Readers who know me probably know that I am not big on sushi. I often felt that the combination of fish and rice was not greater than its parts alone. I miss out on the minute details of either if I have to take them together in one bite. That, and the fact that I cannot digest rice well, means I rarely have sushi.
So when I do have sushi, it really needs to be worth it. Chiba-san’s craft is one of a minority that just gets the balance absolutely right, and he is very consistent. His neta (cuts of fish) and shari (balls of rice) taste better together, not to mention that at least half of the neta are surprisingly above expectation. Sometimes he would go through the trouble to prepare different shari for different neta. The meals are not inexpensive, but it is the budget needed to find some of the less accessible fish and fish parts out there. And you are in safe hands with Chiba-san, whose love and knowledge of fish are striking.
I could feel, just with the temperature of some sushi pieces, that the preparation of each item on the menu had been carefully attended to. Say, the eel sushi where the texture just could not be that perfect midpoint between overly soft and just slightly overcooked if it was made well in advance and then reheated. Eel cooked on the day of serving is firm yet bouncy and fluffy, and the serving temperature for both the eel and the shari here is the temperature of our skin, which is the perfect temperature. If you have a smaller mouth, like many ladies do, some larger pieces of sushi like the kuruma-ebi would be cut in half to ensure they are bitesize.
And there are many other cuts of fish that require close attention to the ratio of marinades and condiments to the neta and shari. Without going the extra mile to be attentive, it is difficult to be consistent over time, especially in catering to guests like me who request for much smaller sushi, and especially as a few of Chiba-san’s dishes remain unchanged over the years, yet never failing.
Today, I also noticed how adeptly Chiba-san was able to remove the skin from some of the hikarimono of the day. The fat under the skin is removed cleanly to reveal a beautiful, shiny layer without damaging either the skin or the flesh.
I used to think that more expensive sushiyas had an advantage in that they have a bigger budget to procure better fish and secure better relationships with suppliers. But that was quickly debunked. Better fish with mediocre craft is still entirely discernible. As an example, without being specific with names, we had been to two highly distinguished sushi restaurants under the same group, both with excellent masters serving very similar sushi pieces with similar prices, but the consensus amongst people I know who dined at both places is that one of them was considerably and consistently less memorable.
Every sushiya has their own niche, and every guest has their personal preferences. In my humble opinion Chiba-san tends to be exceptional with squid, shellfish, shiromi (white-fleshed fish) and hikarimono (silver-skinned fish). And of course, his soup and eel sushi, which are truly unparalleled.
And like I said in my previous reviews for Kohaku and Mamoru, the experience with a kind and passionate master is an engaging and pleasant one, if you are open to conversation. The servers on-site are also remarkably friendly and patient.
I hope, despite the growth in popularity, that the dining experience at Mamoru will retain its dazzle over time.
For reference, these are your options at Sushi Mamoru:
- 巧 Takumi $2980
Total 20 items
Sashimi x 7, Sushi x 9, sushi roll, egg, soup, and dessert
- 究 Kiwami $1380 (Available for lunch only)
Total 15 items
Sashimi x 3, Sushi x 8, sushi roll, egg, soup, and dessert
Ara 東海鱸魚/石斑魚, Shimane 島根
Ara is today’s canvas backdrop, a relatively rare piece. This is something new for me, and a departure from the usual hirame or hoshi karei. Because it has been aged for a week, there is less tartness and the ara has a much richer umami on the tongue that lingers even a few moments after I eat it. The texture is tender with a bit of bounciness. That difference hit me even before we knew the fish was aged.
Akagai 赤貝, Yuriage, Sendai 仙台 閖上
Yuriage’s akigai is back after the July and August hiatus. You can tell how delightful it was just from its vibrant color. Every piece has a substantial mouthfeel with an unrivaled freshness and savoriness of the ocean. There is no better akigai anywhere I have tried.
Tairagai 平貝, Okayama 岡山
This is one very memorable shellfish. Very sweet, very delicate, but more importantly, it has a unique firmness. Tairagai is usually taken out of the sea one by one manually. The fresh taste lingers long after I finish it.
Kinki 喜之次, Kushiro, Hokkaido 北海道 釧路
Raw kinki is super buttery and quite fatty—a delight.
Kohada 小肌, Fukuoka 福岡
Always Chiba-san’s great piece. I’m not big on fish skin, but this skin is so beautifully balanced. It’s not dry nor fatty, nor overly salty. The whole thing needs to be taken together for a wonderful taste. I also took note that the temperature of the rice was just the right warmth.
Shiro-Ika 白魷魚, Shimane 島根
I love squid and practically all types of squid. This is a nice choice, a bit crispy but also sticky. I can easily eat two whole, big (raw) squids in one sitting alongside other dishes, so my only complaint is that this was not enough to quench my squid addiction.
Saba 鯖魚, Iwate 岩手
I almost messaged to ask whether Saba could be included in our menu today, because I was worried the first day of October would still not be considered cool enough for fatty saba. But I resisted, as I wanted Chiba-san to be completely in charge of our menu. So we were extremely happy to see this. And while some people like fattier saba than this, I actually thought today’s piece was perfect.
Kegani 毛蟹 Funkawan, Hokkaido 北海道 噴火湾
What makes this a classic is the yuzu-infused cucumber slice in there. The citrusy-sweetness is so refreshing, working wonders with the delicate meat.
Aka-awabi 赤鮑魚, Ōhara, Chiba 千葉 大原
Everyone knows that Ōhara is home to the world’s most sought-after abalone. This one has an irresistible depth of flavor, followed by a distinctively fresh and almost milk-like sweetness. The texture is super tender.
And then we serve the abalone liver with rice. The flavors are rich.
The octopus was pleasant. Usually Japanese-style cooked octopus tends to be a bit hard and chewy for me, but this was reasonably tender and moist. Minimal seasoning was needed to bring out the wonderful flavors of octopus, one of my favorite seafood. For extra kick, you could add in the yuzu pepper served on the side.
Buri 鰤魚, Hakodate, Hokkaido 北海道 函館
The best piece on the menu today for me. Apparently, global warming is causing some shifts in the duration for which fish are at their optimal fattiness. And this buri has a slightly lower fat content. For me, buri tends to be too heavy at times, masking some of its natural flavors. I enjoyed this piece so very much for its natural umami and sweet fat.
Shiro-Ebi 白蝦, Toyama 富山
The best shiro-ebi. So sweet and delicate as always.
Chūtoro, Ireland 愛爾蘭
A special guest from Ireland. Not my favorite tuna, but it was still brilliant.
Ōtoro, Ireland 愛爾蘭
A melt-in-the-mouth experience.
Ikura 三文魚子, Monbetsu, Hokkaido 北海道 紋別
Popping baby salmons with super crisp nori.
Deep-fried bones of eel. Super crunchy and high-cal.
Ika Geso 魷魚鬚, Shimane 島根
The remaining parts of the white squid we had earlier. Again, it’s one of those bites with a lingering, heavenly briny-sweetness.
Enshui Bafun Uni 鹽水馬糞海膽, Ehime 愛媛
I might still prefer Hokkaido ones, but this was 100% fresh, and sweet.
Anago 穴子, Nagasaki 長崎
Perfect midpoint between overly soft and just slightly overcooked. Eel cooked on the day of serving is firm yet bouncy and fluffy, and the serving temperature for both the eel and the shari here is the temperature of our skin, which is the perfect temperature.
Toro-Taku Maki 拖羅蓉黃蘿蔔小卷
The balance of everything in this roll is just genius, with onion and pickled daikon pairing like twins (or triplets) with toro. I think I like this even more than the kanpyomaki.
The best soup, period.
Dessert to end.
Shop 2, G/F, 32 Oi Kwan Road, Guardian House, Wan Chai, HK