No gimmicks, just great sushi

Unassuming local joint puts itself ahead of the Japanese competition

Bangkok's Japanese restaurant scene has never been more competitive, especially at this moment when Japanese eateries seem to have emerged on almost every street corner in the city.

This small restaurant is specialised on fresh sushi menus prepared with top-of-theline ingredients imported from Japan several times a week.

Obviously, many establishments have put great effort _ strategically and financially _ to be at the forefront of the scene. Yet, recently it seems that no matter if one is located in the best neighbourhood, run by a native master chef, spending a lot of money on publicity or boasting the most cutting-edge interior, the fact of whether the diners' palates are raised to another level makes nothing but the taste of the food served the main factor to consider.

To see for yourself if the above statement is true, I recommend that you check out Sushi Masa, a small, nondescript, locally owned sushi joint in a least expected location in Ratchathewi district.

I was told by friends, who are Sushi Masa's regulars, that I should visit the restaurant at an odd hour to avoid the long waiting queue. So we decided to arrive at the place on a Thursday at 10:30am, just as the restaurant started its daily operation, yet were amazed to find customers already occupying the sushi counter.

The impeccable foie gras sushi.

Sushi Masa's dining room looked no bigger than 25m2. The glass-wrapped establishment with capacity to seat approximately 30 diners was modestly set with nothing but a sushi bar and tables and chairs. But what was really interesting was the menu, which listed a vast variety of sushi and sashimi prepared with top-of-the-line imported materials, including otoro (fatty bluefin tuna belly), gindara (black cod), hotate (giant scallop), uni (sea urchin roe), unagi (freshwater eel), anago (sea eel), Matsusaka beef and foie gras.

Opened almost a year ago, Sushi Masa is owned and run by Chef Pe, a veteran sushi chef who has years of experience working at famous sushi establishments in the Sukhumvit area. The well-loved sushi virtuoso said that the restaurant specialises in fresh seafood, which is imported from Japan to the restaurant chilled and never frozen several times a week.

Offering a wonderful preview of the chef's smart concoction of flavours was salmon yum (220 baht). In a decent serving, the sour and mildly spicy salad was prepared with a generous portion of coarsely chopped fresh salmon, Japanese cucumber, spring onions and chillies, and proved to kick off our meal beautifully.

Exhibiting a different flavour profile but yielding an impressively as tasty result was another dish made with salmon _ the salmon roll (250 baht).

It's a good example of how the restaurant prices its food so moderately, with eight large pieces of the maki sushi _ each rolled with tamago, mayonnaise and nori seaweed and topped with a generous slice of flash-seared salmon _ that provided a mouthful of pleasant taste and texture.

The ‘super yummy’ engkawa sushi with delicate meat from a halibut fin.

You shouldn't miss the best-selling engkawa sushi (120 baht per piece). Even Chef Pe himself referred to it as "super yummy". This nigiri sushi was prepared with a delicate, white slice of meat from a halibut fin on top of well-seasoned sushi rice. The velvety, melt-in-the-mouth tender fin meat was flamed with a culinary blowtorch to add a pleasant burnt and smoky fragrance to the fish's naturally sweet and oily taste making it a definite to-die-for treat.

Another sushi option that brought us full satisfaction was foie gras sushi (260 baht per piece). Compared to that of some other sushi restaurants (in hotels and stand alone), the foie gras here was offered in more generous amounts and more perfectly prepared.

In a nice chunk, the goose liver was pan-fried until the skin tightly encased the silky smooth centre meat. It was glazed with salty sweet sauce and wrapped together with garlic and nori seaweed and enjoyed greatly with sushi rice.

For sashimi, another item you don't want to miss, we sampled the mixed sashimi set (1,500 baht). The set allowed us to enjoy different parts of the tuna, including maguro (ordinary lean tuna), chutoro (medium-fat tuna belly) and otoro (fatty tuna belly), together with salmon. The chutoro and otoro, in particular, promise to bring utmost gastronomic ecstasy to discerning sashimi connoisseurs and ordinary sushi fans alike with their burst-in-the-mouth sweet delicate fat.

Should you look for an entree that offers a subtle flavour yet can fulfil a stomach, go for salmon don (350 baht). The sushi rice bowl came with lots of fresh salmon fillets drenched with salmon roe and proved superb.

Service was humble with two service staff also acting as cashiers. Yet with a good team of chefs stationed at the sushi bar and led by Chef Pe, customers can be sure that food always comes out quick.

The mixed sashimi with maguro , chutoro , otoro and salmon.

The tasty and reasonably priced salmon roll.

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