Admittedly, my approach to Sushi Den did not get off to the greatest of starts. Being asked to cough up 50% of the total bill for an RM850++ per head set menu just to secure one’s dinner reservation is hardly endearing; but upon entering the bijou Edo-style sushiya, perched on the 48th floor of the Naza Tower at Platinum Park KL, I immediately understood why.
With only eight seats on offer, set around the itamae-san’s (chef’s) counter, the pre-dinner deposit made perfect sense and put paid to any lingering churlishness. After all, Malaysians are known to be fickle and a last-minute cancellation of even two guests would knock off a quarter of the night’s earnings in one fell swoop. Also, despite the rather high price tag, Sushi Den immediately ticked most of my proverbial boxes: a gracious welcome, relative privacy (most private rooms in a Chinese restaurant easily seat more than eight) and, best of all, a nightscape of the city that could almost pass off for Tokyo — the key word being “almost”, save for the fast-rising towers of the Tun Razak Exchange right ahead as well as the sparkling lights on top of the Pavilion Elite building that is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower’s nocturnal illuminations.
Having opened in mid-December 2019, Sushi Den’s space is as Zen as its façade. Besides its name on a plaque, there is nothing else to indicate there is a restaurant within, except for the noren (hanging curtain) in a subdued shade of taupe and two little morijio (cone-shaped mounds of salt commonly found outside Japanese restaurants, a practice that is believed to attract customers). I was, however, captivated by the floor, whose texture resembled sharkskin oroshiki, albeit a shiny black one. Within, the only item to attract your interest would be a single artwork by Takashi Murakami. Which is not a bad thing, as your attention can then be completely focused on the food.
Presided over by chef Ryusuke Higuchi, a friendly fellow who has chalked up work experience all over the world — from the one Michelin-starred Kappo Sakamoto in Kyoto, to his uncle’s restaurant in Minneapolis, as well as stints at Zuma in Hong Kong and Koi in Abu Dhabi — the omakase menu opens with three appetisers, after which two hot dishes, 11 types of nigiri sushi and a toro maki, miso shiru, tamagoyaki and desserts follow. We started off well, with a first dish of botan ebi, octopus and scallops in miso sauce, followed by shirako — a speciality of the winter season, which literally means “white children”. I am generally not a fan of the male cod’s squishy sperm sacs but, here, grilled and served warm, I could appreciate its delicate creaminess and custardy texture. The final appetiser, cuttlefish with sea urchin served cold with a twist of the smallest ever sudachi lime I had ever seen, offered lovely contrast.
The freshness of the ingredients, it must be said, is first-rate, as Sushi Den’s delivery is faultless: Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from Toyosu in Tokyo; and Tuesdays and Thursdays, additionally, from Fukuoka and Miyazaki in Kyushu. In between bites, you cannot help but approve also of the extremely jazzy playlist — totally in keeping with the (again, almost) Tokyo vibe and a nod perhaps to Lost in Translation’s New York Bar setting. Our dainty portions were complemented beautifully by Ella Fitzgerald’s Take the A Train, Art Pepper’s Groovin’ High and all-time fave, Benny Goodman’s Sing, Sing, Sing.
The hot dishes of Hokkaido king crab prepared with shio koji (salted rice malt) and an ethereally fragrant sea urchin and eel egg custard were wonderful, but it was the sushi that stole the show. Chef Higuchi’s style is exceedingly dainty, with loosely packed, soy and vinegar-seasoned shari (rice). It is slim and fine, more Jose Carreras as opposed to Pavarotti. Pressed in front of you to be devoured à la minute (as it should be), each ingredient was a treat and a tribute to the season. Standouts included saba (mackerel) served with a strip of shira-ita konbu (white kelp), a particularly stunning piece of hobo (red gurnard whose large pectoral fins make it resemble an aquatic butterfly and is particularly luscious in winter) and — the pièces de résistance — otoro seared with binchotan coals right in front of you and a little sea urchin bowl comprising both murasaki and bafun uni.
The menu traditionally ends here, with just miso soup, sweet omelette and desserts to follow but, if you feel the need for a little more (and you surely do not want the sushi spell to be broken just yet), then go for the Den’s Bowl, comprising a divine quartet of caviar, uni, ikura and chopped toro and topped with gold leaf for a supplement of RM120 per person. For those worried about sustainability, do know the caviar is by Kaluga Queen, currently the world’s largest cultivator of the precious ingredient. Headquartered in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang, the company produced 86 tonnes of farmed caviar in 2018 alone. And in case you turn your nose up at the thought of a “Made in China” delicacy, we had heard Kaluga Queen also sells to other labels and is served in a slew of Michelin-starred restaurants in France.
For those who enjoy imbibing alongside indulging, Sushi Den’s drinks list is as sparse as the dining space, offering just nine types of saké. We did not order any, but we could not help but notice the couple next to us was served theirs out of a Supreme glass carafe — the cult American streetwear brand that is beloved by crazy rich youth the world over. If you are a grape-over-grain drinker as I am, then you would be relieved to know that a wider variety of drinks is available, courtesy of super-cool Japanese watering hole, Bar Shake, located in the neighbouring tower and whose cocktails are famously delicious.
Considering the cuisine is Japanese, try the Okinawa Mojito (RM45), made with the island’s indigenous and iconic alcohol known as Awamori, lime, mint, sugar and soda, for a refreshing change. But as Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, make it a celebratory night with champagne. A bottle of Veuve Clicquot NV is a non-extortionate RM480 but, if you are out to impress, there are also Dom Pérignon (RM1,400) and Cristal (RM1,800). For those who have already burst the budget somewhat but still want ebullience, opt instead for the wallet-friendly compromise of sparkling saké by Kyoto master brewers Gekkeikan (RM48++ per flute).
Sushi Den, Level 48, Skyviews, Naza Tower, Platinum Park, KL. Mon-Sat, 7-11pm. Call 03 2181 8577 or Whatsapp 013 555 8815 for reservations.
This article first appeared on Feb 10, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.