Food review: Sushi Hibiki

Refined flavours sit at the heart of the menu at this Japanese restaurant.

The bluefin tuna sushi at Sushi Hibiki (All photos: Sushi Hibiki)

There is more to dining than raising cutlery to lips and swallowing sustenance and satiation. Beyond the engagement of the senses, mood and state of mind are integral to the experience and little improves both like knowing you are enjoying the best possible arrangement.

Sushi Hibiki strives to please. Anticipation is elicited even before the meal begins in the thrill of finding the venue. All I am going to say is that the fish leads the way at Atlas Gourmet Market on the lower ground floor of the Shoppes at Four Seasons Place, Kuala Lumpur.

The calming palette of slate grey and wood forms a neutral canvas determined to not distract from the main event. Around the L-shaped counter are nine seats with three tables for four occupying the remainder of the space, illuminated by soft recessed lighting. At 6pm on a weekday, I am the first diner to arrive and have booked myself a solo seat at the counter. This booking was weeks in the making. Reservations are compulsory, including paying for your preferred course upfront, and the restaurant was until now fully booked on the days I was not.

The calming palette of slate grey and wood of the restaurant forms a neutral canvas 

I had chosen the Rin set (RM480), a six-course menu climaxing in seven pieces of sushi. Complimentary with it is a welcome drink of saké or sparkling wine. I settle in with the latter and am quickly served a selection of canapés on a slate platter. The tuna with plum sauce, eggplant and shima-aji (striped jack mackerel) wrapped in piquant seaweed stands out, plump, dark and fresh. I eat slowly, watching the action behind the counter.

Japanese chef Makoto “Sam” Saito has two decades of skill-sharpening to his name and moves like a dancer. Each motion is deliberate, practised, effortless and graceful, whether he is gesturing to his assistant to stack the grill with glowing coal or slicing glistening slabs of fish deftly but respectfully.

While I am admiring his knife handling, a teapot is set before me. The dobin mushi, a traditional seafood broth steamed and served in a dobin teapot, is fragrant and light with an intoxicating depth of flavour provided by flounder and matsutake mushrooms, Japan’s most expensive fungi and its answer to black truffle. The citrus from a squeeze of lime uplifts the full-bodied brine and earthiness and it almost sparkles on the tongue. I drink the broth from the accompanying teacup and then open the pot to finish the slices of firm fish and mushroom.

Japanese chef Makoto “Sam” Saito

Sashimi follows, first two gleaming cuts of bonito with ginger and radish, and then flounder and mantis shrimp. The latter is adorned with a reduction of ma-anago (sea eel), soy sauce and, at a guess, sugar.

The seasonal hot course is a rather unsightly halved round eggplant slathered with dark miso sauce. What it lacks in looks, it makes up for in flavour. The nasu dengaku is hot to the touch, firm and fleshy,  while the thick miso is intensely savoury. It is a marriage ordained by the gods and a culinary miracle — the modest, pragmatic eggplant uplifted into something vivid and potent.

So remarkable is this that I cast my eye almost indifferently at the subsequent cold course. It is a marked contrast to the prior, a treasure chest of bejewelled hues with fresh shrimp, greens and baby corn served with orange mayo and a dashi base. It looks like the love child of a prawn and fruit cocktail, but is an orchestra of easy flavours and varied textures.

The dobin mushi, a traditional seafood broth steamed and served in a dobin teapot

There is a subtle shift in mood. Chef Sam dips his fingers into a bowl of water and I sense we are getting down to business. A dizzying procession of sushi follows; snapjack, clam, a sweet shrimp with wasabi that is almost a spiritual experience. I have to pause after the chutoro (fatty tuna) to catch my breath. The rice is superb, packed with a little room to breathe yet holding firmly together. I can feel the individual grains, the warmth of its heat and vinegar bolstering the fish.

The sanma (Pacific saury) nigiri sushi has been waiting on my plate while I compose myself, the silver glint of its skin sharp against its opaque body. As I pick it up, the chef toasts a sheet of nori on the grill to pack rice and top with a generous scoop of ikura (salmon roe). The nori yields with an audible crunch and the big red orbs pop individually where my teeth bite down into bursts of bright flavour. Sea urchin concludes this parade, melting in the mouth like a hazy dream.



【Sanma 秋刀魚】 . When "Sanma" (Pacific saury) is in season, the Japanese will realise that autumn has come. Therefore, Sanma has become a fish that represents autumn in Japan. Surprisingly, it can only be found in Japan and in the West Coast of the US. Back in the days, people use the characters "三馬" (directly translated to 'three horses') as a phonetic symbol. Now, "午" (the old character for 'horse') is also used in the market. Originally, Sanma contains a high amount of fat and is a popular fish among the masses. There is a famous Rakugo (Japanese traditional comedic storytelling), titled "Meguro no Sanma" (Sanma from Meguro). Once upon a time, a feudal lord who only eats fish that taste refined and subtle, was impressed with the Sanma he ate at a teahouse where he stopped by on his way back from hawk hunting. Since then, he desired to have that Sanma and asked his chef to cook the fish for him. As the chef prepared the fish in a way that suits the lord's palate, he was never satisfied. He could not forget about the Sanma that he ate at the teahouse. It is a satirical story about how ordinary fish taste delicious when cooked with simplicity, but becomes unappetising if prepared elaborately. . 当看见秋刀鱼出现在市场时,日本人就会自然地意识到秋天的到来。 也因为这样,秋刀鱼已成为一种代表着秋天的鱼类。 但是,能捕获秋刀鱼的海域就只有日本和位于美国的西海岸。 在以前古老的时代,人们称秋刀鱼为 “三馬”。但现在,市场都以 “午” 作为秋刀鱼的代号了。 秋刀鱼原本是一种因脂肪饱满而有名的鱼类。 日本有一个关于秋刀鱼的传统相声故事,名为 “来自目黒区的三馬”。 从前有一位领主,他向来只食用上等和肉质细致的鱼类。 他曾在外狩猎的时候,为了休息而来到了茶屋,当时他吃了由茶屋准备的秋刀鱼料理后,就无法忘记其味道。 之后他对那茶屋的秋刀鱼料理念念不忘,并吩咐自家的厨师准备那道秋刀鱼料理,但厨师却不能煮出那道让领主念念不忘的味道。 这是一个讽刺的相声故事,要带出的是一个平凡的鱼只要采用最简单的料理方式就能烹饪出其美味,但采用丰富的料理手法却会覆盖过食材原来的美味。 . 秋刀魚が出回ることで、日本人は秋が来たことを実感します。 そのくらい秋を代表する魚。 秋刀魚は意外なことに日本とのアメリカの西岸の一部しか取れない魚。 昔、秋刀魚は「三馬」と当て字をつけられており、今でも市場では「午(馬の旧字)」で使われています。 もともと大衆魚の脂ののった秋刀魚。 落語「目黒のさんま」にも登場します。 昔、上品で淡泊な魚しか食べてない殿様が鷹狩りの帰り、茶屋に立ち寄り秋刀魚を食し、感激する。その後秋刀魚を熱望するも専属の料理人が殿様の口に合うように作るため、将軍は満足しない秋刀魚に。その後もあの茶屋の秋刀魚が忘れられない。 大衆魚は無造作に食べると美味しく、丁寧に料理しすぎると不味くなるという皮肉を込めた滑稽話となってます。

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It is with shame that I admit I cannot remember the roll I am handed after that; I am simply reeling from the entire experience. Sam pulls out a massive block of tamago (sweet omelette), each portion identified by an imprint of the Hibiki logo. He slices two portions and slides them onto my plate, luscious and fluffy. I have a cursory bite of the pumpkin pudding but cannot bring myself to finish the final course — the succession of dainty bites, save the large eggplant, proved extremely substantial.

Hibiki means “echo”, or something that resonates. There is a whisky label by the same name for good reason — it is a word that lends itself naturally to products fortified by heritage and ancient traditions, evocative of the past yet strongly relevant today. Everything I had was familiar but fresh and thrilling in execution.

Perfectly toasted nori adds the right amount of crunch to the ikura gunkan maki

Sushi Hibiki, I think, strikes the ideal balance between price and portion for exceptional value. Peers of the Rin dinner set would be the likes of Oribe’s eight-course menu (RM380 with seven pieces of sushi) or its omakase option (RM498) as well as the Shin set at Sushi Hinata (RM450). Hibiki’s omakase is priced at RM720, half of its contemporary at St Regis KL’s Taka by Sushi Saito (RM1,400). This lovely hideaway appears to be a reliable bet if seeking a sophisticated dining experience that doesn’t break the bank.


Sushi Hibiki, basement level, Shoppes at Four Seasons Place KL. 03 2391 9008. Tues-Sun, 12.30pm-10pm. This article first appeared on Nov 5, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.


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