Ubiquitous and trendy, Japanese cuisine is no longer Asia’s best kept secret. From the financial district to the all-you-can-eat buffet it has become so common in the West that many of us feel that it can be summed up into two components: raw fish and that funny rice wine you drink in shot glasses. It is therefore extremely refreshing that on opening the menu at Sublime Tokyo (Cuesta de Santo Domingo, 24) the range of dishes steers us away from this common misconception. From crowd pleasers like fried yakisoba noodles to local specialities such as Kobe beef and Osaka tacoyaki (balls of octopus in batter), Sublime Tokyo offers a taste of Japan at its grass roots, price and pretensions aside.
Hidden in the midst of some of Madrid’s most iconic monuments, Sublime Tokyo looks like it would be more at home in the lofty precipices of the Japanese’s capital’s neon-lit Shinjuku district. Simply furnished, a repertoire of lounge jazz and funk harmonises with the sizzles of the kitchen and shouts of irashaimase (“welcome”) as customers wander into this little pocket of Japan. The kitchen with its long teppan grill opens straight onto the bar, allowing the chef to chat with Japanese expats who’ve come to steal a quick drink and couple of gyoza (crispy Japanese dumplings) on their way home from work.
Forget the sushi if you can, first let’s start with some all-Japanese crowd pleasers. Tacoyaki – fried balls of octopus in batter (not on the menu but always ready to order à la carte: 7€) – are a classic Japanese street snack and must have treat for any food-tourist. Similarly the ebikatsu (Breaded prawns: 8€) are a one-way ticket to the food stands that line many of Japan’s shopping arcades.
Next, the jewel in chef Shinya Ishikawa’s crown is the okonomiyaki, a moorish Japanese omelette that comes loaded with pork, cabbage, ginger, and beansprouts, plus you have the option of adding seafood into the mix. These come in two styles; the Kansai, or basic style, from Osaka (8€, 12€ with seafood) and the Hiroshima okonomiyaki which comes with yakisoba noodles stuffed into the already burgeoning dish (12€, 15€ with seafood).
For something lighter, Sublime Tokyo offers excellent sashimi, thinly sliced cuts of fresh fish, full of flavour and yet not too heavy on the stomach (tuna 12€; salmon and scallops 10€). There is also tataki, sashimi’s lesser-known cousin of lightly flambéed cuts of meat with an assortment of sources (Customers rave about the Galician beef in ponzu sauce: 12€).
When it comes it Sublime Tokyo’s desserts, they really have saved the best until last. An offering of both traditional sweets and a fusion of Western and Japanese flavours, every dessert homemade, you should be careful not to gorge yourself too much at the grill before your date with Sublime’s final finesse. The daifuku-ichigo (Literally meaning ‘very lucky strawberry’: 3€) is a whole strawberry coated in sweet red bean paste and wrapped in a mochi (glutinous Japanese rice cake). Also highlight recomendable is the Matcha Roll (5€), a spiral of green tea sponge cake and whipped cream with strawberries, and the Matcha Brulée, which adds an eastern touch to the classic French dessert.
All in all, Sublime Tokyo is an excellent place to get to grips with Japanese food beyond the clichés. Though the most authentic Japanese restaurants are to be found, unsurprisingly, in Japan, Sublime Toyko does give its namesake a run for its money, and at 20-30€ a head it’s a great deal cheaper than the return airfare!