Tokami: Outstanding (9.5)

We arrived promptly on Friday night and were the first to be seated in the center. It’s always a pleasure to be seated right in front of the action if one isn’t having a business meal or a catch-up session with a friend who will distract you from the food itself.

The meal was a most memorable one for a few reasons. The shari (vinegared rice) was an absolute star, there were a few pieces that truly went above and beyond, the pace was perfect, and our sushi master and server made us feel completely at ease.

I tend to feel more drawn to sushiyas where the master is the owner, because there is a certain authenticity in visiting a place that is diligently run by its artisan brainchild day in, day out, who focus on nothing but perfecting his or her art. And there is also the fact that we don’t want part of our money to go to some middleman. But I suppose in a city like Hong Kong where property prices and rental levels are sky high, it’s very difficult for sushiyas not to be backed by experienced or moneyed companies who will take care of many of the things that native Japanese chefs will find difficult and distracting to navigate themselves in a foreign city. Sushi Tokami is no different.

So, here we are, falling prey to a “big” name whose brainchild left even its Tokyo branch. It would seem that the restaurant was simply a money-making machine cashing in on some past glory. Indeed, the odds that it will be an excellent meal are against us.

But Sushi Tokami has always been a legend of sorts in Ginza, as its famed Sato-san did not follow the conventional path deemed necessary by tradition. Fathered by a sushi master, he never wanted to be a sushi chef himself, but when he decided on running a sushiya and put his heart to it managed to capture the hearts of thousands of guests, including a sophisticated crowd in Tokyo—when he was merely a few years into learning about sushi making. If he can do it, perhaps we should give his chosen juniors a chance.

One thing to mention, though, is a feeling of standardization at Sushi Tokami in the Hong Kong branch. Perhaps out of an intention to deliver the best under controlled circumstances, the experience lacks the personal touch of a whimsical and attentive master who might offer different pieces to his guests. At least for repeat customers, that personal touch would be something that is highly valuable at a sushiya. Right now, the omakase menu is fixed in advance and printed. If you don’t object to the list before the meal, everyone will be served exactly the same. And I heard from regulars that the pieces tend not to change very much within a season.

Gladly, our master was a chatty one and delighted to engage, taking care to make sure I understand him with my rusty conversational Japanese and saving us from a potentially cold and serious air of quietude that is all too often considered uneasy by diners everywhere. There was no contempt shown towards photographing or naïve questions about fish and sushi. The engagement and amicability helped to make the dinner feel less like a mechanical delivery of products by the book. The server was also polite and kind throughout.

All in all, we had Tokami’s signature tuna tossaki roll, six starters, twelve pieces of sushi, egg, soup, and dessert, making 22 items in total. There was an unfortunate though minor slip with 2 items tonight, but that was more than made up for by 4 absolutely stunning items (meaning the best I have had this year to date) and 12 exceptional items. I would rate the food to be 9.0, and hospitality 10.0.

The pandemic has stranded thousands of Japanese expatriates in Hong Kong for over a year, and we are all the more grateful that we can still enjoy meals comparable to those at the best restaurants in Japan while travel restrictions are still in place. Thank you, Shindo-san. I will be returning.

Food Rundown

This is Tokami’s signature tuna neck handroll, named tossaki-maki 突先巻き, which unlike everywhere else is served first rather than last, since Tokami’s version is a highlight rather than an ordinary checklist item. The rice was minimal here, there was no spring onion, and the chopped tuna neck takes center stage with a perfectly crisp seaweed. The tuna was beautifully rich, had a clean bite to it and the whole thing melts in your mouth without feeling heavy. There’s no argument that this was better than any negi toro rolls out there.

Matsumae zuke was a modest dish of some diced, cooked shellfish and vegetables, light on the palate to get us ready for the next course.

Smoked tokishirazu (the pink pieces at the back) was heavenly—the first “stunning item”. Toki shirazu is chum salmon, one of the most expensive fish on the market, caught from spring to early summer. Its name means “not knowing the time” and these delicious fish are found at the intersection of rivers and ocean. The flesh was fatty and sweet, which balanced well with the smokey aroma and savory karasumi (salted mullet roe).

Barracuda カマス was similarly a delight, half seared for maximum aroma.

This spring onion-topped bonito was a pristine piece. Beautiful and flawless. It’s slightly lighter in flavor than tuna, and the puny cuts of spring onion really took it to a whole new level. By now, the brain was already in a divine state of bliss.

This was a heck of an oyster. Creamy, firm and plump. The best I have had this year to date (second “stunning item”).

This steamed abalone tasted as good as those Chinese-styled braised dried abalone. Flavor might be less intense than dried abalone, but there was more freshness and the texture was unbelievably tender. Not anything like your homemade steamed fresh abalone.

This grilled Japanese belt fish タチウオ was a bit less impressive, but there was nothing to fault. Just a little bit bland compared to the “fireworks” from the previous courses.

In order, the 12 pieces of sushi were Japanese horse mackerel 真鯵, bigfin reef squid アオリイカ, baby sea bream カスゴ, tuna 赤身, medium fatty tuna 中トロ, fatty tuna 大トロ, Japanese tiger prawn 車海老, golden-eyed snapper (splendid alfonsino) 金目鯛, geoduck ミル貝, sea urchin ウニ, rosy seabass のどくろ, sea eel 穴子.

I must mention that the sushi rice here is made very much to my liking. I loved its chewiness (a bit harder than usual) and it’s not sharp (in acidity and sweetness). The flavors are deep and refreshing. I thought it contributed significantly to the taste of each sushi. Although many sushiyas have attempted to use akazu, I have only had such perfect shari at Sushi Kohaku in Hong Kong (and now, also, at Sushi Tokami).

Japanese horse mackerel was OK.

I love squid, but for some reason I did not enjoy this enough.

Lean but sweet and flavorful. Kasugo is the baby of sea bream, and small fish tend to lose flavor and freshness fast so shops often marinate them. But this was fresh enough to be enjoyed without extra work.

This (bluefin) tuna….was truly the best I have had this year (third “stunning item”). One often gets a bit of an unpleasant, acidic aftertaste with akami, which might even be considered somewhat of a signature “tuna” taste. But I realized that’s not necessarily the case until I had this piece. The piece was trimmed over and again. There was zero sinew, the taste was completely “clean”, and the balance was just perfect.

I had my reservations about the medium and fatty tuna pieces because I usually don’t like toro too much. But I made an exception today as Tokami is famed for its tuna. I did not regret it. Medium toro was still rich in flavor and the fat had a distinctive sweetness to it as you enjoy it slowly in your mouth.

Fatty toro wasn’t that fatty after all. The cut was thinner than at many local sushiyas, which made it perfect for me in terms of balance of flavor. It was as enjoyable as the previous two pieces, and I felt sad that it was my last piece of tuna tonight. I am not an expert on otoro, but I got feedback from one who said it was excellent.

Next was Japanese tiger prawn. Fourth “stunning” item. Very strong and flavorful. Mega plump outside and tender-sweet inside.

Kinmedai was very good. I had this fish countless times lately, and this was without doubt the best.

Geoduck was a miss. It lacked the plumpness I was imagining and it also had a slight fishiness to it.

Sea urchin was another miss. I speculate that the shop must have discovered Hong Kong people’s love for urchin and have thus decided to stack three big layers of it (quite unconventional as I have never seen it practised in Japan) on the gunkan, whether for the wows on Instagram or to help guests feel like they’re getting their bang for the buck. In any case, I appreciated it of course, but my brain cried when the flavor began to disperse in my mouth and I tasted, once again, some degree of fishiness. I guess if we can’t have urchin straight out the shell, treating it with salted water makes it taste fresher and sweeter.

Rosy seabass is fatty and rich. A fine piece.

Sea eel was fine.

Then we had egg, soup (made with tuna) and dessert to end.

The egg was interesting. It wasn’t fluffy at all—felt almost like a gelatin.

Soup was intense although it looked clear. A warm and hearty liquid to help the cold sushi digest.

Dessert was a simple but delicious block of shiny muscat.

The dinner omakase is HK$2200+10% per person.

Sushi Tokami
2/F, Ocean Centre, The Gateway, TST
$$$$, Japanese