24-hour chain restaurants are deigned to be viewed with no less disdain as mass-produced pink slime.
Such places don’t seem to possess any redeeming factors. You don’t need intricate knowledge of the restaurant industry to know that the food will have been sitting limp and listless since morning, and that ‘freshness’ can – at best – only be something of a foreign concept, a level simply unattainable by chain standards.
But as with all things normally distributed, you will have the outliers, the daredevils, the reality-benders – those that are allotted the tiniest of probabilities of ever being good, but are. They exist, says statistics.
Sushi Zanmai is possibly the only 24-hour, 365-days a year sushi restaurant, with over 30 outlets scattered about.
The numbers alone inspire cynicism in me the likes of no other. But as luck would have it, I knew nothing of their business, only that its name sounded vaguely familiar, and that we were beside ourselves with hunger at 10pm, on the verge of withering in the bitter cold, and that the warm lights past the restaurant glass front was salvation.
Sushi Zanmai proved that there is hope in life, if only in Japan. This calls for rejoicing.
The menu has both Japanese and English, and although there is a kaleidoscope of unfamiliar fish, as long as you can read Pictures, you’ll be well on your way ordering up a massive amount of sushi. Don’t bother with portion control. Unless your idea of portion control is multiple orders of ten sushi at a time, then you have my green light. Other than the main menu, there is a set menu on the side entirely in – no not Pictures – Japanese, for sets that span a range up till ¥3,000. But figuring out what each set has to offer is only a matter of matching the words to the pictures on the main menu. Child’s play, I say.
Sushi is not cheaper in Japan. Sorry to have to break it to you this way. Unlike how coffee in Italy, bread and cheese in France, dim sum and congee in Hong Kong are at least half the price and double the quality, dining in Japan is at a cost only slightly less expensive than Japanese restaurants here, but at an unbeatable quality.
I had the ¥2,500 (around S$40) set of 12 nigiri that came with a bowl of miso soup. Every piece of nigiri, with the exception of the lacklustre sea urchin and rubbery herring roe, was beautifully draped atop the rice and fresh.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have the sneaking suspicion that the waters around Japan have mystical properties, ancient mumbo jumbo happening below the surface, producing not merely fish, but creatures of the culinary Atlantis. It’s easy to forget that you’re eating seafood.
The girls got themselves heaps of maguro (tuna), shake (salmon), ika (squid), hamachi (yellowtail), and waved a waitress over for another round because, much to their own surprise, they absolutely adored the tuna. While clearly not from premium maguro (usually coloured a vibrant ruby), it tasted very clean.
So yes, while I will still keep my reservations on dubious-looking 24-hour chain restaurants, Sushi Zanmai has cleared my radar with an exceptional score. I should emphasize though, that its winning element lies in how much bang for your buck you get – at any time of the day.
Although the original outlet is located at Tsukiji, the one we stumbled into was in Asakusa, where we were staying. It’s safe to assume that the Tsukiji outlet is trustworthy, but there are plenty of other outlets as listed on their website
Address: Sushi Zanmai, 4-11-9 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku
+81 (0) 3 3541 1117; open daily, 24 hours.