There’s no shortage of high end sushi restaurants in Tokyo, but very few can match Manten Sushi Marunouchi’s cost performance in this category. This is one of the true must-visits for affordable sushi dining.
Toro, or fatty tuna. - image © Florentyna Leow
High-end sushi can be seen as inaccessible for the masses. There’s some truth to that: the barrier to becoming a sushi connoisseur is primarily financial. The more often you eat good sushi, the better you can understand the nuances between good and great sushi. Most of us can’t eat at Jiro or Saito all the time, obviously, and so compromising with mid-range sushi at mid-range prices is an acceptable and mostly quite satisfying alternative for more normal folks.
The entrance to Manten Sushi. - image © Florentyna Leow
This does make Manten Sushi a puzzling outlier. Their lunch omakase set is priced at JPY3240, tax included, but sushi of the calibre they serve is closer to something that might cost JPY8000 for lunch. The chefs are remarkably skilled - at least as much as many high-end restaurants in town - and some of the pieces here are, if not perfect, then at least close to excellent. You don’t normally have such gorgeous (and well-aged) fish or shari (sushi rice) worth mentioning at this price point, and if you do the math, it comes to about the same price per piece as eating at a mediocre conveyor belt restaurant. The economics of Manten are remarkable and strange. But whatever their reasons are for having such a reasonably-priced lunch deal, Manten is the place in Tokyo to eat incredible sushi without blowing a huge hole in your travel budget.
You gotta love a good blowtorch. - image © Florentyna Leow
The cost of eating high-end sushi at budget prices is that you have to turn up early and queue. No buts about this. You can make a reservation through their website, but the omakase will then cost you JPY6000 before tax. I arrived at 10:30am, and by the time it was 5 to 11, the line was 20 people strong. If it makes a difference to you to know this, almost everyone in the queue was Japanese. Queuing is a national sport, but the length of the line doesn’t always mean a restaurant is good. The line was entirely justified in this case.
Beginning with a bowl of hot clam broth - the very essence of a thousand tiny clams in a few sips. - image © Florentyna Leow
In a dining context, omakase means leaving it to the chef. The exact order of fish/other items will vary depending on where you’re eating. It is typically a mix of otsumami - small bites, usually strongly-flavored or palate cleansers - and nigirizushi, perhaps with a hand roll or roll. Pieces change with the season; the shari (rice) can be cooler, warmer, more or less vinegared, more or less salty; the meal can be fast-paced or slow-paced. At a meal like this, you will not need to dip anything in soy sauce or wasabi. Everything comes already seasoned. Tell them at the start of the meal if there are particular fish or crustaceans you won’t eat. If, like me, you prefer your sushi not to have wasabi, ask for sabi-nuki.
A second bowl of clam broth arrives towards the end of the meal - in this case filled with dozens of them. You do not need to pick out the meat from each one - image © Florentyna Leow
A meal here moves at a rapid clip. Around 17 items, otsumami and nigiri included, arrive one after the other at such a pace that the meal is over by noon. No sooner have you marveled at the flavors blossoming in your mouth than another piece arrives a few seconds after. I’d be hard-pressed to go through every single piece in the meal, but here are some highlights.
Iwamozuku, Ishigaki Island. - image © Florentyna Leow
One of the first bites was iwamozuku from Ishigaki Island in Okinawa. This is a slippery, slimy, noodle-like seaweed that you’ll often see sold in small boxes at convenience stores. Here, it’s a far cry from the plastic-boxed stuff - it’s a sweet, sharp, vinegary, and intensely refreshing slurp.
Akami, lean tuna preserved in soy sauce - image © Florentyna Leow
The first nigiri was the quintessential Edomae piece - akami, lean tuna preserved in soy sauce. Akami is rather like the tuna version of a fine filet mignon in its leanness and meatiness. The slicing here is beautifully sharp, with no ragged edges associated with the stuff served at chain restaurants. Once you’ve eaten at a few places you start to notice.
Ikura no matsumae. - image © Florentyna Leow
My favourite otsumami by far was the ikura no matsumae, a messy-looking slop that brought tears of joy to my eyes. Slippery kelp, orange ikura orbs that popped ocean water in your mouth, marinated raw squid spooned over hot rice. An explosive few bites that I wish hadn’t ended so quickly.
Kinmedai. - image © Florentyna Leow
Kinmedai, or golden eye snapper, lightly torched to bring out the flavors and the oils.
Awabi. - image © Florentyna Leow
Chunks of awabi (abalone) stewed till tender but still retaining a light bounce. I’m astounded that they’re serving such excellent stewed abalone in an omakase at this price.
Around the 11th item or so, the chef asked us to hold out our hand, and plopped a freshly shaped ball of shari topped with murasaki sea urchin. Summer is a good time for sea urchin from Hokkaido - sweet, creamy, and addictive once you’ve developed a taste for it. (It’s tough to take a photo when you’re unprepared for the food landing in your right hand.)
Onion and toro hand roll. - image © Florentyna Leow
An onion and toro hand roll - a finer version of all the hand rolls you’ve ever had in California, with sweet chunks of raw onion (and none of the pungency!) and hand-chopped fatty tuna that melts right into the rice and in your mouth.
A grape. - image © Florentyna Leow
A single, sweet, juicy grape finishes this lunch. It is exactly what I need after a meal like this - anything more or less would have been wrong.
They use slightly different shari for different pieces - here, it was less markedly salty than those used for some of the raw fish. - image © Florentyna Leow
It’s not a perfect meal. I found the shari perhaps a little bit too warm at times, and very occasionally the chef would shape a piece too quickly, meaning that the rice would fall apart when I picked the piece up. (Tip: it is entirely acceptable to eat sushi with your fingers, and they provide a little hand towel for this purpose.)
Kelp-marinated enoki mushrooms with green yuzu. - image © Florentyna Leow
The kelp-marinated enoki mushrooms fell flat when served in between two far more memorable pieces (the kinmedai and sea urchin respectively). I could nitpick forever, but the fact is that I am a (moderately) critical eater, and also, Manten is still unequivocally a restaurant worth many repeat visits.
Palate cleansers - an eye-opening salted bitter gourd pickle, a creamy cube of tofu, pickled ginger. - image © Florentyna Leow
There are very few places that I’ll enthusiastically recommend to everyone as absolute must-go restaurants. No matter how good an izakaya, ramen joint, or curry place is, the fact is that there are dozens of great places all over Tokyo for all of these cuisines or styles; convenience and proximity tend to be the primary considerations for most people eating out. Very few, however, can match Manten's cost-performance in the sushi category. Go. You won’t be sorry.
Manten Sushi Marunouchi
Name in Japanese:
B1F, Marunouchi Bricks Square, 2-6-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
〒100-0005 東京都千代田区 丸の内２丁目６ー1 丸の内ブリックスクエアB1F
Mon-Fri: 11:00-15:00（L.O.14:00), 17:00-23:00（L.O.21:30）
Weekends & Public Holidays: 11:00-15:00（L.O.13:30), 17:00-22:00（L.O.20:30)
Subway: 6-minute walk from Exit 3 of Nijumaebashi Station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line
:: Read customer reviews of Manten Sushi on TripAdvisor
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