Before getting into Awomb, a few observations on queues and queuing. Or, in American parlance, standing in line (or on line). 1. Nothing turns me off queuing like seeing a queue. 2. Besides staging a crash outside your new shop or restaurant, nothing generates interest quite like a queue. 3. The Japanese are such peerless and patient queuers, they should consider installing it as an Olympic sport for Tokyo 2020: the 100-meter queue; the 500-meter queue; the 10,000-meter queue.
Awomb opens daily (except Wednesdays) at 12 p.m. The queue usually starts at 11. This was my second visit, or attempted visit; I gave up on the first occasion. The woman seated next to me during lunch spent two hours one weekend in the line before giving up. So what is all the fuss about?
The fuss is about sushi — or teori-zushi to be precise, which is a riff on maki-zushi, the sushi that comes rolled in nori (seaweed) and that you find everywhere from supermarkets to sushi restaurants. At Awomb, however, it’s you who does the rolling, or hand-weaving, as the word teori implies. However, this prosaic explanation hardly prepares you for what is to come. This is not just another sushi experience.
Lunch and dinner are limited to a choice between three plates, or slates — gorgeous dark slabs upon which morsels of food are arranged with an artist’s eye. The menu doesn’t give away much; that job is left to your server. It took nearly five minutes for the poor fellow to explain the provenance of each morsel on my slate, which he did in English.
Besides the bowl of vinegared rice and the suimono (clear soup), everything is bite-size, the idea being that you mix and match what you put on your rice and roll it with the nori.
I am sure some of my mixes were unorthodox. I started with salmon, katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings), a sliver of cream cheese, a few mukago (pea-sized potatoes), a brush of soy sauce and a sprinkling of salt from Okayama (like I needed more saltiness). In two bites it was gone. Next up I had shabu-shabu pork, lotus root and curried potato salad, this time accompanied by a sprinkling of sesame seeds and tōgorashi spice.
You get six sheets of nori, and extras cost ¥20 a sheet. The clear soup contained a coil of noodles, rather like a spool of thread, and a delicious sliver of yuzu citron. Matcha (green-tea powder) featured in the noodles and the miniature omelet.
The slate of food looked beautiful, and there’s wasn’t a morsel I could write a bad word about. However, is it enough to fill you? I’m not sure how most people would answer. But, that’s not to take away from what owner Hiroshi Ujita is doing with his creative take on hand-rolled sushi in sleek wabi-sabi (simple and refined) surroundings. Months from now I think the queues will still be going strong.
189 Ubayanagi-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto; 075-204-5543; www.awomb.com; open 12-9 p.m (closed Weds.); nearest stations Shijo Karasuma, Karasuma Oike; no smoking; sushi sets ¥1,500-2,500; English menu; English and Japanese spoken. J.J. O’Donoghue is an Irish writer living in Kyoto.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.