I started eating (and liking) sushi only three years ago. During these three years my sushi exposure has been to various “medium quality” sushi restaurants in Sweden, Japan, USA and Croatia. But in November 2019 I enriched my experience with a fine dining sushi dinner. It made me realize that despite liking sushi, I don’t really like raw fish. I know how this sounds, but bare with me… Here is my review of the Soyokaze restaurant in Stockholm.
Aneta and I visited Soyokaze to celebrate Aneta’s birthday (btw. we would like to thank our friends Kristina and Marin and their kids for entertaining our daughter during our dinner). We came a couple of minutes before our booked time and all the other seats were already taken. Chef Batjargal Ochirbat thanked the evening’s guests for being on time and mentioned that it only happens once in every two months. The reason why it is important not to be late is because everybody is served at the same time. I liked the nice gesture where the staff started the dinner by jointly greeting the customers and thanking them for choosing their restaurant. The chef had two colleagues helping him with the food and his daughter was serving the drinks. The dinner consisted of around twenty courses and it was an omakase menu where the chef chooses the dishes. The food can be accompanied with a sake or wine pairing, or with drinks of your choice. Aneta and me had beer, Japanese tea and finally dessert sake and dessert wine. The beer did not work well with the seafood, which might not come as a surprise. I had only tried sake a few times before, and cannot say that I am a big fan, but the sweet version was surprisingly good. To add to the surprise, it was served warm.
I enjoyed the interaction with the chef. He was never too busy to answer questions from the guests. I took the opportunity to broaden my knowledge about sushi. I also asked a lot of personal questions about the path that brought him to Sweden and about his challenges in running Soyokaze. He was very knowledgeable and at the same time humble. In other words, a really nice guy. This combined with the fact that the restaurants only serves twelve guests at a time makes the whole dining experience cozy and intimate. When it comes to the staff, this is my number one restaurant experience (even better than the three Michelin starred Frantzén which you can read more about here).
The other aspect I enjoyed is that all twelve seats have a front row view of the area where the chef prepares the food before serving. We could follow his precision knife work close up. Which was very pleasant while he was carving the (already dead) fish, but a little bit less so when he swiftly ended the lives of two lobsters. Granted, he did ask beforehand if it was ok with everybody. In Frantzén I thought it was uncomfortable to look at the lobster that would be later prepared, but Soyokaze took it to another level…
As mentioned above, there were roughly 20 courses, 23 to be more exact. Most of them were seafood and roughly half were sushi. I loved the crab, the lobster and the Swedish tomatoes. The strangest dish that I liked was a white miso soup that the chef calls miso late – it had a chocolaty flavor to it. As a big lover of truffles, I appreciated that two dishes used this wonderful ingredient. And no less than Swedish truffle from the island of Gotland, for that matter. I have to say that I did not know that truffles grew in Sweden. I also liked the desserts – a tofu and sesame cake and a sweet potato sorbet with a strawberry sauce. Both were quite far from our traditional western perception of desserts, but since I stopped eating sweets four months ago (there will probably be a separate blog post about this) changing my whole perception of sweet, these Japanese desserts worked very well.
When it comes to sushi, the chef’s philosophy is that the fish should be the main star, not being overpowered by various sauces. I agree that Swedish sushi restaurants often drench the fish in various chili and mayonnaise sauces and thus completely suffocate it. On the other hand, I cannot say that I particularly liked this more raw taste of the raw fish (see what I did there?). I was particularly disappointed by the tuna – we tried the akami (the lean part), the chutoro (the medium fatty part) and otoro (the fattiest part), and all three left an aftertaste that I could only describe as a mix of salty water and sweat. A similar sensation was also given by other types of fish. Except maybe for salmon, which was my favorite sushi piece of the evening (and it usually is my favorite nigiri piece in general).
The sea urchin deserves a separate description. I know it is considered a delicacy, but as with many other delicacies, it is quite an acquired taste. It was also the only dish that I was afraid of trying. The fact that it was slimy was not the biggest problem – it was its flavor – a heavy, almost suffocating taste of salty water. It was the only dish that I did not finish. Interestingly enough, Aneta’s piece was much more mild in taste, but still not something that I would eat often.
I would also like to devote a few words to wasabi. Most sushi restaurants do not serve real wasabi, but a wasabi imitation made from horseradish, mustard seeds and food coloring, resulting in that familiar, distinctively green paste. Whose taste I have to say I love. I am also a big fan of horse radish. Real wasabi is nowhere nearly as green as fake wasabi. But, in my opinion, it is neither as good as fake wasabi. It tasted like fake wasabi that has gone slightly bad.
What can I conclude about the food? Did I like it as much as I expected I would? Did it live up to the hype that the prevailing positive recensions of Soyokaze unmistakably build? No and no. Was I disappointed by it? Slightly. But I also felt that the whole night was about my new revelation – I don’t like sushi for the raw fish, I like it despite of it. Aneta, who shares my opinion about the food at Soyokaze, had on several occasions asked: “I don’t know if I like sushi for the fish or for the soy sauce and wasabi”. Well, now we have the answer to this. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. As my friend Toni said: “Good for you, it is cheaper this way”. We will continue satisfying our sushi cravings at mediocre sushi restaurants, drenching the raw fish in soy sauce and fake wasabi (but avoiding the chili and mayonnaise sauces). And not feeling the least bit guilty about it, knowing that we gave fine dining sushi a chance. And to the wonderful people working at Soyokaze I can only say: “I am sorry, it’s not you, it’s me”.