Whenever having omakase for dinner is a last-minute whim for us, I would need to try very hard to secure two spots because the Covid restriction on halving restaurant guests just makes seats at well-known sushiya so undersupplied. This evening was a Monday, and we thought we could pull it off, but we couldn’t, and I recalled a lesser known place that I’ve stumbled across and shortlisted a while back. Sushi Sumi in Happy Valley. Because who would make a deliberate trip and risk a disappointing meal at a location that is not a high-end sushi restaurant cluster? The risk was especially high given that the place was, indeed, available on last minute notice. But the fact that Sushi Sumi has been around for over a decade and has not hired anyone to flood its page with fake reviews made it seem like a manageable risk to take.
It turns out that the place caters to a loyal following of older clientele, especially those in the neighborhood. Most diners know the place by word-of-mouth. The vibe also seems to appeal to the more established class of locals born before the 80s, rather than whimsical post-90s “foodies”. Our sushi chef is also a local, and appears to speak very limited Japanese.
That did not seem to be a limiting factor, however, in terms of the novelty or the quality of the food he presented us. Although freshness of the fish was not the top of its class on the day of our visit, we actually tried quite a few new fish and flavors. Some were memorable. We got good value for what we paid.
More than that, the place executes cooked food very well and has an extensive list of hot food available all day. Hospitality was also a bonus, with the chef being highly accommodating and the hosting team very attentive in a non-intrusive way. The restaurant is clean, spacious and well-ventilated.
To be sure, there are enough sushiya we have been to that perhaps offer more authentic, delicate and fresh pieces of sushi and sashimi, but all in all, taking into account its ease of booking, the slight discount to usual omakase meals, the privacy of its location and the good service, I am happy and am likely to return.
I had the “Jun” set which was $900 with appetizer, three kinds of sashimi, one cooked dish, six sushi pieces (requested to be served as sashimi), soup and dessert. My partner had the “Shiba” set which was $1,180 with appetizer, fourteen kinds of sushi, soup, and dessert. There are two more omakase sets that are pricier, but the difference in pricing is due to increasing number of pieces of sushi, rather than increasing quality. We eat very little in the evenings, and the two lower-priced sets were already too much for us.
Some simple slices of okra with ponzu and wakame as well as clams with miso to start off the meal for both of us. Nothing overly intricate here.
My three kinds of sashimi began with some light tasting sea bream 真鯛 with rose and chrysanthemum. March to June is madai season. The dip is a mild refreshing vinaigrette. Because many consider the flesh of madai to be rather bland, it is less often considered a star in contrast to fattier fish with more complex flavors. But if you focus your mind on it as you taste it, you may be able to appreciate its sweetness. I thought this could be sliced a bit thinner for a better mouthfeel.
Next up was a lightly seared large scallop 炙りホタテ with ponzu jelly and rose. This turned out to be one of the best dishes tonight. The meaty scallop was oh-so-sweet and its butteriness was brought out completely by a quick sear.
Seared saba 関さば with grated ginger was a similar delight. This seki-saba comes from Kyushu’s Oita (大分県), which is known for its special standards on fishing and killing saba that make them extra delicious. The dish was, again, well executed. The seki-saba was a bit aged and flavors were strong without being unpleasantly fishy, the texture was firm and its umami brought out by sweet soy sauce and a tincture of bitterness from the greens and the flowers.
Next up for me was grilled sea bream. This was grilled on teppan with its scales still on the skin. The scales are oiled and grilled at such a temperature and speed that it becomes super crunchy and edible. Clean fish scales are actually very nutritious, and they was certainly tastier than chips. It was my first time having fish scales prepared this way. It’s certainly going to be messy replicating this technique at home.
I still have six sashimi pieces (meant to be sushi) coming. They were monkfish liver あん肝, ark shell 赤貝, oyster かき, red snapper 金目鯛, sea urchin ウニ, cod 銀ダラ and wagyu 和牛. (Now I realize I was given one extra!)
Ankimo あん肝 was an excellent fifth dish to have after the delicate, the buttery, the umami and the crispy bites. It was prepared in its standard way (with ponzu and momiji oroshi) and tasted just as fresh and nutty as anywhere else.
Ark shell does not need to be aged and they are sourced daily at Sushi Sumi. It was in pristine condition and was particularly notable for its freshness, as it tends to taste a little bit off with just the slightest negligence in preparation, even at the best sushiya. I thoroughly enjoyed my two bites here.
Oyster came from Hyogo and was poached in hot water for 15 seconds so it was slightly cooked. The topping that comes with it is beetroot. Unfortunately this was quite pungent and fishy.
Red snapper 金目鯛 was better. With the skin part-seared the entire room smells good. There is a good balance of buttery and delicate with a lot of sweetness and umami.
Sea urchin from Kyushu was another disappointment. It could have been fresher.
Seared cod sashimi was so good. Literally a flavor bomb.
The final piece was Omi wagyu. This was excellent. Superb texture and flavor. (I unrolled it for the photo.)
That was it for my Jun set. The shiba set had a few more kinds of fish, but I will not elaborate here as I did not eat them. From what I heard they were all reasonably tasty with no major slips. Photos below for the curious.
Dessert was fresh melon and matcha red bean panna cotta. Both were top.
Chef gave us a special second dessert: a fruit cherry tomato, so full of sweetness and a piquant brightness in the mouth that it holds up even after the two sweet desserts that preceded it.
A perfect end.
2 Cheong Ming Street, Happy Valley