The extraordinary spread of metropolitan Tokyo, all the way to the magical silhouette of Mount Fuji on the horizon, has few better vantage points than from Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo. From every room, the cityscape unfurls beneath you, while from the sushi counter at Sushi Sora, the vast floor-to-ceiling window offers uninterrupted views towards the Tokyo Skytree and far beyond.
The sushi counter itself is an object of beauty in a restaurant where the jaw-dropping panorama is a match for the quality of Edo-mae (or Edo-style) sushi from Chef de Cuisine Yuji Imaizumi and his team. Made from a single piece of cypress wood that is 350 years old, the counter is carefully treated to maintain its perfectly smooth touch and veneer.
Sushi Sora’s Chef de Cuisine, Yuji Imaizumi
Designer Ryu Kosaka’s interiors are understated but warm, meaning there are few distractions other than watching the mesmerisingly precise work of the chefs. And the only sound, other than the conversation and murmurs of delight from the restaurant’s diners, is that of gently running water from an elegant sculpture.
We start with the most gracious and typically Japanese of touches, an elegant washi paper-wrapped parcel. ‘Everybody likes a gift,’ Imaizumi says with a smile. As for the sushi, its quality lies in the marriage between the rice and fish. ‘How you prepare the fish gives you different textures and tastes,’ he says.
Imaizumi preparing sushi at the counter
Edo-mae sushi was a product of Japan’s cultural boom in the Edo period (1603 to 1868). Of course, there are variations throughout the history of sushi, so although common, not all sashimi was consumed with wasabi. For instance, hot mustard was often used during Edo to eat fresh bonito (skipjack tuna) sashimi.
Dinner proves to be a spectacular demonstration of masters at work. Chef Imaizumi has spent five and a half years at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo. He follows the seasons closely and expresses them in his cuisine. So here, in late summer, we start with sublime, delicate marinated spinach. Tuna is next, marinated in grated white radish, two types of sake, soy sauce and wasabi, imparting an extraordinary smoothness that accentuates without ever overpowering the flavour of the fish. The mini edamame beans come from Yamagata Prefecture. Known as the King of Edamame, they boast an unusual and brilliant, naturally smoky flavour. Again, they are perfectly in season, as they are harvested for only one month from the middle of August.
Top-quality Dassai sake, served at Sushi Sora
Baby squid, another summer fish, is not scored on top; and it is like no squid I have ever eaten – an amazing texture, almost chalky – that melts away like the sunset behind us. The fatty belly meat of the tuna (or toro) comes from a 174kg fish. Chef knows, as he chose it. The conger eel (anago) is perfection, too, as it is at its best just after the rainy season – in other words, now.
Every touch is thought through, every stroke of the knife the definition of precision. The most acclaimed version of ikura (salmon roe) comes from Shibetsu in eastern Hokkaido. It is normally preserved in soy sauce, or salted, but not here, as the chef wants you to experience the ingredient itself. This is ocean, not river, salmon, with the softest of textures and always fresh.
Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo’s East Lobby with a view
In common with all the dishes served, it is the best of the best of the season. ‘If you miss it, please come back next year,’ Imaizumi says. Following an extraordinary dinner like that, accompanied by award-winning sake, my flight is already booked.