In 2014, Chef Hiroyuki Sato was awarded a Michelin star while working as Head Chef at Sushi Tokami in Tokyo. He went on to open his own restaurant, Hakkoku, in 2018, which features an exquisite 30 nigiri course meal. Hiroyuki's unique style of nigiri-only courses is a reflection of his simple desire to serve authentic sushi at a sushi restaurant. Although it seems obvious, it's a venture no one had taken on in the modern-day sushi scene.
The restaurant has three counters, each with six seats. One sushi chef serving just six guests at each counter, in the most elegant tempo. That chef to guest ratio is unheard of at other conventional sushi restaurants. Hiroyuki's service is casual and easygoing, eliminating any tension and seriousness often felt at counters at other sushi restaurants. While it seems to come naturally, this atmosphere is thoughtfully created through the belief that a sense of unity is important in order to enjoy food.
The interior of the restaurant is partitioned by shoji and washi walls, enveloped in soft light. The waiting area evokes entering a Japanese tea room—a quiet, zen-like space that relaxes the senses.
Expanding his work internationally, Hiroyuki has collaborated with other renowned chefs from Japan and around the world to host the Hakkoku Sushi World Tour.
The name Hakkoku means "white and black" and is presented in Hiragana. Light and dark, yin and yang, stillness and motion—there is always an opposite side to things, and those seemingly conflicting concepts somehow create balance and support for one another. Chef and guest, Japan and the world, tradition and innovation—everything revolves around "people." For Hiroyuki, the 30 pieces of nigiri represent the relationship between him and his six guests.
“The quality of the ingredients, the way of cutting, and the balance with rice—it's all important to create excellent sushi. However, the total ‘experience’ can only come after combining all elements of dining—space, service, serving dishes, serving tempo, conversation with the chef, etc.—and the top high-end restaurants provide all the above with the highest quality. We are particular about the presentation of our sushi. Take, for example, unorthodox knifework: Most chefs cut evenly, but this makes the food have the same texture. I want to be more thoughtful and change the cutting patterns depending on the ingredients. I seek the best cut lines in order to make the ingredients look delicious instead of making cuts that are equally spaced and aligned to the same depth. If you pursue it, the food will naturally be delicious.
When I started the restaurant, I went to a fish market every morning and bought all the fish I would use to make sushi. Sushi restaurants these days only serve a fixed course menu, and the customers can't choose the sushi they want. And I thought it wouldn't be interesting for customers, so I thought that I would let customers make their own course menu. But the customers couldn't finish the course menu they created. After some experimenting, I found that 30 nigiri is the perfect amount."
“‘Deliciousness’ is not just the taste of the food itself. It's something you feel as a whole, including space, customer service, and serving dishes. That's why one's appearance creating sushi is also essential. I remembered how my master looked when he was making sushi, so I looked in the mirror and imitated his movements, practicing them many times. Sushi is something that you can see with your eyes and feel on your skin. I thought that if I had my own sushi restaurant, the place would be in Ginza, where everyone in the world could come. If I could rise to be the number one in popularity in a city where the highest levels of food in the world are available, the status would not only protect my restaurant but also be a great asset when working with chefs from all over the world. There's a Japanese saying, "a nail that sticks up will be hammered down." And it's the same in the world. But if you become a nail that has come out too much, it will not be hammered down anymore. So if you want to achieve something, don't do it half-heartedly, but do it in a way you believe in. I also want to make sure that I will not be self-satisfied. I must keep my focus on my customers and the wider world and use my skill in a way that everyone will be happy. That's what I'm aiming for.”
Ingredients: Brussels sprouts, white asparagus, jumbo nameko mushrooms
As the only "dish" served at Hakkoku, seasonal vegetables are steam-roasted in the original Vermicular enameled cast iron pot. Once steam-roasted, the vegetables are grilled over charcoal, topped with rice oil and salt. The dish is intended to be a palate cleanser, made up of a small number of vegetables that do not interfere with the sushi course.
This original, oval-shaped Vermicular pot was made at Hiroyuki's request. He wanted to serve the vegetables in a pot that can double as serveware. He also wanted to leave negative space around the vegetables, so he specifically asked for an oval shape. Based on Hiroyuki's drawing, the Vermicular design team developed original pots for his use at the restaurant. A hand-carved wooden trivet with the Hakkoku logo etched in the center was also designed to complement the pot.
"My first experience in the food service industry was at Global Dining. I started with an hourly wage of 850 yen as a waiter. The restaurant put a lot of focus on customer service, and I thought the power of hospitality was amazing. I was happy that the customers said they were happy with the service and would return. After that, I gained experience looking at numbers, educating people, and working in a dining area as a manager. To be honest, I had no intention of doing a sushi restaurant. I didn't want to take over my family business, but it made sense because it was familiar to me. If my father would have had a tempura restaurant, I think I would be running a tempura restaurant. I chose this path because I like how I could interact with customers over the counter while making sushi. My goal is not to master my own sushi but connecting with people through sushi, including guests from overseas. It makes me smile seeing guests from overseas genuinely enjoying my sushi.
I think you can have all the fun of the restaurant industry at a sushi restaurant. I feel lucky that customers come here like this. I didn't do anything special. I was blessed with the people around me, and I just did my best. So I don't know why customers from all over the world come to my restaurant. Maybe my tuna and red vinegar rice are delicious (laughs)? I host food events all over the world, but it's hard to collaborate with other Western chefs because sushi has to be served one-by-one for each customer. But I believe that means we can create something special that only we can do. When I make sushi overseas, I feel that there are not many people who don't like sushi. Gastronomy is getting popular and gaining attention for more complicated dishes. But sushi is not a dish but a finger food. Maybe that makes sushi different from the rest."
"Our rice is cooked with the Musui–Kamado. When cooking rice, it's usually very difficult to get the same quality result every time. Some people only use a Hagama (a type of cooking pot) for rice, but I can say the Musui–Kamado cooks rice quite comparable to the taste of Hagama-cooked rice. Also, the quality of Hagama-cooked rice could vary depending on the heat level, humidity, and temperature of the day. Those are things that you would only notice if you cook rice every day. That's why I love the Musui–Kamado's consistency. Also, sushi rice tends to have what we call bottom shari, which is when the bottom part of the rice is cooked unevenly, so only the surface rice is used for sushi. Bottom shari is usually thrown away, and that is quite wasteful. No rice is wasted with the Musui–Kamado because it cooks the rice evenly, and this is a great thing.
Vermicular is very particular about manufacturing. The company excels in craftsmanship, keeping an eye on the world and the customers. I think the Musui–Kamado was born as a result. They also make recipe books and sell their products internationally. As sushi chefs, we like creating new things, so I think we have that spirit in common. We are also striving to make something better for our customers. You can't sell with confidence in the global market if you don't have a good product. I think we are similar in that regard. When I worked with Vermicular to have our original Vermicular pot made, it was more than I expected. And they also made a special trivet in the shape of our logo, though we didn't even ask. What great service!"