I saw Kubota - the largest sake producer in Niigata - on the list. It's also worth noting that Hotusetsu, which is indeed a small kura, focuses most of its sales on overseas markets: they are the exclusive supplier to Nobu's international franchise. Further research confirmed that all of the other sake on her list is readily available overseas. I wonder if the Mandarin Oriental uses her selection as the template from which it purchases sake for all of its Japanese restaurants.

    Given the price, and hype, it was disappointing that the only stand out memories were the murasaki uni and a tokkuri of Dassai 39.

    1 Reply
    1. How was Sushi Ichiyanagi compared to the old location (Sushiya Mao)? Looks like it's the same layout (10 seats, 2 chefs) and Kanesaka-style sushi.

      BTW, I've been curious about this for a long time: how a young chef like Shinji Kanesaka built his empire of (all independent now) Sushi Saito, Iwa and Ichiyanagi? He looks too young to be a mentor to so many people. Is he rich? Chef Ichiyanagi said his restaurant was "a gift" from Kanesaka but didn't go into details.

      5 Replies
      1. re: babreu

        Yes, the group of Kanesaka-san is now : 4 sushi-yasan in Ginza (Sushi-ya, Sushi Kanesaka, Sushi Ichi Yanagi), one in the Palace Hotel in Marunouchi, one in Karuizawa open during summer holidays, and 2 abroads (Singapore). Sushi Iwa is not anymore part of the group. In my opinion, this is difficult to be alone, exemples might be : a group and/or a sponsor that spot him after the first years he was on the Guide !?
        Sushi Ichi Yanagi is smaller than sushi Mao, perhaps 8-9 seats. In one month and a half, it got a lot fully booked, and is top in the Tabelog at 4:20 !! The chef Ichi Yanagi was more relaxed, and the place was more enjoyable than sushi Mao for that reason. Unfortunately, the chef Ichi Yanagi wasn't serving me, the 'shari(rice)' was Kanesaka-san style ferm and was seasoned lightly !! The mistakes (yes!) was the salt, it was very aggressive, and stayed longer on the tongue ! And the 'mako karei' piece was chewy !! Hum., I didn't have this kind of bad experience at sushi Mao !!

        1. re: Ninisix

          Oops, 3 sushi yasan in Ginza Location

          1. re: Ninisix

            Thanks, Ninisix. I understand that Kanesaka probably sponsors the restaurant of new chefs, such as Saito, letting them buy their independence later. But it's surprising - specially in Japan and the sushi restaurant business - that someone so young (he is 40 or 41) could be so influential.

            It's also funny that Kanesaka's own restaurant might be my least favourite of his group. I like his sushi style a lot though.

            1. re: Ninisix

              I finally visited Ichiyanagi today. The flavour and ambience didn't change much from Mao, and even the counter layout is the same. Chef Ichiyanagi was alone preparing the sushi at a very slow pace, and the restaurant was at half its capacity.

              The rice was seasoned lightly indeed, like Kanesaka's, and firm, but not as firm as in Saito or Iwa. I found his sushi very good, but not as precise as the others mentioned here. Some pieces, like kohada, had a larger portion of rice, which I don't know if its intentional or not, but it made the nigiris "heavier" or less "elegant" than Iwa/Saito.

              Recently I also tried Sushi Kakutou, the sushi enterprise of chef Okuda, of Koju. The tsumami were some of Okuda's creations that are served at Koju, like smoked eggplant with uni and crab. As for the nigiris, rice was heavy on vinegar - and he used red vinegar for stronger fish - sometimes overpowering the neta. He served some unusual pieces, like kegani and the value was fantastic, specially for a sushiya in Ginza.

              1. re: babreu

                Oh glad to hear about your experience of sushi Ichiyanagi, and sushi Kakuto.
                Sometimes some sushi chef during preparation of the nigiri drop some 'shari', but usually size of the nigiri are regularly same shape.. 'Ookii', I would have say it in front of Ichiyanagi-San
                Sushi Kakuto, yes, the omakase was at 12,150yens including 3 assortiments, and 12 nigiris and a dessert. And I do agree with you, the shari was unbalanced even 2 years ago. Perhaps this double attempt of sophistication was too much, one enthousiasm was the specialities of Okuda-San, but i didn't appreciate the ikura-kani-shungiku(blank!), gelly-tai-kombu(just ok!), tachio roast (dry!)..
                But, in my opinion, there is a sphere of implication of the chef that gives you seduction... then you enter his game, and have enjoyment ! Saito-San was a very very enternable chef, but Iwa-san even the classic pieces like 'nihama' was a difference with the no tsume sauce version, .,