When Batjargal Ochirbat makes a move, Stockholm’s culinary scene stops, listens and watches closely. The humble and softly-spoken man, whom everyone simply calls Bagi, has left quite an imprint on some of the city’s most reputable sushi establishments, and the news that he has opened his very own sushi bar has put sushi-lovers across Sweden in a tizzy.
Soyokaze, “gentle breeze” in Japanese, is a 12-seat, omakase-style sushi bar, which, in plain English, means that it is the sushi chef who dictates what is being served. Thus, there are no menus (except for a drinks menu), and no information in advance on what types of sushi will be showing up on the slab of black marble placed in front of you. But let me calm the nerves of all you anxious control freaks – the gracious Bagi never springs anything on anyone. His calm and collected work makes even the most ugly-looking fish and sea creatures look appetising – even irresistible – once they have passed through his skilfull hands.
While we toast with a glass of Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve (179 kronor) and chitchat with other patrons around the horseshoe-shaped bar, Bagi begins setting his side of the counter with various knives, kitchen utensils, serving platters and ingredients. The set menu (900 kronor) consists of a couple of starters, a string of individual pieces of sushi, and dessert. Every evening features a slightly updated repertoire; it all depends on what’s good and fresh at the fishmonger.
A small bowl of ‘chawanmushi’ egg custard with finely grated black truffle and shiitake mushroom, a thinly sliced roll of rose ocean perch formed into a delicate rose, a couple of pieces of red snapper and watercress, and a lobster tail topped with caviar – all served individually – get the eager dozen around the table ooohing and aaahing. And let me tell you, this isn’t an easy crowd to impress. Among the patrons is one of the city’s hottest restaurateurs, and next to me sits an importer of sake who has travelled to Japan numerous times a year for over 20 years.
Next, Bagi’s own daughter, who shares waiting duties with her mother (who usually does lunch) serves us a handful of thinly sliced radish, a seaweed salad, fresh scallops (extracted out of the shell right in front of us) and an Icelandic sea urchin. The latter looks like a medieval torture instrument before Bagi has tamed it into submission – a yellowy, slivery pulp with an intense flavour of the ocean. A home-cooked dashi stock is the last of the starters, before we move on to sushi. Among the many sushi bites, which are eaten by hand right away for optimal texture and taste, we are treated to greater weever, squid, Swedish langoustine, trout, Japanese yellowtail tuna, Swedish farmed eel, otoro tuna and – surprise, surprise – Linderö pork.
Over dessert, a cup of matcha tea and a bowl of matcha ice cream, someone strikes up conversation, which gets the entire group at the bar sharing their stories of former sushi meals, travels to Japan and the cultural differences and similarities between Sweden and Japan. Bagi joins in and for a split second; it is as if we’re seated at the kitchen counter in his own home, getting to know a group of newfound friends.
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Words: Micha van Dinther