Real raw deal

Japanese eatery offers Hokkaido-style sushi prepared by a master chef at affordable prices

With the popularity of Japanese sushi comparable to that of local street food, distinguishing high-quality sushi from its slapdash counterpart is easy. But differentiating the work of a real maestro from that of a competent chef takes a certain connoisseurship _ or determined by how big a hole it leaves in your wallet.

The three-month-old sushi place provides a contemporary dining feel.

Named after a port in Sapporo famed for fresh seafood, Sushi Otaru is a contemporary Japanese restaurant where a variety of Hokkaido-style sushi prepared by master chef Shinji Nakamine, a two-time winner of sushi contests of Japan's TV Champion, is highlighted. Yet, the 100-seat third floor eatery, which opened in September, won't leave your handbag feeling lighter. Its owner, Tan Passakornnatee, insists on offering prime-grade sushi at prices most people can afford.

The restaurant's fully illustrated, 20-page menu features more than 100 delicacies ranging from sushi (both classic and signature), sashimi and salads to appetisers, grilled and deep-fried items to sukiyaki and rice bowls. Seafood and most ingredients are flown in from Japan several times a week to guarantee freshness.

The sashimi matsu features a special selection of raw fish and seafood including salmon, yellowtail, fatty tuna, snapper, Hokkaido scallop and nishin , or crunchy blocks of herring and fish roe layers.

My dinner started with the sushi bar's highlight: anago (350 baht). A foot-long flat fillet of sea eel had been seasoned, grilled and slightly glazed before being placed on top of the sushi rice. Compared to freshwater eel, or unagi, the meat of the oceanic version was firmer with a less oily taste and zero soil odour, which, for me, made it easier to enjoy.

Another noteworthy sushi item was matsuzaka aburu (450 baht). Just like the eel sushi, the sushi rice came thoroughly hidden beneath a long and thin piece of highly marbled beef. Thanks to its proportions, the beef, with its melt-in-the-mouth tenderness, was wrapped around the morsel of rice before being popped in the mouth.

The two XXL sushi were followed by a platter of regular-sized sushi. I was fairly satisfied by the toppings of otoro, or belly of fatty tuna (490 baht), and uni, or sea urchin roe, (490 baht). But much more delightful were taraba (500 baht), which presented a large piece of the naturally sweet Japanese red king crab leg, and salmon saikyo (140 baht), or flash-burned salmon drenched with sweet and sour sauce.

The sushi bar’s highlight: anago , offering a foot-long flat fillet of seasoned, grilled and slightly glazed sea eel on top of the sushi rice.

I have to say that during my visit to Sushi Otaru, what was more impressive than the sushi was the sashimi. We ordered the sashimi matsu (2,000 baht), featuring a large but special selection of raw fish and seafood. We were truly pleased by the fresh salmon, the supple and flavoursome hamachi (yellowtail), the extraordinarily sweet Hokkaido scallop, the firm and tasty toro (tuna) and the amazingly flavourful tai (snapper). And I cannot but praise the nishin, or crunchy and amazingly appetising blocks of herring and fish roe layers, served in a martini glass.

I asked a service staff to suggest a rice dish for my son and, instead, were advised to sample mixed sashimi tower (420 baht). Regardless of its photogenic appearance, the colourful dish is an innovative version of a sashimi rice bowl, featuring generous servings of cubed raw fish (salmon, snapper, tuna) and avocado, shrimp, egg yolk and lots of bright orange shrimp roe mixed with seasoned sushi rice and served with fermented wasabi.

The staff also suggested that we try avocado tempura (280 baht). As simple as it sounds, wedges of avocado came inside flaky brittle golden tempura shells and were enjoyed with green tea salt.

For dessert, we were delighted by the restaurant's signature strawberry mochi (120 baht each), which featured a fresh Japanese strawberry inside the silky soft mochi skin.

An innovative version of a sashimi rice bowl: the mixed sashimi tower.

Master chef Shinji Nakamine (left) working with fresh imported seafood from Japan.

About the author

Writer: Vanniya Sriangura
Position: News Reporter