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If you’ve ever been to Japan, you would have noticed the deep bows in social exchanges to convey respect and honour. Sushi Yonjugo (四十五) translates to “45 degrees” in Japanese, named after the time-honoured gesture to show profound respect.
Opened in late April by Infinity Entertainment Group, whose portfolio includes cocktail and champagne bar TELLUS, C45 nightclub and soon-to-open Ministry of Mussels sport bar, Sushi Yonjugo is a quiet nine-seater tucked away on busy Staunton Street in SoHo.
Push aside the sliding door on its pale wooden facade to enter a demurely elegant space furnished in natural wood, dominated by a sushi counter that runs the length of the space. All seating surrounds the sushi counter, where guests get ringside views of all the action.
The speciality is Edomae sushi, crafted from premium, jet-fresh ingredients sourced from reputable suppliers in Kagoshima, Kyushu, Tokyo, Hokkaido and Okinawa. The quality and variety of ingredients literally make Executive Chef Milton Lau lose sleep; the chef gets up every morning at 4am to converse with suppliers in order to ensure the right ingredients show up at the eatery’s door by 10am.
A live seafood tank sits at the back of the restaurant, teeming with live prawns, while umeshu jars line the shelves facing the sushi counter. Brewed once a year in March using organic ume plums, some of the exclusive 45 jars have already been personalised with guests’ names so that they can regularly sample their brews alongside some exquisite sushi.
Chef Lau, whom we most recently remember from our meals at Kishoku in Causeway Bay, has worked at fine sushi establishments in San Francisco, Sydney and Japan, including at one of Tokyo’s most acclaimed restaurants, Kyubey. He and his assistant chef, Mark Sze, were the dynamic duo behind our evening’s omakase tasting.
First up was a dish made of two kinds of eggs, at two different temperatures. Chawanmushi, a classic Japanese steamed egg dish, was given more interest with pops of briny salmon roe. The temperature difference between the silky, warm steamed egg and the cold, ruby-red ikura made for a delicious contrast, and we were pleasantly surprised by the succulent scallop chunks we discovered at the bottom of the bowl.
The raw baby squid, full of inky umami juices, was both sweet and savoury, and the house-made selection of pickles was a tasty companion to our cold sake. We particularly enjoyed the yuzu pickled radish and Okinawa bitter gourd.
Sliced thinly in almost translucent leaves, the Okinawa snapper was sprinkled with green onion and flower petals. We rolled up each slice and dipped it into the accompanying sweet and tart ponzu sauce, making for fragrant, flavourful mouthfuls with a refreshing, almost crunchy texture.
The Hokkaido conch with Italian black truffle was also dressed in truffle oil for heightened aroma. It was the first time we’ve had conch with truffle, and we thoroughly enjoyed the sweet crunchiness of the meat against the meaty aroma of the fungi. The chewiness of the conch helped to prolong the enjoyment of the truffle on the palate.
The mackerel came from Ōita Prefecture and was served on a bed of shredded sweet pumpkin and topped with ginger and chives. Each slice was very clean tasting and buttery – a pleasant surprise as mackerel is usually quite a robustly flavoured fish that’s not normally on our favourites list.
Our favourite way of eating crab, already picked from its shell, means we get all the enjoyment and none of the tedious, time-consuming work. The horsehair crab was sweet and delicate and came crowned with a dollop of white miso blended with crabmeat, resembling crab roe. The subtle savouriness of the miso helped to further accentuate the sweetness of the crab. A wasabi leaf acted as a palate cleanser, although it didn’t have any of the bite of wasabi root.
Often referred to as the “diamond of the sea” and as rare as the revered kinki fish, the blackthroat sea perch was presented in a glass dome infused with sakura-wood smoke. The smokiness paired well with the creamy fish, and shiso flowers helped to balance its richness.
Grilled Hokkaido kinki, a rare rockfish, came in a soothing broth topped with strands of scallion. We savoured each bite of the collagen-rich fish.
The green lip abalone, topped with an abalone liver and mayo sauce, was bouncy yet tender. The accompanying rice ball was another great way to enjoy the creamy sauce. Compared to the famed abalone liver sauce at Sushi Shikon, the Sushi Yonjugo version is lighter in umami flavour (the liver is diluted by the mayo) but very enjoyable just the same.
Plucked live from the seafood tank, the fiesty morotoge shrimp was dunked in boiling water for one second before being dropped into an ice bath, which must be the most intense Nordic hot-tub experience ever! The head of the prawn was then sliced off swiftly while the body was deshelled and pressed into sushi. Even in its death throes, the decapitated head moved and twitched on our plate, and the body of the prawn pulsated as lemon juice and charcoal salt were sprinkled on top. We must say that the head was much more palatable after it was presented to us again after being deep-fried!
An assortment of hand-pressed sushi, ranging (from top clockwise) creamy semi-fatty tuna, to crunchy and sweet Seto Island Sea ark shell, to the aptly named triple shrimp sushi, ensued. The buttery daizen chutoro was aged for 10 days to maximise its flavour. The triple shrimp sushi features three types of shrimp, with white and sweet shrimp making up the bulk of the sushi, while crushed sakura-shrimp dust adds more umami flavours on top.
It was the first time we encountered a succulent as a palate cleanser. The small leaf was surprisingly packed full of tart juice, with a subtle, astringent aftertaste.
Continuing on the theme of combining two varieties of the same type of seafood, the Rishiri to Bafun uni sushi was a delicious tour de force featuring two sea urchins from two different Japanese regions. It made for one incredibly indulgent mouthful that got us doing the slow chew to savour every moment.
The creaminess of the aburi Hokkaido silver cod paired well with the rich aroma of the black truffle sauce atop.
Slow-cooked for hours using a giant carp from Lake Biwa, the collagen-rich soup dotted with slippery little mushrooms and tofu was comfort in a bowl. This soup is so packed with collagen that when it cools, it becomes a solid block of gel!
After the very indulgent omakase menu, we were relieved to end on a simple dessert of green tea and soya warabi mochi.
Sushi Yonjugo offers an exclusive, intimate dining experience featuring premium seasonal Japanese ingredients crafted by a seasoned, experienced chef. You do pay heftily for the privilege though, with the lunch set priced at $1,580 and dinner at $2,280, but with travel opportunities to Japan almost non-existent these days, you could view this dining experience as a quick gastronomic getaway.
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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