As a little birthday treat to oneself, LG travelled all the way to Kokura in KitaKyushu to try out this much famed sushi place by Amano-san (天野功), No. 2 in Japan among all sushi places according to tabelog, just marginally edged by the three-starred Sushi Saito and yet ahead of all the other Ginza big boys.
The encounter probably would never have happened if not for the diligent hotel staff in Fukuoka to have insisted on the booking after some 10 minutes of thorough ‘due diligence’ on the phone by the restaurant on me, and we finally settled on a Sunday ‘late lunch’ at 330 pm!! I was also being reminded that absolutely no alcohol will be served and the only drink on offer will be tea!
LG was first struck by the rather unexpected posh deco and setting once arrived at the shop, which is probably converted from an old garage. Having doubted whether the timing was indeed right, I was relieved and yet also surprised to see the previous customers still finishing off when arriving 15 minutes earlier. Eventually, our batch of 5 (yep, only 5 seats) got seated and the journey began.
With a lifted platform, spotlights on and classic vocal music at the background, it was like watching an artist creating art pieces live. Out of politeness, everybody was very quiet at the beginning, watching Amano-san performing his gig and indulging every single piece being served. LG was very aware of the first impression to be made and certainly not wanting to be seen as not being appreciative to his food. Thus when Amano san showed a sign of disappointment when I admitted that I can’t really speak the language, my heart fell. The drama then came when he turned around and start explaining every little detail in perfect English without an accent. I know then the show is finally on.
Respectably being named as the inheritor of the ‘Kyushu-mae’ (九州前) stream, as a contrast to the famous Tokyo bay dominant ‘Edo-mae’ stream, local goodies from the Genkai-nada and Kyushu waters are being utilised and seemingly there seems to be consistency in the ingredients being used and executed, as seen with its classic Kanto counterpart. Use of citrus and salt formed the basic of Amano san ‘s creation, reminded me much of the carpaccio dishes at those modern Italian restaurants in Japan, utilising only fresh local Japanese seafood of course. Trying not to act like a stupid tourist and under such a solemn setting, LG refrained from taking any picture and thus have to ‘borrow’ a few from the internet. While I can’t say every piece is to my liking, especially a few grilled ones which I found the acidity from the citrus a bit too much for my taste, the tuna tsuke as well as the chopped toro handroll with sea grapes are probably two pieces that will get on LG’s all time sushi hall of fame. The complexity of the tsuke is nothing like what I have tasted before and the toro quality maguro was lifted to a state that it sparkles with its looks and certainly melts in one’s mouth. The mixture of Okinawa sea grape with chopped toro is also facsinating. Smartly utilising the texture as well as its rather exotic and yet ocean taste, it proved a very good mariage and will be LG’s suggestion to all our local chefs next time when asked to do a roll freestyle.
Will I ever take a Shinkensen ride just for this meal again? It is hard to say at this stage. Got to admit it is probably a bit of ‘been there done that’ but for those that will be visiting Kyushu, a trip to meet Amano san for the first time is still worth the effort. Anyone that would serve only 5 customers at a time and won’t mind doing it from 330 to 5 pm on a Sunday afternoon certainly got a lot of heart in what they are doing.
(Update: We have received the information that the restaurant is now temporarily closed as Amano-san takes a medical leave. Wishing him speedy recovery here. – January, 2018)