After having lunch in Washoku Sato, which is hardly an uplifting experience, I am starting to wonder about traditional sushi, the one with simplicity, elegance, and technique. Instead of random mayo and scattered grilled salmon. At the same time, I also begin to realize that it is really hard to find traditional sushi in Jakarta, Indonesia. The city is filled with Western-Japanese fusion restaurants that look (and taste) awesome, but can’t hold a candle against real sushi. Lowering my expectation a bit, I come to Sushi Tei.
Sushi Tei is probably the most popular or affordable, high-sushi-restaurant in town. Combining great service (unlike Union), fusion Japanese-Western menu, and classic conveyor belt sushi bar, Sushi Tei instantly steals my heart and becomes one of my most favorite Japanese restaurants. What I love most about Sushi Tei is their abilities to add just a little western touch to their traditional Japanese sushi and create a lovely balance from those two, a task that looks simple, but proves too hard for other so-called fusion restaurants.
Stepping into the restaurant during lunch break means having your name written in their never-ending waiting list. Fortunately, my sister and I are able to score two seats right at the end of the ‘bar’. We quickly decide not to order from their two gigantic elegant menus (one for dessert) and just take everything we need from the bar. Our waitress just smiles and nods her head in understanding.
What I mean by ‘bar’ is a huge square-shaped table that mechanically rolls around delivering fresh sushi to costumers, while the chefs are busy preparing sushi. I believe that they’re not trained sushi chefs (at least, some of them), but these guys know what they are doing. Hygienic and fast those chefs deliver our orders elegantly in small colored plates that also function as billing system. Each plate has different colors on them to differentiate their prices.
It’s a little unfortunate that the chefs rarely interact with costumers. I don’t really know if it’s because the busy hour, but all of them feel politely cold and keeping their distances. It is really important for a restaurant to maintain a good atmosphere between the waiter/waitress, the costumer, and the chef. Especially in Japanese restaurant, where chefs stand right in front of their costumers.
The fact that Sushi Tei doesn’t put any name in their sushi bar to identify the dishes also annoys me. My sister and me have to guess what we are eating and we are not sure with our answers. My apology, if some dishes are missing their names in this post.
Rice, raw salmon, and seaweed. Salmon Maki is definitely Sushi Tei’s take in traditional sushi. Simple and fresh, Salmon Maki tastes more like a hard cotton in my mouth. When it first touches my tongue, the rice feels sticky and solid. However, it quickly replaced by viscous texture of the salmon. The nori/seaweed feels more like a minor addition, but it has done a good job in presenting the dish. Plain in presentation but holds a huge textural advantage. I have to say, this is probably Sushi Tei’s real hidden gem.
Tuna Salad Crispy Mentai
Rice, mayo, tuna cuts. Like I have said before, I expect a traditional sushi from Sushi Tei, and not cheap western sushi. Tuna Salad Crispy Mentai is definitely not a traditional sushi, but this is not a cheap western roll either.
If Salmon Maki is Sushi Tei’s traditional sushi, Tuna Salad Mentai is showing off Sushi Tei’s skill in western sushi. The mayo is surprisingly supporting the tuna and the rice, without overpowering the two. In fact, the mayo balances the entire dish and creates a beautiful moist texture. This dish is great, much heavier than Salmon Maki, but it has Sushi Tei’s signature charm.
Raw salmon cuts with lemons. I feel a little bias about Sushi Tei’s sashimi since this is probably their best dish so far. Fresh pink salmon cuts served with nothing but one piece of lemon. Sashimi is a dish that uses texture, as it’s main weapon. Fresh salmon (or any fish in particular) creates a wonderfully soft texture that not just melts in your mouth, but also fills it with fresh mint-like fish taste for a while. Sushi Tei nails down the texture aspect, but this time the fish tastes a little weak and it’s slowly fading away replaced by lemons. I also notice the salmon cuts look slightly thinner than usual. Technical mistake or budget cut? The whole dish still tastes fresh and spectacularly delicious like usual though, but I can’t help feeling a little disappointed.
Half grilled squids with rice. Aburi Ika is a new experience for me. The dish is not available in the bar and we have to order it from the great menu books. Aburi Ika gives me a good first impression. I like the way it looks so white and pristine, even though the waitress said that they already burn it to ripeness. The squids are tough, smoky and a little dry for my taste. And instead of helping the squids, the rice absorbs the remaining juice and leaving me gasping for water. I am not feeling entirely disappointed, in fact, this is quite a good dish. Still, compared to Salmon Maki, Aburi Ika lacks in a lot of aspects.
Aburi Salmon Roll
Grilled salmon on top of rice accompanied by raw salmon eggs. Similar with its sister, Tuna Salad, Aburi Salmon Roll is showing off Sushi Tei understanding in western style sushi. Frankly, I am not a fan of Aburi Salmon. The mayo, the grilled tuna, the fried flour; each of them is trying to win a useless battle on my tongue. Different from its raw version, the grilled salmon tastes too heavy combined with strong smell of mayo. The fried flour with raw salmon eggs on the other hand, feels bland and a bit out-of-place, even though they give an interesting texture to the dish.
Raw Salmon, Salmon Eggs, Tuna, and Fried Flour
After eating a few plates and running out of answers to our own questions, I decide to end the meal with this combination. The raw salmon tastes so light and fluffy, disappearing in my mouth like tiny salt. After that, the minced tuna rushes in and fills my mouth with strong sticky sensation accompanied by rough fried flour and sour salmon eggs. Looking at the materials it uses, I am hoping that this dish can deliver more serious (if not elegant) punch than this.
Wrapping up my dining experience with cold bitter green tea, I can’t help but feeling a little disappointed. No, no, the meal is great. Sushi Tei is fulfilling it’s own quality control as usual. But I am hoping for more authentic traditional sushi. If you look at the menu book carefully, Sushi Tei is slowly filling up their pages with more ‘dragon’ rolls and less ‘raw’ meats. Perhaps, it’s because their customers tend to choose ‘fried’ seafood rather than ‘raw meats’. But, I can’t help but having a scary prediction that in the future, Sushi Tei will lose it and join other failed fusion sushi restaurants, delivering salty mayo and fried flours in favor for more money. My words to Sushi Tei: keep up the traditions fellas. Keep. It. Up.
- Sushi Tei Central Park, Central Park 1st floor Unit 113
- Jl. Let. Jend. S.Parman Kav.28, Jakarta, Indonesia 11470
- (021) 5698 – 5276, (021) 5698 – 5274
- Fax: (021) 5698 – 5276
- Hours: 10.00-22.00