Perfect sushi needs perfectly fresh fish, and one spot in town surely beats out all competition in that regard.
Toyko Kitchen, a tiny counter-service eatery on Bow Street is basically in a fish store. The fish is chosen from the fishmongers just metres opposite and prepped straight away for hungry locals and wandering office workers.
It's only been open a few months, but already word is spreading. Love sushi? You'll LOVE this.
Tucked away from Smithfield's main square is Kish Fish, a family run fish shop and now home to Tokyo Kitchen
Kish Fish supplied fish to chef and owner of Tokyo Kitchen, Philip Chen, for years when he had a Japanese food stall at Irish Village markets, so when they came to him and said they had an empty space just waiting to be used he jumped on the idea.
The Tokyo Kitchen space used to be Kish Fish's retail store but was “empty for a few years".
Those not familiar with Smithfield or unwilling to explore would never stumble across this spot, but people willing to take that path less travelled will be rewarded with flavoursome sushi and the best of Irish fish in Japanese dishes.
“It’s a bit on the back streets of Smithfield but I think some people will like that it’s a bit out of the way,” Philip tells me.
A concrete entrance hall has the fish store to the left, and the sushi counter to the right. Order and eat there and then, standing up as casual as can be, or get your grub to takeout.
“I said I’d give it a try," Philip shrugs. "No harm to try it, that’s all I want.”
Chef Philip Chen expertly slices his knife through the nori sheets to create sushi that's fresher than any in town
“I’m in Dublin for 15 years, I’ve worked in a kitchen the last 15 years. I started doing a bit of everything – French for my apprenticeship, then Italian and European.”
Philip, originally from China, began working in Yamamori eight years ago, where he stayed for seven years.
“Before that I had no clue. No clue about sushi at all. I learned from a really good sushi chef there, staying behind him, watching his every move.”
While things were slow to start with (like we said, Tokyo Kitchen isn't exactly located on a street with much footfall), Philip says that word of mouth has helped the news spread of Smithfield's newest sushi joint.
“The business is getting better every week, bit by bit. I do my best, prepare fresh every morning and keep everything clean and fresh.”
Daily specials make use of the best produce from Kish Fish – a crispy monkfish Norimaki one day, some soft shell crab the next
Cooking right beside your food supply is probably a chef's dream come true. Every morning, Philip just goes across to Kish Fish and sees what they have in store: “this thing looks good, maybe I can work something around that… This morning I asked if they had any monkfish and they’d just gotten it in fresh today.”
“I tend to focus on flavour, it’s all about the flavours. I do my best.”
A special of Crispy Monkfish Norimaki with rocket and okura (colourful green okra) for €13 was four tasty bites of Hophouse 13 beer battered fish and warm sticky rice.
Comforting favourites are on the menu as well as sushi showing off the full flavours of Irish fish
If you’re not a sushi person, there’s noodles or a curry for those colder days. Philip notes that the Irish palette is different to other European countries, liking milder dishes, so as well as punchy Japanese flavours there's old classics on the menu.
A chicken Katsu curry is golden fried with baby pak choi and a Japanese curry sauce, while roast beef noodles were slurped up in seconds.
A seafood kimchi Cha Han dish for €8.50 of egg fried rice with spicy seafood is next on my list to try, but be warned: portions are hearty, so bring your A-game.
Vegetarians are looked after with tofu options and veggie sushi, but let's not mess around here. You've come for the sushi. Portions of sushi nigri are keenly priced at just €3 for two pieces and a Rainbow Roll (€15) is packed with salmon, tuna, whitefish, crabmeat, avocado and cucumber.
"We're the underdog"
Chatting about the rise of the food stall in Dublin, Philip says he thinks it's because “we are concentrated on food quality, we don’t have a fancy environment so we focus everything on the food. We try to keep everything fresh, that’s really the key for sushi, and for Japanese food in general.”
Chef friends from around town are coming “in and out” to help Philip out as he gets set up, working odd shifts in the kitchen as he gets the business on its feet.
“We’re little bit the underdog y’know, we need the support here and there from all the friends.”
Philip's new venture is "a bit more like the traditional way in Japan", he explains, "which would just be a counter, a fridge and a sushi chef and they prepare it and give it you to straightaway.
"Hopefully in the future I’ll have enough money to open a big place with a sushi counter and just serve fresh Irish fish and great sushi to the people of Dublin. I think it’s kind of missing that at the moment, an old-school sushi bar."
“But look, I try my best. People appreciate that.”
That we do, Philip, that we do. Especially when your best means the best sushi.
Tokyo Kitchen is located at 43 Bow Street, Smithfield.