David Gelb’s 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi has created an insatiable demand for a restaurant that’s now pretty much impossible to go to. It also set the scene for his lush Netflix food documentary series Chef’s Table, and we can all be thankful for that.
So, why not Jiro?
Jiro is still in business but is no longer open for reservations unless you are a longtime regular or you are introduced by a longtime regular. Some higher-end concierge services may also be able to help with a booking. Jiro’s son now has a restaurant too, Sukiyabashi Jiro Ginza, which might be an option if you really want the Jiro name.
But, this is Tokyo and there are lots and lots and lots of place to go and enjoy sushi. If you’re looking for an incredible sushi experience, you’ve got options.
Making a booking
Most sushiya book on the first of the month, one month before. This is by no means a hard and fast rule. Generally speaking, if there’s somewhere you know you want to go, start trying early. But if it’s closer to the time, it may still be worth a go! And remember, not all restaurants are open to taking bookings from tourists. This is a bummer but also a good reminder to be a good guest when you do get in somewhere (this means being on time).
Like Jiro, most restaurants tend to be very small, think six to ten seats, and booking in advance is essential. There are a few ways to do this. Some you will be able to book with directly, either over the phone or by email, or through their website. Others will need the help of either a Japanese-speaking friend or a concierge. Your hotel may have a concierge service- some sushi fanatics will even plan their hotel stay based on the restaurant connects of the hotel concierge.
There are new services emerging to help manage tourist bookings. Keep an eye on Omakase, which is new but looks promising. You can also use services like Voyagin which will charge you for a reservation (think close to AU$100) but if you’ve left it late or can’t go through another avenue, maybe be worth it. There have been suggestions that some of these sites actually don’t have contacts with top restaurants at all but dangle these listings to get you to use the service and accept a different, second tier reservation that you could probably make directly. So, proceed with caution.
On the recommended restaurants
You obviously don’t need to spend this kind of cash to enjoy sushi in Tokyo- the sushi you have at a kaitenzushi (sushi train) will probably be mind-blowing. But if you want to do the full sushi experience, the high-end option is there (and it’s wonderful).
You may have the option of a fixed price, but some restaurants will only offer an omakase or chef’s choice. This can be a little nerve-wracking in terms of costs but most chefs will stop serving when you let them know that you’re full. Do your research and figure out an indicative cost, do the mental preparation, then relax, order sake and enjoy.
Having said that, these costs are only a rough idea, so take what’s below as a guide only. A lot of restaurants will have the option to sit counter-side or at a restaurant table. It’s worth finding a spot counterside, otherwise you’re missing all the action.
Chef Yasuda strikes a pose
Just a few of the many, many amazing sushi spots in Tokyo:
Sushi Bar Yasuda
¥9,300 (set course), omakase 15 piece min
Anthony Bourdain meets Chef Yasuda in Parts Unknown