Rarely is a restaurant so eager to promote its primary mode of dining that it forgoes putting its own name on the front of the store in order to do so. Such is the case, however, with Sushi Club (I had to ask the cashier), a popular restaurant in Ueno’s bustling Ameya-yokocho market area whose no less than four storefront signs proudly proclaim its core culinary M.O.: ”すし食べ放題 (sushi tabehoudai)”; or, all-you-can-eat sushi.
Although most people, including myself, come here for the gut-busting all-you-can-eat sushi experience, there are a number of other courses available which can be perused on the signboard in the restaurant’s window before entering.
The basic all-you-can-eat deal, priced at a ridiculously low 1050yen, must surely be one of the cheapest ways to fill up on sushi in the world, let alone in Tokyo. The best part? There’s no time limit.
Once seated at your table, simply grab an order sheet and write down how many of each sushi type you want next to its name and hand it to one of the waitstaff. Then, all you have to do is wait for the food, eat it once its arrived and repeat the process as necessary. As you can see, an English order sheet is also available, but you’ll have to ask for it. There are noticeable differences between the Japanese and English versions, however. I’m assuming that they haven’t updated their English one in a while.
The menu consists of mostly traditional Japanese sushi styles; that is, there are no California rolls or other similar Western inventions.
The most familiar sushi breeds are all represented. Here, some gunkan-maki rolls. Included in the above photo are the crab meat salad and tuna and curry varieties.
Fatty tuna te-maki roll.
A platter of nigiri-zushi (varieties above include staples such as tuna, salmon, eel, egg, etc.). I might as well mention that there’s also a bottomless hot/cold water and hot green tea dispenser that you can visit as often as you like while you dine (but all-you-can-eat enthusiasts would know to do this sparingly in order to avoid stomach bloat).
Right now, this is probably all looking a bit too good to be true. 1050yen for all-you-can-eat sushi, with no time limit? Surely, there must be a catch. And you’d be right for thinking so.
This is one place that serves to reinforce the old adage, “You get what you pay for.” The quality and freshness is mediocre at best, and each piece of sushi is weighed down with substantially more rice than there ought to be. Just take another look at that te-maki roll. That small smear of fatty tuna was literally all there was. The rest was just a cone of rice. Thinking of just eating the toppings and leaving the rice behind? Well, you can, but you’ll be charged between 70yen and 120yen (depending on the sushi type) for every piece of sushi you don’t finish. It’s certainly a case of quantity over quality, but those with large appetites will still find it quite possible to tip the balance and get more than their money’s worth.
Finally, it’s not a particularly large restaurant – more akin to a long shoebox with two rows of tables on either side of a central aisle – so if you’re going at dinner time, be sure to arrive before 6:30pm-7pm otherwise you’ll most likely find yourself standing in a queue outside with families, students, and notoriously ravenous otaku who have wandered over from a long, hard day of anime and electronics shopping in neighbouring Akihabara. Diners looking for a classy ambience or any semblance of privacy are urged to look elsewhere – the limited space means that you’ll be seated more or less elbow-to-elbow with your fellow diners.
My fondest memory of this place was arriving with a group of friends after a sunny Spring day’s hanami in nearby Ueno Park. It had been a tiring day with lots of walking, so I ate a reasonable yet comfortable amount. Afterwards, we walked with full bellies to the Sumida River to view the sakura trees at night.
My worst memory of this place involved eating so much that my breathing slowed to a crawl and I literally could not finish the last, tiny piece of sushi left on the platter. Where I was popping them down the hatch like nobody’s business a mere half hour before, this last piece, though exactly the same size as the ones before it, appeared positively insurmountable. The mere sight of it made me want to gag. So instead of paying the penalty for not finishing it, I discreetly wrapped it in a napkin and put it in my pocket. I got up, paid, and with the help of my similarly-yet-not-so-extremely incapacitated dining partner, stumbled outside, groaning and hunched over with my eyes to the floor for fear of catching sight of another piece of sushi which would have surely sent me over. I found the nearest kerb gutter, promptly sat in it, put my head in my hands, focused on breathing and on all of the terrible mistakes I’d made in my life and how this was surely, unmistakably, one of them, and didn’t get up for a solid 40 minutes.
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