Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

A sushi dynasty grows: Jiro, Masuda and now ... Wakon

by Robbie Swinnerton

Contributing Writer

So you’re on your way to Tokyo. You’ve read up on all the great sushi chefs. You’ve watched the Jiro documentary so many times you rerun it in your sleep. You’re primed and hungry, ready for the full, high-end experience. But there’s just one problem: you haven’t actually made any reservations.

A fatal mistake? Not necessarily. Booking all the very top sushiya (sushi restaurant) requires massive persistence, some over a year in advance. A handful, such as Sushi Saito or Sugita, are out of reach without personal introductions. Others may be easier to arrange, even at fairly short notice, especially if they’re new and still flying under the foodie radar. Sushi Wakon, which opened in May, is among that number.

Royal lineage: Chef Masashi Yamaguchi's nigiri sushi is rooted in the style of sushi legend Jiro Ono. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON
Royal lineage: Chef Masashi Yamaguchi’s nigiri sushi is rooted in the style of sushi legend Jiro Ono. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON

The lineage is impeccable. Wakon is the first offshoot in Tokyo of Sushi Masuda, whose chef, Rei Masuda, trained for nine years under legendary sushi master Jiro Ono — the eponymous star of that documentary. Ono’s restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten, has held three stars since the very first Michelin Guide Tokyo. And Masuda himself has had two stars since 2017 for his restaurant near Omotesando. Talk about pedigree.

Wakon has quite the look, as you’d expect from its location inside the luxe The Peninsula Tokyo hotel. Neither too spare nor too plush, the main dining room seats eight at its pristine hinoki (cypress) counter, with comfortable chairs that support both arms and back.

In terms of its design, it bears a strong resemblance to Wakon’s sister restaurant inside the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto, especially the impressive back wall, which is composed of intricate interlocking burnished metal tiles. What’s different is that there are no windows or natural light. The long room is a self-contained proscenium, where the understated theater of the sushi counter unfolds at its own precise rhythm, without reference to the passage of time outside.

Culinary theater: Sushi Wakon's elegant kanji character logo. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON
Culinary theater: Sushi Wakon’s elegant kanji character logo. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON

The man at the center of this space is head chef Masashi Yamaguchi. He was previously at Sushi Masuda and then, until this year, at Wakon’s Kyoto branch. Serious, precise but relaxed, he speaks little, preferring simply to serve his sushi with the maximum of skill and minimum of ostentation.

He offers two sittings each evening, at 5:30 and 8 p.m., and one at noon. A shorter, lighter meal of just nigiri sushi is also available at lunchtime but it’s Yamaguchi’s omakase (chef’s selection) menu that allows him to give full rein to his calling.

The sashimi, abalone, grilled fish and other seafood tsumami starters are an invitation to delve into Wakon’s considerable sake cellar, which is curated by Hidetoshi Nakata’s Japan Craft Sake Company. As for the nigiri, Yamaguchi faithfully follows the Masuda style, giving the shari (sushi rice) a vinegar tang that is sharply prominent but never overwhelms the flavor and umami of the neta (seafood toppings).

Jiro himself has been reported as saying Masuda’s sushi is closest to his own approach. With bookings at both Masuda and Jiro’s restaurants at a premium, Wakon is currently the best opportunity to get a taste of the sushi magic.

Open daily, lunch 12 p.m., dinner 5:30 & 8 p.m. by prior reservation only; nigiri lunch from ¥18,000, omakase (lunch and dinner) menus from ¥25,000; English menu; English spoken