Chef Yuta Arase at Sushi Kiwami in Richmond, British Columbia on June 29.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Last name: sushi kiwami

Location: 130-8411 Bridgeport Road, Richmond, BC

Website: sushikiwami.com

Call: 604-821-3366

Kitchen: Japanese

Prices: Omakase, from $399 and $499 per person (not à la carte)

Further information: Open Tuesday to Sunday; two seats (6 p.m. and 8 p.m.); reservations (with deposit by credit card) compulsory.

Hokkaido uni (sea urchin) and Botan shrimp with junsai (water shield) and edible flowers.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

If you’re the kind of diner who enjoys the Vegas-style glitz and circus of having faintly scented summer truffles presented in a box of Louis Vuitton accessories, you probably won’t hesitate to pay $499 for a dinner party. 20-course omakase at Sushi Kiwami.

But if you’re a sushi purist, you might find it outrageous that Metro Vancouver’s most expensive restaurant seems more concerned with superficial appearances than food quality, which rivals several local sushi bars.

Sushi Kiwami is all about the experience. And it begins, rather unceremoniously, with an awkward hike through a dusty Richmond International Trade Center parking lot that takes you up an unfinished stairwell covered in crumbly drywall debris until you’re spat out onto the curb.

First impressions count and Sushi Kiwami deserves a better introduction, because once you cross the threshold, you are immediately transported to a hushed sanctuary of exclusive luxury that is infinitely more formal than any other Japanese restaurant in town.

Arrived a few minutes early, you are asked to wait in a chic black and white marble bar, where you are offered a drink from the wide selection of high-end Japanese whiskey.

There are two back-to-back seats, with a maximum of nine guests each, but tonight it looks like you have the space to yourselves.

At 8 p.m. sharp, you are escorted down a narrow, dimly lit hallway and past two closed rooms, reserved for private members. At the end of the hall, a waiter dressed in a traditional kimono draws aside the curtains and welcomes you into the main dining room.

Fat, lean and medium cuts of tuna from Tottori prefecture.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The minimalist space, softly gleaming with pale cherry wood and bamboo, is more temple than restaurant. The altar consists of an exceptionally wide and low chef’s counter with dusty pink armchairs. There is a floating arch above. And against the back wall, a large wooden chest with silver latches that looks like a cupboard but is actually an old-fashioned cooler where the fish is stored (to keep it temperate, presumably, and protect it against the unsavory aromas that could escape from an electric refrigerator).

For those who have been lucky enough to dine at the famous Sushi Masa Ishibashi in Tokyo’s Ginza district, this room may seem familiar. As general manager Stone Shi later explained over the phone, owner Crystal Zhou commissioned the same designer to create exact replicas for this restaurant, which opened last summer, and its first Sushi Kiwami, in Nanjing, China. China.

Might as well soak up the rarefied atmosphere – the beautiful ceramics, the handwritten place cards, the tiny hand towels, the two waiters hovering quietly over your shoulder and dabbing every stray grain of rice while pointing, incongruously but repeated, the restaurant’s Instagram QR Code prominently displayed on a plastic tag. That’s what you pay through your nose.

There are actually two menus, at $399 and $499 per person. They are identical except for an excellent dish of extremely expensive hairy crab, topped with uni Hokkaido, Beluga caviar and delicate shiso flowers.

The $299 menu, offered when the restaurant launched, is no longer available.

The truffles are presented in a Louis Vuitton box.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

While shocking for Vancouver, these prices are on par with the upper echelon of sushi restaurants around the world. The omakase menu at Sushi Masaki Saito in Toronto, for example, starts at $680. But at this level, you’re usually in the hands of a sushi master – or at least an apprentice supervised by a master.

Chef Eto Kinja, who will serve you, your friend and another couple (who arrive minutes later dressed head to toe in designer evening wear) only started training seven years ago. years, at the star chain Kanesaka, after finishing his career as a motorcycle champion.

There is another sushi chef, Yuta Arase, who has more experience (mainly in a kappo restaurant), but is not working tonight. And a third chef, Kunihiro Soeda, who never appears and seems to be a mystery even to the manager.

Too bad, because Mr. Soeda’s hot dishes – lightly simmered and smoked seawater eel slipped into a crispy bun; drizzle of Hitachi-Gyu A4 butter seared to perfection; and magnificent sea bream, its skin finely slashed and grilled into a crispy crown of thorns – will be the highlights of the night. Yes, that means something.

The dishes are all exquisitely presented, from the initial bento box filled with diced tomato jelly and sweet corn soup to the final cream cake painstakingly layered inside a fragrant yubari melon.

Fresh wasabi.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The fish is top quality, imported from Japan (as is the case with most high end sushi restaurants). But so are the ambrosial strawberries in the cake and the fresh ginger buds served as a zesty counterpoint to the rich sea bream. Sushi Kiwami’s deferent sourcing goes above and beyond.

The chef’s knife work is very disciplined, especially the way he slices the cuttlefish into very thin sheets and marks it with dozens of evenly spaced parallel cuts. Still, chewing on the gummy little cephalopod, you can’t help but think you’ve turned it into a more magical mouthfeel elsewhere.

The toppings are sometimes transcendent. The golden snapper, lightly seared and dusted with yuzu zest, stands out. But the chef is clumsy with wasabi. So much so that the silent couple to your left finally spoke up and asked the leader to stop using it.

The rice is on the cold side of body temperature, which is traditional. But it’s seasoned with red rice vinegar, which is trendy and almost distracting.

Every once in a while, the chef brings out rare extravaganzas — Japanese abalone simmered in sake for seven hours, for example, or Toyama white shrimp aged in kombu for an hour — that begin to justify the cost.

But it’s more likely to hit you in the head with the repetitive use of expensive ingredients that ostensibly mean bling. On a 20-course menu, Hokkaido uni appears four times; bluefin tuna, six. There’s so much tuna that you almost expect the next course to be served by Jay Z with a bottle of Cristal on the side.

Hokkaido yubari melon layer cake.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

What is really missing, more than anything, is a real sense of omakase, which in Japanese means “I leave it up to you.” This implicit trust is a two-way street: the chef should gauge you as much as you gauge him and adjust the menu accordingly.

It may be different for private members, but in your experience there is no interaction with the chef. The menu only changes seasonally, the manager said.

And, judging by the waiters’ surprise when you flip the nigiri and place the fish on your tongue, their guests don’t have much experience with high-end sushi. Which perhaps explains the wasted squished tuna o-toro, two types of plain, flavorless truffles (via Louis Vuitton case) for the final course.

From the ostentatious use of luxury ingredients to the chef’s lack of self-expression, Sushi Kiwami is more like a paint-by-numbers menu than a true omakase experience. And that’s what makes the price of $499 – $650 with tip, tax and a small glass of plum wine – hard to swallow.

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