The data is clear, and it doesn’t look good. Our oceans are depleted, catches are dropping, fish prices are rising and the situation is only getting worse. What can chefs do about it? If you’re Shinsuke Ishii, you open a specialist seafood restaurant.
It sounds counterintuitive, but Ishii has very good reason to act. He is not only the owner-chef of a Michelin-starred French restaurant — the very excellent and ever-popular Sincere in Sendagaya — he’s also a founder member of the industry pressure group, Chefs For The Blue, which works to promote sustainable seafood. His new project, Sincere Blue, is a labor of love that weaves those two parallel strands together.
It’s housed inside the newly opened Jingumae Comichi, a two-story yokochō-style cluster of bars and diners a short stroll from Harajuku Station. Sincere Blue is Ishii’s hands-on way of demonstrating that a stylish, midrange French restaurant can offer a superb selection of dishes using only fish and other seafood that are not just certified as sustainable, but delicious and affordable. Often this means using less common or well-regarded species that nonetheless make great eating.
Ishii’s initial idea was to offer a buffet menu each evening, comprising over a dozen hors d’oeuvres, plus a main dish and dessert, all for a modest (for Tokyo) ¥4,900. Due to coronavirus concerns, he has modified that approach, instead laying out all the dishes in front of you once you’re seated, in a style he calls a “table buffet.”
His initial menu includes a beautifully plated carpaccio, slivers of inada (young amberjack) with shungiku (chrysanthemum greens) sauce, a selection of crudites with a bagna cauda-style dip of kanimiso (crab tomalley), croquettes of scallop and fragrant iwanori seaweed, deep-fried tiger prawns cocooned in crisp kadaif noodles and even beignet fritters of pangasius catfish.
And that’s just for starters. You will also get a couple of Ishii’s classic signature items, such as his cute rabbit-shaped monaka (wafer sandwiches) stuffed with foie gras and fig, and his trademark cuboid brioches, here branded with the new restaurant logo. The main dish, too, is a reworking of his savory taiyaki — little fish-shape “cakes” that he stuffs with sea bream or sea bass — one of the dishes that first put Sincere on the map.
It’s a very impressive spread. And, apart from the taiyaki, you can order repeat servings of all the above. If that makes it sound like it could be a fun place to bring the kids, Ishii is already ahead of you. He’s offering a special ¥2,000 price for children of elementary school-age or under, and it’s free for preschoolers (though they’re only welcome on weekends and holidays).
Midweek, Ishii caters to those with limited time by offering a quick one-course seafood curry lunch or — and this one is outstanding — scallop ramen bathed in a rich, comforting bouillabaisse-style soup. With its floor-to-ceiling picture windows looking out over Harajuku’s residential backstreets, there can’t be many finer places in this neighborhood than Sincere Blue to take a mellow, light-filled and ecologically satisfying break.
Jingumae Comichi 2F, Jingumae 1-23-26, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-0001; 03-6343-0703; bit.ly/sincereblue-fb; open 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-11 p.m.; closed Mon.; lunch from ¥1,000, dinner ¥4,900; takeout available; nearest station Harajuku; nonsmoking; major cards accepted; Japanese menu; some English spoken