October 21, 2022

The first-timers

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I'm pretty boring when it comes to sushi. Unlike many people around me, I actually don't get cravings for sushi. I won't die if I don't eat sushi for months, or even an entire year. And I definitely don't need to have sushi at any price just to have sushi. What this means is that I tend to stick to the same couple of places which can deliver the goods that measure up to my standards. For the past 5 years or so that meant I've mostly been to just 3 sushiyas (鮨屋).

Given Hongkongers' restricted ability to travel during the pandemic, apparently many, many restaurants - especially those serving all times of Japanese cuisine - became booked out months in advance. This is especially true for sushiyas, which are by far the favorite genre of Japanese cuisine for Hongkongers. Places which hitherto were unknown to me were suddenly impossible to book, and one of these was Sushi Mamoru (すし 衞).

A couple of months ago, I finally got curious enough about the place to ask a friend to bring me along. At the time we were told by the chef that the next availability would be "next year", which wasn't unexpected. So I shelved the idea in the back of my mind.

While chatting with a chef at a dinner last week, word was that many Japanese restaurants in town had been experiencing cancellations. I quickly pinged my friend and asked her to check with Sushi Mamoru and see whether there were any openings, and we heard back almost immediately that there were, indeed, seats available for dinner on both last Friday as well as today. So here we were at the first seating...

There were only two other diners present for this seating besides the four of us. Chiba-san started by showing the other guests the grey mullet roe (唐墨) that he was curing, but I was disappointed at the end of the meal when I realized that we were not having any...

Chiba-san had been informed prior to our arrival that Four Sheets and I do not eat tuna as well as any fish cum, and I am grateful he accommodated our request.

We started the meal with some otsumami (お摘み):

Barfin flounder (松皮鰈) - from Hakodate (函館). The wings (縁側) were nice and crunchy.

Chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し) - very soft and fluffy. Topped with a dab of plum (梅) sauce.

Striped jack (縞鯵) - wild. Aged for one week. Very tender.

Japanese whelk (海螺貝) - from Hokkaido. Seasoned with salt and black pepper. The flavors were sweet at first before the inevitable iodine came out. Tender with a good level of crunch.

Surf clam (北寄貝) - our substitute for fish cum. Seasoned with nam pla (น้ำปลา) and not sweet on the palate as I would have hoped.

Japanese horsehair crab (毛蟹) - from Hokkaido. Served with a dab of crab tomalley (蟹味噌). The pickled cucumber came with a sharp and biting acidity which woke up the taste buds and worked well with the sweet crab meat.

Monkfish liver (鮟肝) - the tender, marinated liver of monkfish from Yoichi (余市) was cut into thick slices, then made into "sandwiches" with braised radish as "bread".

Served with some shavings of yuzu (柚子) zest, and I thought I tasted a little bit of ginger in the sauce. Very tender, and very tasty.

We then started on the nigiri (握り) part of the meal:

Gizzard shad (小肌) - from Fukuoka. Thick cut together with the fact that the fish was fatty and tender delivered a very satisfying bite. Good balance between the salt and vinegar, too.

Sardine (鰯) - scored with a crisscross pattern. Tender and not overly fatty, with nice flavors from the asatsuki (浅葱).

Japanese bluefish (黒睦) - lightly torched.

Japanese glass shrimp (白海老) - from Toyama (富山), of course.

Splendid alfonsino (金目鯛) - our substitute for lean tuna (赤身). Very thick cut which delivered a little crunch.

Sea urchin (雲丹)

Oyster (牡蠣) - from Miyagi. Very sweet at first but finished with a little brine. The wasabi was pretty strong on this one.

Conger eel (穴子), with salt and with sauce - our subtitute for medium fatty tuna (中トロ).

Pickled radish with yuzu (柚子大根)

Pickled Japanese yam (山芋)

Egg (玉子焼き)

Yellowtail (鰤) - from Hokkaido. Very thick cut, and fatty so this was very satisfying, although not as fatty and tender as I would expect.

Narazuke (奈良漬) - always good to have this. This was aged for 5 years, which gave very smoky, fermented, and complex flavors. One would have thought this was marinated in soy sauce, but only sake lees (酒粕) was used.

Kanpyo and fatty tuna roll (干瓢トロ巻き) - while Chiba-san stepped away to do some work in the kitchen, the other itamae (板前) decided to serve us the rolls with tuna. It was only when he saw my surprised reaction that the staff remembered that we had not wanted any tuna. They offered to make us something different, and Chiba-san reiterated this offer, but we didn't want to waste any food so we dutifully ate this.

Our soup was made with fish bones and used Chinese fermented soybean paste (豆瓣醬).

Warabi mochi (蕨餅) - a nice way to finish.

Given our time limit of just 2 hours for this first seating, we were pretty ambitious in trying to finish 3 bottles...

Bijofu Junmai Daiginjo Hina (美丈夫 純米大吟醸 鄙), May 2022 - lots of banana on the nose. Very soft on the palate but after swirling it around the tongue, this ended up with a long and spicy finish.

1996 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet - decanted some 2 hours and 15 minutes after opening, and served 15 minutes after decanting. Lots of marmalade on the nose, with some salty lemon.

Bijofu Yumebakari Time (美丈夫 純米大吟醸 夢許 Time), October 2018 - very, very soft and elegant on the palate. Not as fresh and light as when it was first released, but still very lovely.

I realized during our meal that most of my friends who rave about this place only ever come for lunch, when the pricing is just about half that of dinner. A number of them have said that they wouldn't go for dinner at that price, and I completely understand... and now agree with their sentiments. At the price being charged for dinner, there are frankly better options in town which are both lower in price and deliver a superior experience.

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