Photos by Cónal Thomas

Chef Philip Chen slices the raw tuna and salmon, and dices the pickled radish and cucumber, and wraps them together in a soft roll of sticky rice.

Across the store, behind the counter of Kish Fish in Smithfield, fishmonger Rita Mulvany serves another customer, removing the skin from a fresh fillet of plaice.

Fillets of salmon, tuna, black sole, seabass and turbot line the front display. To the left, fresh mackerel, John Dory, and sardines are chilling on ice.

“It’s vital, I think, that you use the freshest ingredients,” says Chen, placing a small nub of wasabi beside the mixed seafood roll. “Sushi is simple. It’s rice, fish and a few other ingredients so it has to be fresh.”

Chen has worked as a chef in Dublin for 15 years. He cut his his teeth at Yamamori on South Great George’s Street, but has flown solo for the past five years.

Setting up stalls at the weekly market at Percy Place, he was told by his supplier of five years, Kish Fish, that they’d a small space free opposite their shop on Bow Street.

Behind the counter, sheets of nori are stacked next to sizzling tempura prawns, straight from the wok.

“We cook our rice every morning, chop our vegetables every morning,” says Chen, beckoning to a large rice cooker on the counter beside picked ginger and chopped scallions.

At the cooker, Chen’s friend, chef Neil Cui, chucks more freshly battered prawns into hot oil. “We only opened the door there last week,” he says. “But we’re kept going. We’ve a few regulars already.”

Salty, Sweet, Spicy

Norimaki specials include king prawn tempura rolls, soft shell crab rolls, or fresh cod rolls at €13 each.

The stall serves the simpler classics – fresh salmon, tuna, crayfish – and the single portion sushi for €3 includes cooked octopus, fresh seabass, and capelin roe, all sourced metres away at Kish Fish.

Large Norimaki comes in at €9 for eight pieces. Served on a small black tray, Chen offers up a fresh roll of sticky rice mixed with prawn, vegetables and tobiko (fish roe). Dipped in salty-sweet homemade soy sauce and spicy mayo, it’s quick work.

Sushi aside, Chen’s menu features noodle dishes (€8 to €8.50), as well curries with braised beef or roast duck or seafood kimchi (€8 to €8.50), and his homemade sauces and dips come in at €2.

“There’s a bit of everything,” says Chen, who hails from the Liaoning province in northern China, near the border with North Korea.

Food spots have popped up aplenty around Smithfield lately. Within the past six months, Boojum, Chopped, Freshii, and a second Oxmantown café have thrown open their doors to locals and office workers.

“It’s a good fit for the shop, I think,” says Bill O’Meara, co-owner of Kish Fish. “And sure it adds something to area.”

Chen reckons having such fresh fish just across the way offers an advantage. “Irish fish is really good,” he says. “It’s from cold water so it has a different taste. The fish aren’t as fat as in the Mediterranean so Irish fish are a bit more lean.”

He takes up his knife as the next customer approaches. “Keep doing what you’re good at,” says Chen. “That’s the secret.”

Tokyo Kitchen opens Monday to Saturday on Bow Street, 11am to 4pm daily.

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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