shima aji (striped jack), otoro (bluefin fatty tuna belly), chu toro (medium fatty bluefin tuna belly), madai (red seabream), ika (squid), maguro (bluefin tuna back) sahimi plate with wasabi

Matsumi – Most Exquisite Japanese Dining in Hamburg

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Matsumi is not just my all time favourite Japanese restaurant, it is certainly among the best restaurants on any scale for Japanese dining in Germany, Europe and even the world. For decades it serves as the pillar for excellence and provides about the most authentic experience I could imagine. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the restaurant remained closed for weeks and months and had to adjust capacity to comply with restrictions. Whenever I was in Hamburg and it was open, I took the time to visit and was always glad to see them open in this critical period that might be crucial to the survival of gastronomy as we know it.

This time I went with a close fried and it really developed into an extensive meal that covered all the variety and depth that Matsumi had to offer. We were able to get our favourite seats at the sushi bar and were able to watch the chef preparing our dishes, one after the other. Even though the sushi bar is now equipment with a glass shield due to the pandemic restrictions, we still had an amazing view and enjoyed the experience. Sadly, it limits the opportunity for interaction with the chef, which is something I always loved and enjoyed. In any case, for any sushi aficionado that enjoy watching, the setup at Matsumi can be highly recommended.

The Finest of Matsumi

With our order quickly growing into an opulent and extensive list of à la carte items, we also decided to insert a considerable variety of staters and side dishes, some of which were on the limited specialties menu of the week. We were surprised by an amazing amuse-bouche that kicked off the experience. It was an avocado, sake (salmon) and taco (octopus) ceviche and it was an amazing competition that greatly complemented each other. It was almost sad that we could not order a larger dish of it. We also had two varieties of konomono, which are composed of differently seared, pickled or aged vegetables. These are especially delicious at Matsumi and always a well received surprise. One of my personal favourites is horenso (spinach in sesame dressing), which cannot miss during any of my visits at the restaurant. Another absolute delight is the rare but always amazing ebi shinjo (deep fried shrimp dumplings). The shrimp is packed in tofu skin, which is then deep fried along with some fried lotus root pieces. It is just amazing and comes with an amazing composition of negi (green inions), grinded ginger and a mysterious spicy sauce that delights me even time. If this is on the specialty menu, it is a must have.

Another amazing specialty is a selection of hotategai (scallop) pieces served in some seared miso sauce along with some vegetables and shitake (Japanese forest mushrooms). The dish is served raw on a stove, which is the lid so we could prepare the scallops to our liking. It is an amazing composition and the sauce is key to the experience. The scallops were amazing as always and this combination is easily among my favourite hotategai dishes. The sauce is so nice, that even after finishing the scallops, vegetables and mushrooms, it cannot be wasted and but is an absolute joy on its own. Interestingly, this is only achieved through boiling the dish. When the dish is served, the sauce does not taste good, not even pleasant. But once the scallops are done, it is an absolute delight.

Another set of my favourites followed suit. Sake cava temaki (handroll with grilled salmon skin is just about the most amazing piece of Japanese food I can imagine. Being a long time aficionado of this dish, Matsumi is the only place on the planet where this is not just beyond all others in amazingness, but it consistently impressed even after more than a decade of sampling it regularly. The salmon skin is seared and grilled to the point of perfection and the teriyaki style sauce used in this dish is just over the moon. The sauce on its own would be something to die for and of course a well kept secret, so I cannot even report what it is exactly. Another few delights we had were tamago (egg omelet), uni (sea urchin) gunkan (battleship sushi) and unagi (freshwater eel) nigiri. The sea urchin was excellent and a fresh interlude among the heavy items with teriyaki sauce etc. The unagi (freshwater eel) is also one of my absolute favourite and hard to beat.

Oamakase Style Sashimi at Matsumi

For the main course, we had an amazingly composed plate of an omakase style sashimi selection. It came with shima aji (striped jack), otoro (bluefin fatty tuna belly), chu toro (medium fatty bluefin tuna belly), madai (red seabream), ika (squid) and maguro (bluefin tuna back). The striped jack was a new addition to the menu and something totally unexpected. Visually, it could be easily confused with hamachi (yellowtail), but is was a totally different experience all together. The texture and taste was amazing and quite distinct. The squid is usually also among the best items at Matsumi and should not be missed. The was also a small side dish of seared yuba (tofu skin) with wasabi. It was just the smallest bowl on the side, but it was an amazing surprise. It provided a fresh and acute sensation that was amazingly balanced with the spicy wasabi and a nice complementary element to the sashimi plate.

The selection of different tuna cuts was as amazing as it looked an amazing journey through a variety of tastes that is difficult to attribute to the same fish. Even the subtle differences in texture always amaze me and even though this might be an somewhat obvious observation shared by many, the otoro cut is the absolute most amazing piece of fish. It is amazing to experience again and again how this extreme level of quality is as consistent as night and day at Matsumi and am already fantasising about my next visit.

To round things off, we then had a final selection of some favourites. Paired with another sake cava temaki (handroll with grilled salmon skin), we had another piece of otoro (bluefin fatty tuna belly), madai (red seabream) and unagi (freshwater eel) as nigiri. As a final composition to melt in our mouths, we decided to take a piece of zuke chu toro (seared and flambeed bluefin medium fatty tuna belly) nigiri, which was a culminating finale of the meal. With the extensive breadth of our selection, we had to cut the dessert short and just opted for an umeboshi (salted and seared plum), which was also amazing and just about the perfect contrast to balance of the entire meal.

Sushi Guide Verdict

Matsumi always surprises and even after more than a decade of patronage, I am still mesmerised by its constant delivery of the most outstanding Japanese dining experience. It is truly a one of its kind restaurant and deserved its rank among the best around. As a pillar of traditional Japanese cuisine in an authentic atmosphere in a familiar setting, it is a must for any sushi aficionado and a perfect choice for anyone new and curious. The restaurant provided an encapsulated and unique experience with its wooded interior, open sushi bar and tatami room. For me it is almost like stepping into another world and being on vacation. The menu options are so extensive, it can just be describes with being as complete as it could get. All varieties of fish one could dream of can be found and the taste and quality is absolutely outstanding. Preparation and presentation of the dishes is done with extreme attention to detail and deep pasha for perfection. The drink menu is extensive and features many Japanese spirits and beers to choose from. The service team is friendly, welcoming and most forthcoming. Even on busy nights they take the time to engage in conversation and truly make the experience as amazing as it is. Matsumi is truly amazing and I can recommend it without hesitation to anyone and I cannot wait to get back.

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Review date: September 4, 2020

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