Nishiki Ichiba — sometimes called “Kyoto’s pantry” — is where you’ll traditionally find a mix of small vendors selling everything from hardboiled eggs wrapped inside an octopus and served on a stick to roasted chestnuts and barley tea, tofu donuts, dashi-flavored omelet, dried bonito, pickled radish and burdock root and tsukidani (side-sishes cooked in soy sauce and mirin) the color of licorice.
But things are changing. You can now also pick up a Snoopy lunch set at the Snoopy Tea House, which has set up shop in the middle of the famous market. For a less kawaii lunch or dinner at Nishiki Ichiba, however, you might try Sushi Shin, a new restaurant a few doors down from where you can pick up that cartoon dog’s dinner.
Sushi Shin opened midway through the summer, and its position on the tourist trap/thoroughfare guarantees an endless stream of customers. They don’t take bookings during lunch hours; rather, it’s first come first served.
On a recent visit, after fruitlessly trying to rush east along the market — picture trying to shuffle to the exit of a crowded city bus at rush hour, except all the passengers are taking pictures — I reached Shin and ducked into through the noren curtain to find the restaurant empty. It filled up quickly.
Shin still has that look and smell of a new restaurant. A glistening L-shaped counter made from hinoki (Japanese cypress) that seats about a dozen customers anchors the restaurant. The fare here is strictly sushi, and it’s prepared and served in Edo-mae style, so called after its place of origin in old Tokyo. So, if you’re looking for some of the Kansai innovations to sushi such as saba-zushi (cured mackerel), Shin is not your stop.
For lunch the menu is concise: You can choose either from the “special” or “extra-special” options, priced at ¥1,800 and ¥2,800 respectively. These are essentially o-makase — the chef’s selection — and both sets come with a bowl of aka (red) dashi miso soup. Before your chef starts composing your nigiri sushi, each customer is asked if they are OK with wasabi. I am, but as it turns out, I did have a problem. At Shin, they might consider adjusting that cliched business mantra “Less is more” to “Less is enough.” On a few separate nigiri pieces, there was far more of a wasabi kick than I wanted, or the sushi needed.
There’s a bit more fish in the ¥2,800 option. The trio of the sea bream, Spanish mackerel and amberjack was delightful, especially the sea bream coated in light trail of salt. There’s also a nice variation to the selection’s mouthfeel — the herring roe, crunchy and ever so slightly nutty, a nice contrast to the juicy ephemeral salmon roe. The tuna was served as chū-toro (medium-fatty) and toro (fatty), but the latter again came with a smidgen too much wasabi. The 12-piece lunch finishes with maki-zushi, in this case a few tuna morsels and cucumber rolled in rice and wrapped in nori. And that’s it — lunch is over more or less in a paragraph.
Sushi Shin offers a welcome sushi break from the maddening crowds beyond the noren; they just need to iron out a few wasabi kicks.
Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (L.O. 2:30 p.m.), dinner 5-9: 30 p.m. (L.O. 9 p.m.); lunch from ¥1,800, dinner from ¥8,000; English menu; some English spoken
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5