Inside The Mind Of Sushi Chef Mitsuhiro Araki Of The Araki
Chef Mitsuhiro Araki is the only Japanese chef to attain three Michelin stars in both Tokyo and London with his hyper-local approach to sushi making. Since his 12-seat counter The Araki arrived at Hong Kong’s House 1881 in December, he’s become the city’s most in-demand dinner date for all the dish on fish.
What are some dishes you have created with local ingredients?
A starter of slow-cooked fish maw and bird’s nest with Japanese dashi, full of collagen and unctuous umami, topped with tender slices of succulent abalone. We kombu-jime (press in slices of umami-rich kelp) the hata (yellow skin tiger grouper) for a couple of hours and serve as sashimi. We also serve local red snapper as either sushi or sashimi, depending on their size. We’ll scald its skin with hot sake, then marinate it in red vinegar.
How well does Hong Kong seafood fare on a sushi menu?
Hong Kong used to be a fishing village, so these traditions are still deeply embedded in the cultural DNA. If you pay attention and look around, you’ll find gems. And it’s not like the catch is from Victoria Harbour. They’re mostly sourced from the South China Sea, 14 miles offshore, where it’s super clear and clean. The wet markets here are most impressive with their array of live seafood. I mean, it’s all just frozen dead fish in London’s seafood markets.
I was rather excited to find so much live shako (mantis shrimp) around. You won’t find live mantis shrimp in Tokyo anymore, even though it’s a traditional edomae topping. I’m also pleasantly surprised to find kasugo (young sea bream) all year round here, as it’s only available in Japan during springtime. It’s got such a delicate texture, with good umami from the sea, it only requires slight salting and curing for its fat content. Same with sardines. They have so much flavour—not to compare but it’s better than Japan’s. Twenty years ago, dolphins used to come around, and sardines are their favourite food, so you know the sardines here are of good quality.
What’s the most unique request you have gotten from a guest in Hong Kong?
Fugu no shirako—the milt (sperm sacs) of the deadly pufferfish. It’s illegal to import it, so, no.
Why do you recommend eating sushi upside down with your hands?
Sushi is finger food! Most people don’t want to touch the fish as they’re afraid of getting fishy hands. But my fish isn’t fishy. My sushi isn’t hard at all, very soft and delicate, so I recommend using your hands to feel the textures. I actually see most Hong Kong guests using their hands and a lot of Japanese diners asking for chopsticks. I’m like, “Where in Japan are you from?” At the end of the day, it’s your preference, we can only advise and educate. Pick it up, twist and flip so the neta (topping) comes in contact with your tongue. I want you to taste the seafood and the soy sauce first, then the rice. If you flip my sushi onto the side, the soy sauce brushed on the neta will be all over the counter instead of your taste buds.
What are some misconceptions about omakase?
Please don’t misunderstand; it’s not like, I prepared the fish, now eat everything. Everyone’s condition is different; identity. I’m watching my guests all the time, their body language, their eyes to anticipate their needs. Do they want softer rice? Bigger or smaller portions? More wasabi? I’ll ask them, and of course diners can ask me. Omakase is a total experience of hospitality entertainment, from how my wife places the teacup or pours the sake, to our whole staff moving as one. If one of them is sick, we close for the night. At the end of the day, I want guests to enjoy the hospitality and the flavours more and say: “Oh this is Araki’s sushi.”
What is the sequence of sushi served in your omakase menu?
I start with an appetiser, then go right to the sustainable tuna. It’s my signature, and the most expensive part of the meal. I want my guests to experience this sheer luxury. The standard sushi meal usually progresses from more delicate white fish to more unctuous seafood. By the time diners get to the tuna, no matter how amazing it is, they might feel a bit full, so it might be easier to forget about the tuna afterwards. I want my tuna to be the highlight that stays in your mind.
What has your life been like since moving to Hong Kong?
I’m staying here now, for good. And I love it. Yeah, these are interesting times, but I love a challenge. I go to Japan regularly for research. If I’m not in Hong Kong, the restaurant’s not open.