Sushi Arai is in the basement of an office building called Ruan in the Ginza, accessible via a lift from street level. It has two small counters, the chef preparing the sushi in front of you as is traditional. Its chef is relatively young but is a rising star of the Tokyo sushi scene, and reservations are already nightmarish. It has a solitary Michelin star but a stellar rating on local website Tablelog, scoring 4.46 at the time of writing, making it the seventh highest rated in a city stacked full of competing high-end sushi restaurants.
The sushi sequence began with Spanish mackerel, the base of rice (called shari) neatly shaped and loaded with a pleasing touch of freshly grated wasabi root. A particular squid called sumiika or “ink squid” was next, very tender with just a tiny bit of bite. We then moved on to tuna. The tuna here is supplied by the same broker that supplies top-ranked Sushi Saito, and as we were dining with the wife of that broker we were fairly confident it would be good. So it turned out, the first sequence being from bigeye tuna that the chef reckoned that at this particular moment in time was at least the equal of traditional tuna. For comparison we then had the usual sequence of akami, chutoro and toro from a 200kg big-fin tuna, and it was hard to choose between them. Both were superb. Gizzard shad (kohada) with its glistening skin was next, then garfish followed by a cooked prawn. A sardine was next, and this was stunning, the best sardine I have ever eaten. Baby clam roll featured tiny clams that had none of the tough chewiness that so often is characteristic of clams, along with mantis shrimp sushi, which was much better than I recall eating elsewhere. Marinated salmon roe was excellent, much better than I am used to, and then there was a sea urchin roll, the uni coming from Yamaguchi near Kyushu. Kama or the gill flesh of tuna was fatty and lovely, followed by excellent anago or salt-water eel, which was rich and delicious. Finally there was a roll of toro tuna, an indulgent way to finish the sequence. The traditional tomago egg omelette completed the meal. The chef was very pleasant and the bill came to £123 each with beer to drink, which is a real bargain in a city where high-end sushi meals can easily cost twice this. We had a short menu at lunch and I gather that a longer menu in the evening is significantly pricier.
I was really blown away by this sushi meal. Over the last decade I have eaten a fair amount of sushi at high end restaurants, and this was as good as any I have had, even including the near saintly Sushi Saito, which currently basks at the top of the Tabelog ratings with its near perfect 4.95 score. The balance of the meal here was excellent, the fish quality impeccable, and there were surprise highlights such as the fabulous sardine. I have long since used a self imposed limit of scoring sushi restaurants a maximum of 18/20, and this one richly deserves the maximum score. It is surely just a matter of time before Sushi Arai gets even greater recognition than it already has, so if you get the chance then come here while you still can.
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