Since bursting out of Japan in the mid-1980s sushi remains to this day one of the classiest cuisines around. But what makes it so special? Thomas Jones dines at Seminyak’s new Shiro restaurant and comes close to An answer.
Text: Thomas Jones Photos: Sulthon
Light on taste and big on subtlety, the massive popularity of sushi is a hard one to fathom for those used to spices and the tasty infusions of animal fats. Bears, birds and whales eat raw fish, and they have no sensibilities, so there has to be something more to it for humans having taken it to the heights of food fashion and desire. To understand it maybe you have to look deeper than the ingredients to something that lies in the mystical culture surrounding the product, the preparation and the man (because it always is a man) behind the knife.
Shiro is the newest Rising Sun restaurant to appear in southern Bali and is as close as the island has come to having a high-class raw fish joint in a long time. Connected to the new One Eleven villa complex in Seminyak, the restaurant goes hand in glove with high paying guests who want to dine well and who demand authenticity. The name comes from the Japanese word for ‘white’, and is about purity of concept, product, and the look and feel of the place within.
Chef Shinya Kuwazoe, or Shiro-san as he is more commonly known, is a sushi master from Osaka. He knows fish. When I asked him about his sushi sourcing I was half expecting to hear that he flew everything in from Japan in a business class seat on a weekly basis. But unlike many top-end Japanese chefs in Southeast Asia who seem to have loca-phobia, he does buy most of it locally for the simple reason that we live on an island surrounded by fish – a real no-brainer. But what of the famous Tokyo tuna markets, I say? He replies that most quality tuna is caught in Indonesian waters anyway and shipped to Japan, and since he knows a good fish by sight and touch, he just trusts his instincts. That said, imported fish such as Tasmanian salmon, still has it’s place on the menu.
Assisting Shiro-san behind the counter is Rebbiq, a young chef under the tutelage of the Master, who, despite spending many years in Asia and the Middle East preparing Japanese food, is learning much of the subtle ways of the sushi arts from his new sensei. There is a nice rapport between the two and he utters glowing things about Shiro-san when asked if he is enjoying his new job – compliments that have nothing to do with the fact that the big man is standing close by slicing fish with eight inches of hardened Japanese steel in his hand.
The restaurant hasn’t been open very long and is only visible from the street by a small white lighted sign carrying the kanji character of its name. Discreetly tucked away on the first floor of the One Eleven villa reception building the waitresses await at the door with a resounding irasshaimase welcome before the cool display of the dining space eases you into its comfort zone. Black stone floors and overlapping stacked wood walls are Japanese interior’s man Shigemasa-noi’s invitation to a world of well-chosen materials and a big bag of clever adjectives.
Chef buys most of his fish locally for the simple reason that we live on an island surrounded by fish – a real no-braineR.
Two classic glass-lidded teakwood boxes sit atop the huge naked teakwood bar displaying the fine cuts of fish that chef has himself selected for the evening. Taking a seat at the bar it is a delight to sit and chat and share a laugh with this very talented and cheery individual as he creates the high grade sushi that he and his ilk are world renowned for, while a kimono-clad cutie fills your sake glass to overflowing in its small wooden box.
Larger groups can take one of the two large tables, but for real sushi theatre it’s best to take a stool at the bar where you can watch the maestro at work. A cold beer is a good way to start before making your choice of one of the three sets priced at US$35, $75 and a little over $100, that involve an increasing number of courses of imported fish as the price goes up. Single items can be ordered by the plate but it would be a tragedy to not let Shiro-san and his charisma take care of the show. This is his life’s work, this is what he has trained years and years to do so you should just buckle up and hang on for a ride of fresh fish, fine sake, Zen surrounds and service from the highest levels of perfection.
#3 Pangkung Sari
Tel +62 361 731343