Fish fɪʃ/ (n)
Brit: A foodstuff dipped in a batter and deep fried. Usually accompanied by chips and seasoned with vast quantities of salt and malt vinegar.
Being English, to me fish is little more than a stodgy Saturday evening takeaway. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good fish and chips as much as the next patriotic, pub-frequenting, God Save The Queen-ing Brit, but I’m not daft enough to consider it a delicacy. Japan on the other hand, though a fellow island nation, has a very different relationship with fish and seafood, and sometimes as an outsider it is difficult to get to grips with the program.
Of course sushi is world famous and many gaijin can be found in sushi train restaurants all over the country. Here you can see exactly what you are getting and if you don’t like what you pick up, you can always put it back on the conveyer belt and no one is any the wiser.* But if you want something a little higher quality, it’s tough to know where to head, which is why I’m glad to have come across Nirokumaru.
Nirokumaru in Meieki are seafood and sake specialists and everything you get there is super fresh. You don’t have to take my word for it, just ask the fish floating around the tank next to the kitchen. Yep, it’s that fresh. Obviously they can’t keep all of their produce bobbing around – have you seen the size of a tuna in real life? Can-size they are not – but being just round the corner from the huge Yanagibashi fish market is definitely the next best thing.
When I visited Nirokumaru, the first thing I picked up was the daily changing sashimi menu. While there was a huge selection on offer, all fresh from, I stayed conservative and opted for my favourites: tuna, salmon and kampachi. When it arrived not only did it look beautiful, but the slices were as plump as doorsteps, and the freshness was immediately apparent. Ok, it wasn’t immediately apparent to me as I don’t have a bloody clue about this sort of thing, but my Japanese interpreter waxed lyrical about how sticky and sweet the tuna was, a sure sign apparently. While she raved, I simply agreed noddingly through mouthfuls of salmon dipped in Okinawan salt ponzu that was a refreshing change to wasabi and soy sauce.
With it being 5pm somewhere in the empire we decided that this delicate food deserved some delicate sake to accompany it, so we took our waiter’s advice and went for a flask of the Nirokumaru sake, brewed especially for the restaurant by the well known Kunizakari sake company, an absolute steal at just ¥500. As we sipped our exquisite sake we flicked through our menus – mine in English, hers in Japanese – and pondered long and hard on what we should go for. I’ll admit it was a hard decision, with so many fishy options it would spoil Neptune for choice. I was sorely tempted by barbecuing seafood at my table (or as I haven’t the foggiest of how to cook a kanimiso, have it done in by the pros in the kitchen). However, to compliment the delicate nature of the sake and sashimi, we chose a mountainous shirasu salad that according to the menu, had come from Aichi’s Shinojima island, famous for the tiny anchovies, and prepared by the waiter at my table.
This was another thing I liked about Nirokumaru, that the menu not only told you what you could have, but where it came from. This means that, should you be ecologically inclined you can choose only locally sourced fish. On the other hand, if you know a little something about which area is famed for which catch you can make well informed choices.
Which sums Nirokumaru up very well actually. Whether you are well versed in Japan’s fruits of the sea, or if you are a fishy ignoramus like myself, there is bound to be something for you, and it’s going to be lovely. However, it won’t be served with chips.
*Frowned upon, yes. But I’ll be neither the first nor the last to do it.
Takuto Bldg. 4F, 4-4-34 Meieki,
Tel: (052) 561-5858