“Just because I like sushi, doesn’t mean I can make sushi. I’ve come to well understand how many years just to get sushi rice correct. It’s a discipline that takes years and years and years. So, I leave that to the experts.”

– Anthony Bourdain

OSAKA'S BEST SUSHI?

I find sushi to be the quintessential Japanese food. In its non-westernized form, with just rice and fish taking centerstage, sushi is an unabashed study in minimalism. With nothing but a few ingredients to hide behind, a sushi chef’s entire process, from fish selection to the serving temperature of the fish, must be mastered. Delighting the palate of today’s modern gourmand with the apparent restrictiveness of traditional sushi requires focused skill and attention.

As Mr. Bourdain speaks to in the above quote, this level of skill takes an incredible discipline and many years of training. Chef Ko Ishikawa, chef and owner of Sushi Harasho, was no different. He spent a number of years working in kitchens ranging from Chinese to traditional kaiseki cuisine. After finding a passion for traditional Japanese cuisine, Chef Ishikawa spent seven years working in a small sushi restaurant in order to hone and master his skills. After a decade of experience as a chef, he decided to open Sushi Harasho in Osaka’s Tennoji ward.

Sushi Harasho started off slowly, with few customers and little name recognition in a veritable sea of competition. However, after receiving a two Michelin star rating in the guide’s inaugural Japan edition, diners began to flock to the small counter-only restaurant for what’s regarded as one of the best sushi experiences in all of Osaka. Luckily for me, my AMEX Platinum concierge was able to secure a lunch reservation as soon as reservations became available for my travel dates this past March.

OMAKASE - "To entrust"

Similar to most high-end sushi restaurants, Sushi Harsho’s menu will change over the course of the year depending on what is in-season and the quality of the fish that is available in the market. This is where the principle of omakase comes in. Omakase, derived from the Japanese phrase makaseru (to entrust), means diners leave their order up to the chef.

The order of a sushi chef’s omakase does vary at times depending on their personal style, but in general meals begin with some small sashimi or cooked dishes before transitioning into the more traditional nigiri sushi. This was the case at Sushi Harasho.

Abalone cooked in soy and dashi

I have an awkward relationship with abalone. On the one hand, I enjoy the flavor (meat and innards) but on the other, I find enjoyment of the texture to be hit-or-miss. Sushi Harasho’s preparation of abalone allows the shellfish itself to shine, with just a hint of umami. The texture has a slight chew to it, but was not as tender as some other abalone I have had.

Left: Cooked octopus; Right: Sea bream sashimi

Similar to the abalone, the octopus had a slight chew on the texture, but overall had clean flavors. Sea bream, in season during this time of year, does not carry a lot of flavor on its own. However, the paired house soy sauce elevates the mild fish with just a touch of salt and umami.

Left: Bonito sashimi cured in soy sauce; Right: Grilled giant clam

Unlike sea bream, bonito has a much more substantial flavor on its own which stands up well to being cured in soy sauce. The grilled giant clam was seasoned perfectly and contained just a touch of smokiness from the fire.

Seasonal firefly squid

It’s astonishing to me that, despite the number of times I’ve been to Japan, I have never tried these little squid before. A seasonal delicacy from Toyama bay, these small squid are served and consumed whole. The heads burst in the mouth with oceanic flavor, followed by the subtly sweet flavor of the squid.

Grilled sea perch

Unlike the grilled squid dish before, this sea perch was very tender and flaky. The fish is a fattier variety, leading to a more substantial flavor and an oily sensation from the charred skin.

Sushi courses. Click an image to enlarge in lightbox.

The rice at Sushi Harasho is served at room temperature and is seasoned well. The vinegar tang of the rice is slightly stronger than average, which complemented and added levity to the fattier fish varieties. The precision knife work and shaping of each nigiri piece is masterful. While I enjoyed everything above some standouts were the hard shell clam, kinmedai, and Hokkaido uni. The only oddity of the fish selection was the lack of toro (fatty tuna) or a substitute heavy item like wagyu beef nigiri.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

I can’t definitively say that Sushi Harasho is the best sushi in Osaka, as I have not been to its one main competitor in the two Michelin star space: Sushiyoshi (there are, sadly, no three star sushi restaurants in Osaka today). However, I can say that Sushi Harasho outshines other high-end omakase sushi restaurants – with the exception of Sushi Sho – that I’ve been throughout Japan and the United States.

The quality of fish and the sushi rice is superb and in alignment with what you would expect at this level in Japan. Although I missed the more “luxury” piece of toro, the variety of seafood and their varying flavors made for a delicious and interesting lunch. Each course and its central ingredient is treated with care and respect to enhance its individual flavor. Never did I feel that the flavors were blending together or that I was just having “more of the same”, even after nearly 20 bites.

Service is efficient and attentive. While I was primarily tended to by one of the two sushi chefs behind the counter, they did call for the help of a couple staff members. Water and tea were both filled readily and with fresh cups each time. The warm wooden tones felt welcoming and relaxing. The restaurant has smartly placed closets behind each seat, with nearly one dedicated space for each pair of seats. This was convenient for storing our backpacks and bags.

After a modest service charge, lunch at Sushi Harasho rang in at ¥16,200 ($145 USD). While certainly still a heft price for one meal, when compared to prices at other establishments this was a very reasonable cost. I walked away more than pleased with the value I had received for the price paid.

SCORECARD

Food 90/ 100
Service 90/ 100
Atmosphere 85/ 100
Price Value 95/ 100
Overall Score 90/ 100

Sushi Harasho
3-30 Uenomiyacho
Tennojiku, Osaka 543-0037
+81 6-6773-5518

** Michelin Stars