The World's Best Sushi and Unique Food Experiences Await You in Fukuoka
In Japan, it’s no easy feat to stand out from the crowd based on culinary prowess alone. Famed as the country with the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, the land of the rising sun is heaven on earth for foodies from all walks of life and all budget levels. Kyushu’s largest city of Fukuoka is a dynamic cultural hub, thanks to a privileged position that has historically made it a gateway between Japan and Asia and the rest of the world. Here, eating out consists of equal parts of tradition, quality and excitement.
Kikuzushi, a discreet local treasure
Over 40 years of history stand behind Kikuzushi, a sushi restaurant originally founded in 1980 in Fukuoka city’s Hakata ward as a small shop with just 6 seats. 8 years later, it relocated to a quiet and unassuming residential neighborhood in Kasuga city, where it has remained ever since. Away from the hustle and bustle of busier districts, international visitors will truly feel as though they’ve discovered a hidden gem when they enter this Michelin-starred (since 2019) establishment in the Kasugakoen district.
Step into chef Yusuke Seguchi’s realm
Save for the bright street sign, the restaurant doesn’t really look out of place in the surrounding residential neighborhood. But behind the understated façade lies a simple but spacious and sophisticated space. There are only 10 seats at the counter, where the happy few can witness the chef’s masterful techniques honed after years of careful training. This is a place that encapsulates the best of antique charm, with a wooden counter built from a centenarian ginkgo tree and many elements kept or repurposed from the old shop after its major renovation in 2014.
The art of sushi runs through the veins of chef Yusuke Seguchi, who decided to continue the family tradition as the second generation of Kikuzushi. His training lasted for an entire decade in Kougyoku, one of the best sushi restaurants in Fukuoka. His European adventure began after he was invited to the Principality of Monaco as the head sushi chef of the renowned Métropole hotel in Monte-Carlo. This experience took him further inside the Monégasque royal palace in 2011, as the sushi chef for the wedding of Prince Albert and Princess Charlene. One year after this achievement, he returned to his roots to take over the family business.
Kikuzushi specializes in traditional Edo-mae style, where the fish is slightly marinated, just as it was done at a time when refrigeration was not possible. Although no longer a practical necessity to ensure preservation, this technique is still highly treasured today, as it brings out richer flavors from the seafood. The chef’s craft is also characterized by a unique blend of akazu (red sushi vinegar), which gives the shari (sushi rice) a special flavor that complements and enriches the fine qualities of the fish. The rice alone is deserving of its own chapter: it consists of a blend of Saga-biyori, with old rice grown following the Aigamo farming techniques. Saga-biyori is a variety of rice grown exclusively in Saga prefecture, highly valued for its aroma and texture, while Aigamo is an organic farming method developed in Fukuoka in the late 1980s that raised aigamo ducks to eat weeds and insects in the rice paddies instead of using pesticides.
The chef’s motto is short and effective: “The most delicious sushi of the day”. His dedication to the craft shows in his careful selection of the finest local products and his skillful “aging” techniques to extract the flavors that best complement the rice’s strong presence.
Kikuzushi’s omakase course is priced at 22,000 yen.
3-51-3 Kasugakoen, Kasuga City, Fukuoka Prefecture
Closed on Mondays
Teruzushi, where food intersects with performance
Offering unique dishes, high-quality ingredients and a theatrical experience on top of a gastronomical one, Teruzushi is a sushi establishment with over 50 years of history that was reborn in the hands of its third-generation chef, Takayoshi Watanabe. Once a normal local sushi restaurant, Teruzushi was transformed by Watanabe’s creative vision. No effort was spared to locate the best seafood sources among local Kyushu fisheries. This unsparing quality in ingredients may have led to a sharp rise in shop prices, but the sushi world has become a better place for it.
Watanabe’s masterful mix of social media savvy and a personal penchant for entertainment introduced a radical departure from traditional sushi enjoyment. The restaurant’s official Instagram account is a window into both mouth-watering original creations and a fun persona who doesn’t hesitate to turn traditions on their heads. But at the root of the now-famous #sushibae hashtag lies an intense love and respect, not just for the craft but for the local Kitakyushu markets and the fishermen’s work. Watanabe has built a very close professional relationship with them over the years, established through daily morning visits to the Tanga market in order to personally pick the best of the day’s catch — a delightful and crucial task that Watanabe delegates to no one but himself.
His commitment to local ties is such that his influence has made a great contribution to revamping the image of the Sawara (Japanese Spanish mackerel), a common catch around the Kyushu coast that wasn’t particularly remarkable until recently. That is, until Watanabe suggested that fishermen on Ainoshima Island, 35 minutes away from Kitakyushu City (from Kokura Port) by ferry, could drain the blood of the fish themselves while still on the boat, in order to keep the Sawara as fresh as possible. This technique has improved the quality of the product to the extent that its value is now recognized under the brand Ainosawara, and in November 2020, Teruzushi was awarded the status of “Master Chef” by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
A chef’s personal brand
But quality alone is not enough to ensure a restaurant’s success in the quiet residential neighborhood of Kitakyushu’s Tobata ward, a 20-minute walk from the nearest train station. Such was the realization of a young Watanabe when he took over the reins of the family business 16 years ago. Something else was needed to attract the audience’s attention amidst an ocean of bigger fish. What started with the restaurant’s interior renovation organically evolved into full-blown character development, relaying the chef’s performance through the viral power of social media. Thus, Watanabe as master of ceremonies with his comically menacing glare was born. He’s armed with a bowtie and an intimidatingly long blade (compared to normal sushi knives). He owes his imposing presence to a life of martial arts as a Judo practitioner, in stark contrast to his playful sushi master persona and accomplished entertainer.
*Watanabe shows a copy of the New York Times with the full-page ad announcing Teruzushi’s pop-up restaurant in the city in 2019
However, the restaurant’s sharp innovation didn’t stop with the chef’s personal image. Teruzushi offers a unique experience, not just thanks to its flashy chef, but because his special creations cannot be found anywhere else in the world. There’s a good reason why he calls his restaurant a sushi theater. These are some of his most emblematic “performers”: his celebrated unagi (eel) burger, sushi rice between two pieces of grilled eel serving as burger patties, all wrapped in nori (dried seaweed); a photogenic and delicious saba (mackerel) nigiri sushi shaped like a bird because of the way the fish is cut and sits atop the red vinegared shari; ootoro (fatty tuna) sushi dressed with onion sauce creating a flavor reminiscent of beef; the contrasting texture of ika (squid) and uni (sea urchin) sushi, among many others in a course menu that is constantly evolving.
At the same time, his menu innovation doesn’t leave behind Kitakyushu’s own historical sushi traditions. The area is famous for a distinct style known as “Kokura-mae”, also called “Kyushu-mae”, consisting of mainly white fish and shellfish sushi, so different variants of this style can also be found among the course selection.
Rather than simply serving each piece at the counter, the chef reaches out to hand over each creation to guests while extending his index finger and pinky, so that the sushi is placed only on the middle and ring fingers. This signature presentation is also part of his character. One of the most anticipated moments is when Watanabe emerges carrying a giant long-tooth grouper, an instant immortalized countless times in social media photos and videos. But behind all the eye-catching fanfare, unparalleled quality still reigns supreme. Come for the glare, stay for the taste.
Teruzushi’s 20-dish omakase course costs 38,500 yen including tax and service charge.
Fukuoka prefecture, an ideal destination for sushi lovers
Sushi Gyoten and Teruzushi are two of Fukuoka’s best and most famous sushi ambassadors. Two strikingly different approaches that, while each being at the top of their respective games, prove that there isn’t a single way to enjoy sushi as long as top quality is preserved. Although here we’ve introduced samples of the most high-end sushi experiences, that doesn’t mean there aren’t high-quality places for smaller budgets. Fukuoka’s key location next to Hakata Bay is the perfect environment to access a rich variety of sushi restaurants to suit a wide range of tastes and occasions. Whether you’re looking for a comfortable dinner with friends, a special celebratory meal or an unforgettable dining experience, Fukuoka prefecture is the place to be for top-notch sushi.
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