North 1 West 27, Chuo-ku, Sapporo, Japan

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Sushizen is located in the outskirts of Sapporo and has a long history, the restaurant originally opening in 1971. It is in a self-contained building, and has a more up-market feel than many sushi bars. I ate at a large counter with a dedicated chef, Mr Tarou Kohira. There is further seating elsewhere in the building, with two more counters as well as private rooms.

The meal began with some sashimi before moving on to sushi. Sashimi of flounder was excellent, the texture of the fish very good indeed (17/20). A cooked prawn served at the same time was good but not in the same league (15/20). Next was octopus; this is a tricky ingredient, frequently chewy, and even in Japan I have eaten some quite unappetising octopus. This one was a revelation, remarkably tender, served with a Japanese spice that was a little like wasabi but had different texture (18/20). Sea urchin from Hokkaido is particularly famous, and summer is the best season for it, so I had high expectations and was not disappointed, the sea urchin having wonderful rich flavour, as good as I have eaten anywhere (18/20). Next was deep fried corn, which was very impressive given such a humble ingredient, the corn beautifully sweet, topped with a mild green chilli pepper (18/20).  Hairy crab, which is also a noted specialty of Hokkaido, was superb, the flavour beautiful, noticeably better than crab I had eaten the night before at rival restaurant Sushi Tanabe (I am reluctant to score sashimi or sushi too high given the limited preparation involved, but this was special (19/20).

At this point the meal transitioned to sushi. A specific cut of the flounder with no English name began proceedings, and had very good flavour (17/20). This was followed by otoro, the fatty belly of tuna, and this was sublime, rich and velvety (18/20). Next the chef demonstrated his knife skills by transforming a cucumber into a heap of very finely shredded strands, the base for anago, or sea water eel (as distinct from unagi, the freshwater eel) This eel had lovely flavour and was perfectly cooked (18/20).

Hokkaido shrimp re-defined fresh, as it was still alive when served on the sushi rice; not for long though. Again a top quality shrimp with excellent flavour (18/20). This was followed by grilled hook crab, which was nice but not in the same category (16/20). Next was pike mackerel, caught locally, a magnificent specimen (18/20). This was followed by wild salmon, caught in Hokkaido, pickled in soy, and was excellent, served with a cooked shrimp head (17/20). Abalone was steamed for three hours and was consequently tender, though Ryugin's abalone still gets the prize for me (17/20). Cooked otoro tuna was next, along with sea eel sushi (17/20). The meal concluded with excellent tomago, or egg custard cake.

The bill came to ¥24,820 (£203) including beer. This is hardly cheap, but as can be seen the meal covered a lot of ground and featured plenty of luxury ingredients. It would also be possible to eat for much less if you choose a la carte or one of the cheaper menus. It was, more to the point, of extremely high quality. I have eaten in many of the top sushi restaurants in Tokyo, and this is right up there with the finest of those. I would highly recommend Sushizen.

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