On arrival to any Oriental (not necessarily just Japanese) restaurant, we would usually select a range of options from the menu, capitalizing on variety available.
As we aim for a balanced meal meeting our objectives, whether it be sweet, spicy or bitter, an order is placed, and shortly afterwards, a fashion show of plates, dishes and wooden blocks are presented; we are surrounded by a veritable buffet of frivolity and decoration, presented through the lens of artistic influence.
Welcome to the world of ultra fine dining, where artistry and palate take center stage hand in hand. For seasoned afficionados of Sushi, accustomed to the full spectrum of tastes from Sea Urchin through to the more common “sea chicken” (street slang for Tuna, or Albacore to be exact), there is a
further option, introducing “Omakase”, which is loosely translated as “I leave it up to you”.
Let’s not confuse our Japanese syllabary here, as “Omatase”, is short for “sorry to have kept you waiting”.
2 Years and counting…
Preparation of the practitioner forms the foundation for the art, it is said. It is a long journey to progress from beginner through to Sushi chef, or “Itamae”. Dependent on the skill level required, it has been known to take up to 20 years for an individual to become fully coversant in the entire range of preparation and presentation skills, not forgetting the vast array of ingredients to be learnt. In Japan alone there are over 100 types of Sushi. An apprentice will start with basic preparation, even kitchen maintenance, before progressing onto the food itself. There are a few very good reasons for this…
The taste is merely half the experience
To experience sushi at the highest level diners will prepare for an extended experience, as they are presented with a very carefully selected item of food, prepared delicately and crafted for both the eye and taste buds. Each piece of sushi is prepared one at time, sampled by the customer, after which a few words are exchanged by the Chef as they announce the origins and base flavors of the item being eaten.
As the evening draws on, the meal is fine tuned precisely to the expectations of the customer, with each presentation being placed before them appeasing their palate gradually more and more.
At the highest level of expertise, a Sushi practitioner will be able to interpret the most intricate of reactions in their clients to the food, from eye brow raises to the dilation of pupils; each providing them with further information by which to fine-tune their art, a bespoke experience in culinary presentation and service.
Timing is crucial; balancing the needs of customers with perfect preparation is an art in itself. Unlike the Western experience, there are very few examples where the Chef and patron continually interact during the meal, especially as the customer is inadvertently assisting in the preparation and timing.
Preparation is key
For some, Sushi preparation is a performance. The best Itamae in the world have laser-like focus when preparing food, especially in the case of the well-known, but far less eaten, Fugu, or puffer fish. It is a delicacy which must be prepared exceptionally carefully, due to the liver of the fish being cut containing life-threatening poisons. When prepared correctly, just the right amount of liquid should allow the lips to tingle, whereas too much can kill a human being, from anywhere between 20 minutes and 24 hours, dependent on the type, age of the fish and amount of tetrodotoxin in each slice. Are customers asked to sign a waiver, rarely. (And you are unlikely to find this on any menu outside of Asia). This is more about adherence to the Bushido codes: of justice, courage, mercy, respect, honesty, honor, loyalty, and self-control, all of which are present in the relationship between client and chef.
Perhaps ironically, the most important part of the meal is actually the rice, typically short grain, and of the “sticky” variety, plus seasoned, together with a dash rice vinegar. And if you were to forget the rice? Well, technically you may have just entered Sashimi territory.
Packages with Value
Whilst a typical sushi dish will range from between £10 to £40 for two over lunch, the prices can reach up to £1000, or even more dependent on the the ingredients, location and stature of the Chef creator. The Guinness Book of Records lists a Nigiri Roll by Chef, Angelito Araneta as the most expensive. At nearly $2000 for a tray of 24 Carat Gold-wrapped pink salmon, topped with Pearls, and whilst these toppings are best not devoured, you can most likely keep them. When aiming for the best sushi, ask for King Salmon, Bluefish Tuna, or a Nigirizushi.
OMAKASE IS NOT ONLY FASHIONABLE BUT A SIGNATURE PIECE FOR MODERN CITY LIVING
No modern city is complete without its own Omakase Sushi dining experience. Houghton & Mackay have sought out three of the best across the globe for readers to try out…
First, London with a stop at “The Araki”, owned by award-winning Chef/Owner Araki Mitsuhiro with the usual high class faire, brings a unique addition with his Edamame Sushi. Omakase dining will cost well in advance of £300.
Next we visit New York’s finest At Masa, offering Omakase from $750 per person, expect to experience a seasonal variance as within the array offered.
When visiting Dubai, the highest quality Omakase can be found at Hoseki (pronounced Hoo-seki – and meaning Jewel). Based in the Bvulgari hotel building, it is an intimate and high quality experience, with just 9 seats in its restaurant, providing the opportunity for the staff to tend to every customer with ease. With two set menus, and of course very fresh ingredients. Of course, book early.
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