Temarizushi to Nihoncha Souden: Elegantly crafted sushi bites

by J.J. O'Donoghue

Contributing Writer

The first thing to say about Temarizushi to Nihoncha Souden is … it’s a mouthful of a name. From henceforth, Souden shall suffice. The second is that Souden is a gorgeous and luxurious restaurant space informed by a simple aesthetic sensibility from door to table. Simply put, Souden looks, feels and tastes great.

Opened in early April by chef Kazuya Yokota, Souden still has that new-restaurant feel. The interior design is distinctively Japanese and over a long communal table in the middle of the restaurant hang half a dozen paper lanterns. At the back of the restaurant, beyond the open kitchen and counter seating, in a space that might otherwise have been ignored, they’ve installed a Japanese-style garden behind a pane of glass. On the day we visited, it was fed by torrential rain.

Chef Yokota has both form and experience, with two other restaurants in Kyoto under his belt, both casual izakaya taverns. Souden is more extravagant than his previous ventures and marries temari-zushi (ball-shaped sushi) with cups of Japanese tea. It’s also, I would venture, inspired by the success of celebrated Kyoto restaurant Awomb — not connected to chef Yokota — which opened a few years ago and has attracted round-the-clock lines since.

The main difference between Souden and Awomb when it comes to the sushi is preparation. At Awomb, the concept is teori-zushi, similar to maki-zushi, in which you make tiny bite-sized sushi creations. It’s DIY and fun.

At Souden, all the work is done in the kitchen, so when your tray of temari-zushi arrives, you are ready to dig in. Or, if you’re so inclined, take out your camera and photograph it — because temari-zushi, certainly so at Souden, can almost pass for elegantly crafted sweets or a tray of perfectly formed desserts.

There is more to Souden than sushi — as its full name suggests, tea is also central to its identity — but it’s the sushi sets that are the main attraction. The most expensive is the Utsuki set (¥3,200), which combines tempura, obanzai (Kyoto-style side dishes), chawanmushi (savory egg custard) and a lineup of 14 pieces of temari-zushi. Based on our orders, a nine-piece set with obanzai (¥1,600) and a 14-piece set (¥1,800), the Utsuki set feels slightly overpriced and, if it’s variety you want, I’d recommend picking two slightly smaller sets as we did.

Of the 14-piece set, there were some real treats. Next to a pickled radish dyed so heavily that it resembled the color of tuna was a slice of cured duck wrapped over a ball of rice and topped with a smidgen of yuzu citrus. It was bliss. The neighboring ika (squid) was accessorized by a sweet chili sauce. In both cases, just the right amount of the condiment was used to complement the temari-zushi, but never enough to overpower the fish, meat or rice.

Our sets came accompanied by the wonderfully named karigane-cha, a delicately sweet, green-gold colored tea made from tea leaf stems. Though only one cup was included with the set, those keen to discover more of their seasonal teas can sample the Tsukigawari tea set (¥1,400) — a lineup of three different teas that changes on a monthly basis.

Ppen daily 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. (L.O. 9:30 p.m.); closed second Sunday of each month; lunch sets from ¥1,600; Japanese menu, some English spoken