There are many outstanding “fish” restaurants but Isshin stood out among all as specialising in Sakana (肴) or drinking cuisine, so that’s a bit more unique. Strangely Sakana also means fish in Japanese, so Isshin does Drinking Fish Cuisine, if that make any sense to you.
In Japan, when alcohol is consumed, it is customary that the drinks are always accompanied with some sort of foodstuff. The term sakana traditionally refer to food served to accompany sake. These are usually quite salty and served in relatively small portions. They are not considered a meal as such as they do not contain the all-important Japanese rice. Traditionally, the Japanese regarded sake, which is made from rice, as a substitute for white rice served in a standard Japanese meal, and as a result some Japanese do not eat rice and drink alcohol simultaneously.
Omakase – Keiseki – Teishouku?
We always let the Chef and Owner, Toyama-san decides what we eat for the evening. We have been to this place at least a dozen time, and we have not been disappointed ever. The quality is Keiseki quality, you get the latest seasonal stuff from Tsukiji. But it is after all an Izakaya, so the idea is to get you to drink more.
We always have a 6-7 course dinner set that included a Amuse Bouche, a Sashimi, a couple of cooked dishes to go with the drinks, a simmered main course and a soup. And lots of sake and edamame in between. The plan was always to go slow, and sometimes Toyama-san will throw in a couple more “specials” as the night wore on.
Sakizuke (先附) or Amuse Bouche was a vinegared starter which featured yuba (tofu skin). Yuba, Nasu, Botanebi, Kani and Ikura with a sweet vinegar dressing – the Botan prawn provided the sweetness, the snow crab leg provided the umami, the salmon roe provided crunch and savoury, the eggplant gave additional texture and the tofu skin rounded up with a lightness to remind us it’s summer. You always eat Nasu (eggplant) and Yuba (tofu skin) during Natsu (Summer).
Mukōzuke (向付) or Sashimi course – we were presented with 4 types of sashimi, chu toro, whale meat, firefly squid and yellowtail. The whale meat was specially prepared for me as Toyama-san knew I was coming. It was dipped in the slightly sour soy-sauce and eaten with chopped chives and ginger, as opposed to wasabi for the rest. Delicious, never disappointed with their sashimi courses.
Agemono (揚げ物) or Fish course – we were served Scallop Tempura. The scallops were sashimi grade but still used in this tempura. It was only lightly fried, so you can still taste the sweetness of the hotate.
Dai no mono (台の物) or “Things on a plate” – we have a grilled piece of cod with sweet pepper and tamago, The main attraction on this plate was the fried ankimo or monkfish liver. Usually we had ankimo as a vinegared dish, but frying it gave it a foie gras texture and it was fantastic!
Shiizakana (強肴) or “Piece de Resistance” for the evening was a simmered tuna fish head with yamaimo paste and gobou with mochi. The fish was simmered with a really sweet sukiyaki sauce and smothered with yamaimo (Japanese mountain yam). Together with the fish, gobou or burdock was simmered in the sauce as well as some mochi or rice cakes. This was a great main course, with the strong taste to accompany the sake and drinks throughout the evening.
This is where you departed from the traditional Keiseki courses and go to sushi. Typically in an Izakaya, you don’t get rice. Sometime you get nigiri sushi, but most of the time you get Teka Maki. And instead to the lean tuna meat used in Teka Maki, they used the better cut of chu toro for the maki, which explained why it was 1,800¥ for an a la carte order.. Yum yum.
To round off a really nice dinner, we were served a hearty bowl of Asari Misoshiru or Manila Clam Miso Soup. This was really good as we had quite a bit of sake with the dinner and were eating mainly uncooked stuff. So the hot soup provided a nice end.
I had been to this place many times, and the Chef-Owner, Toyama Ryota 遠山涼太, has always been very friendly and gave our table lots of special treats. This time, he pulled out his special sake and let us try the flavour. This is a very special variety, and is very smooth to drink. He was considering whether to carry it for his shop and asked out opinions. They stocked around 20 different kinds of Sake and Sochu, but mainly the popular ones from Niigata Prefecture. This one is from a fairly new distiller in Niigata, yet to be tested in the market.
The shop has no English menu, and the staff do not speak any english. You have either to bring Google translate or a Japanese friend or learn Japanese. There’s no menu, just the daily specials all over the wall, so that made it even more challenging. But if you just said, “Omakase”, he will make sure you get a very good dinner. Be prepared to pay around 30,000¥ for a party of 4 without drinks. The seafood is of very high quality, and they don’t hold punches when they serve you the best of the Tsukiji day.
Reservation is a must, only 20 seaters and 10 at the counters. Not a place for children though, it’s not kids friendly, and people do smoke in the congested environment. Many clients will bring their female companions here for a dinner before they head out to Ginza, so do not be surprised at the clientele. It is an Izakaya after all. And Toyama-san does enjoy a drink or two as well.
海鮮居酒屋 一心 Sakana Isshin
東京都 千代田区 外神田 6-11-1 カワハラビル １Ｆ
6-11-1 Sotokanda Chiyoda Tokyo
Tel 03-3836-3103 (+81-3-3836-3103)
Date Visited : Jun 2018