Whether it’s lunch, tea, or supper, you can’t beat a good sushi meal. Hinatomaru, a stand-and-eat sushi bar in Asakusa, serves up fresh, well-made sushi that’s great value for money.
5 kinds of tuna nigiri - grilled fatty tuna, head meat (zuniku), medium-fatty tuna (chutoro), fatty tuna (otoro), lean tuna (akami) - image © Florentyna Leow
Between 11am and 1pm, it seems as though all of Tokyo is out for lunch, entire buildings of workers disgorged onto the streets in great waves of black and white. Diving into the fray alongside them in search of food can be overwhelming. So there's plenty to be said for eating at odd hours of the day when the offices swallow everyone else back up, giving you breathing room on the streets again. When the shadows lengthen and everything begins to glow with the golden orange light of late afternoon, head to Asakusa. Find your way to Hinatomaru for mid-afternoon sushi.
The English on the menu is unobtrusive but reasonably well-translated. - image © Florentyna Leow
Sushi may be the original Edo fast food, but the beauty of eating at off-peak hours is that you can linger as long as you like, even at a standing bar like this. Not all restaurants are open all day - many keep strictly delineated lunch and dinner hours - but it's useful to have a few all-day-operators like Hinatomaru on your list. So take your time perusing the menu. You』ll want to sample widely. Their shari (sushi rice) is on the sharper, more vinegary side - refreshing and easy to eat, but not outright sour. Each piece has a generous ratio of neta (fish) to shari. The fish here is generally quality and served fresh; it's not the kind of high-end restaurant that ages its fish. Prices range from JPY70 to JPY490 per piece before tax, putting it squarely in the inexpensive to mid-range mark.
Closeup shot of zuniku - nigiri with tuna head. - image © Florentyna Leow
Begin with a sampler of five tuna pieces across a spectrum of fattiness and cuts. The akami is appropriately light and lean, the otoro and chutoro instantly melting in the heat of your mouth like the ethereally greasy cuts of fish they are. The standout in this set is the zuniku: roughly chopped, sweet, fat-laced tuna flesh from the head heaped high on just enough rice to cut through the fish. If you have space for just one piece of tuna, make it this one.
5 kinds of shellfish - surf clam tail (hokki no himo), surf clam (hokki), scallop (hotate), horse clam (mirugai), ark shell clam (akagai) - image © Florentyna Leow
Then, follow with a five-piece sampler of shellfish. You'll eat your way through raw and boiled shellfish at various levels of slippery crunch and saline sweetness. The akagai is the sweetest and tastes least strongly of the sea breeze, whereas the mirugai hits you like a wave slapping over the edge of a tidepool. Is this strictly necessary? Only if you already love shellfish, and especially the range of textures. It's not for everyone.
3 kinds of whitefish - flounder (hirame), amberjack (kanpachi), sea bream (tai, or madai) - image © Florentyna Leow
Those who prefer to stick to fish could order the 3-piece sampler of white fish. What you'll receive may vary from day to day depending on the chef.
Blow-torched sea bream. - image © Florentyna Leow
Sea bream is, I think, an underrated fish for most non-Japanese eaters. When eaten raw, it has a clean flavour, and a lean and slightly tight texture that requires just a little more chewing to bring out the flavours. If you order it as a single nigiri, ask for it in the aburi style. The chef will brush the bream with a little soy sauce and char it with a blowtorch. Pick it up with your fingers and eat. The top of the fish turns hot and smoky, sweet and rich fish oils coaxed out by fire, but remaining cool and raw underneath, the richness cut by the vinegar of the rice. Aburi brings out the best of all worlds.
Shime saba. - image © Florentyna Leow
A sushi shop ranks higher in my own estimation when the shime saba, or vinegared mackerel, is done well. It's a relatively inexpensive fish, with a tendency to spoil and become fishy quickly. Some shops can be heavy-handed with the vinegar in order to mask the quality of the fish. Hinatomaru's thick slices of mackerel displayed a marked absence of fishiness, the merest hint of vinegar. It’s cheap, but worth ordering. Even mackerel haters might change their minds.
Salmon roe gunkan. - image © Florentyna Leow
The only pieces I'd really avoid ordering here are the gunkan-style ones. So named for their resemblance to a battleship, they're the ones that have seaweed wrapped vertically around rice before being mounded high with neta.
Sea urchin gunkan. - image © Florentyna Leow
Having tried both the sea urchin and the ikura (salmon roe), I realised what didn't float my boat: the seaweed wrappers are, unfortunately, of the cheap variety and too assertive here, drowning out the delicate flavours of the sweet sea urchin (which was too fridge-cold to begin with) and the salty salmon roe. It's a bit of a shame, but it means you'll just have to order the tuna head piece again. And again.
A cute hand-drawn diagram of a tuna fish. - image © Florentyna Leow
Hinatomaru is empathically not high-end sushi, but given the quality of the fish and the general skill levels involved here, it is great value for money. This is the kind of sushi you would probably pay USD100 or so for in some parts of North America. If you』re looking for a more rarefied experience at these prices, you'll need to queue at Manten Sushi in Marunouchi. Otherwise, if you're in Asakusa, this is a fabulous little place to have on your radar between the shopping and temple-hopping.
The entrance to Hinatomaru. - image © Florentyna Leow
Directions: Take Exit 1 of Asakusa Station on the Ginza Line. When you’re above ground, turn right and walk down the covered shopping arcade. At take the second turning on the left, just before Trunks-ya on the corner. Walk straight, cutting through the shopping avenue leading to Senso-ji Temple. Keep walking until you see Hinatomaru on your right.
Name in Japanese:
1-20-3 Asakusa, Taito Ward, Tokyo 112-0032
11:30am - 10:00pm
4-minute walk from Exit 1 of Asakusa Station on the Ginza Metro Line
:: Read customer reviews of Hinatomaru on TripAdvisor
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