top of page


This 8-seater omakase has finally brought top tier Japanese food to Dublin


20 Sept 2023


Neighborhood Name


Restaurant Address


Website Name

Restaurant Info

View the Listing >>

Written by:

Ronan Doyle

What's the story with Matsukawa?

Few new restaurants in recent memory have been subject to more feverish speculation and baited breath than Matsukawa, which opened late last month in the Smithfield site previously home to veggie and vegan café Woke Cup Café.

We first twigged there was something interesting going on when we spotted the fitout underway, and as the pieces fell into place – and we spied a couple of late-night menu tests underway – word got out that Ireland’s first omakase restaurant had arrived. The Japanese fine dining concept is built around quality produce and expert technique, with a communal counter placing you up close and personal with every step of the preparation process.

Chef Takuma Tamaoki served omakase in Tokyo before arriving in Ireland in 2016, where he settled in Galway and joined the team at Wa Sushi, rightly regarded as one of the country’s few genuinely great Japanese options. He made the move east seeking broader experience and landed in Yamamori where, in a neat twist for which we should all be grateful, fellow chef Yu Uchida noticed the sashimi had all of a sudden kicked into high gear. A few drinks and a lightbulb moment later, and the pair agreed to partner up and introduce Dublin to this Japanese style of eating.

Where should we sit?

There’s no choice in the eight stools arranged around Tamaoki’s workspace, and no need for any – all of these seats, already among Dublin’s most in-demand, offer an eagle-eyed view of the poise and precision that goes into each of the eighteen plates coming your way. Expect to make friends here - with the collective oohs and aahs as each new dish is assembled, any hodge-podge of couples and solo diners can’t but be brought together in this shared experience.

What's on the menu?

The glitter-flecked prettiness of the printed paper that greets you at your seat in Matsukawa is less a menu than an opening sneak peek. The pleasure of omakase, a term derived from the verb ‘to entrust’, is in putting yourself wholly in the hands of a talented chef, wherever they may opt to take you. As such you’re not likely to see the same rundown in here on any two nights, with dishes dependent on the latest catch, seasonal veg, and Tamaoki’s evolving instincts.

A set structure prevails, moving from salad starters and sashimi through a warm dish and nigiri before alighting on miso soup and a light dessert. By the time we got in Matsukawa had hardly got through its first week’s service, and we’d already heard of significant variations - surely a great herald for repeat visits to come. On our allotted night, things kicked off with soy-marinated courgette and a salad of spring onion and squid in karashi sumiso – a tangy, tasty dressing of miso and mustard. As overtures go, it’s exact in its promise - fresh with full flavours; simple and satisfying; delicately presented.

The sashimi course that follows, hamachi and salmon in our case, comes alongside a petite mound of fresh wasabi, energetically grated before your eyes. The pre-packed one-note nose-wrinkler of cheap sushi joints this is not – Matsukawa’s wasabi has a freshness and complexity that only comes from the genuine article, shipped in straight from Japan. Due to a host of logistical complexities the same’s not true of the fish, which they’ve sourced almost entirely from Spain – a slight disappointment given the quality produce available from Irish waters. In some cases, like the hamachi, the import makes sense; elsewhere like the salmon, it’s of an undeniably lesser quality. Still, the sashimi’s a great intro to Tamaoki’s command of high-end edomae sushi technique - this is fresh, firm, impeccably-cured fish.

Next came the chawanmushi, a savoury steamed custard whose little accompanying wooden spoon is like a spade to dig for buried treasure. Among the just-set egg which dissolves in the mouth, we delighted in discovering a nugget of super-tender sweet prawn, firm edamame bean and a little sliver of shiitake – this is a joy of a dish.

The fun of chef’s tables is often in flashes of flame or tweezer-precise plating. Not so Matsukawa – here, it’s all about the hypnotic rhythms of Tamaoki’s hands in full flight. The delicate slices of cured fish he has quietly prepared throughout the preceding courses are now spellbindingly assembled into perfect nigiri - a palmful of vinegar-seasoned rice rolled with wasabi beneath the firm fish, and finished with a careful dab or brush of assorted extras. We began with beautifully pickled mackerel and mild and meaty sea bream, both anointed with a concentrated soy reduction you will want to sup by the spoonful before the night is out.

Then to lemon sole subtly flavoured in a soy-onion marinade, and sea bass with delicate sweetness bolstered by a squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of Dingle sea salt. By now any naysayers who might have scoffed at the sameness of eleven nigiri in sequence will have eaten their words along with their fish: the real pleasure of Matsukawa, in the repeated notes of each of these morsels, is in seeing Tamaoki’s treatment of each piece and how its unique character is teased out. This is a man who has thought deeply about fish – by the time you leave, you will have too.

He's thought about sequencing too, and there’s a clear pace to the way the treatments get steadily more complex before paring back for the final pieces. The John Dory was the peak, topped with a dab of sweet miso and given a short, sharp blast of a blowtorch to cut through its meatiness with a subtle smoke. Yellowfin tuna, its edges bearing tell-tale signs of dry curing, gets a daub of mustard for a real richness and depth of flavour that elevates this to amongst the best of the night.

Bluefin tuna to follow brings home the difference between the two, thanks not least to the nine-day aging approach Tamaoki has taken to make the flesh’s prized fattiness all the more pronounced – it’s a treat. The hamachi belly gestures back to the leaner earlier sashimi, a nice reminder that even within an individual fish the variety and possibilities can be many.

Save for introducing each piece to each diner as he places it on each plate, an eight times repeated refrain that takes on the calming air of a mantra, Tamaoki works in quiet restraint, but lights up when asked for any more info. So it was when we needed to know what he’d dusted over the prawn – wide eyes followed when he revealed it’s a head and shell powder. The intensity of flavour is exceptional, added umami to the meat’s succulent sweetness. The salmon though, again, feels a little lacking in flavour – in a place where quality is key, this is a bump in the road.

The final nigiri is a suitable showstopper, with the unmistakable marbling of otoro, or bluefin tuna belly, turning every head at the table. This superb cut is just about as good as fish gets and, true to form, Tamaoki has brought out its best by in this case doing very little at all. The tender, fatty flesh dissolves like butter in the mouth, an incredible outro indulgence that sees this section of the meal out on a high.

The omelette that follows is not in the rolled tamagoyaki style that might be more familiar - Tamaoki has taken eggs, and eggs only, and whipped them to an intensely airy texture that feels positively cakey. It’s an impressive feat, if in practice a bit of a stop-gap palate cleanser.

Connemara clams are the sole exception to the seafood’s Spanish sourcing, and an ingredient Tamaoki is particularly passionate about, telling us he ranks them among the best shellfish around. As served up here, it’s hard to disagree – swimming in a superb white miso broth alongside slivered spring onions, they’re a tantalising hint of what Matsukawa might achieve if it manages to work more native produce into its menus.

A simple, prettily-plated dessert of red beans in red bean jelly offered little to shout about, though not much to moan about either – the muted flavours of the pressed jelly are a fitting follow-up to the straight-up theme of the evening, but the dish leans heavily on the sour-sweet sharpness of strawberry to bring it to life. It’s not quite a bum note, but neither is it anything we’d have much missed.

What about drinks?

In a generous move we’d love to see more high-priced places mirror, still and sparkling water is free and topped up as quick as you can drink it – the same goes for an intensely earthy, imported green tea served cold throughout and then hot with dessert.

Minimal beer and wine options are passable but clearly not what they want you drinking – here, it’s all about the sake. We started with a glass of the sparkling and its subtle fizz and subdued flavours made for a fine match to the salads and sashimi. Fuller-bodied but with a more delicate and almost ephemeral taste is the Daiginjou - served chilled, this high-grade sake is superb slowly sipped alongside the nigiri.

Rich, sweet, aromatic plum wine is served on the rocks with soda – we enjoyed this cocktail’s fruity depths alongside dessert but it would be all the better as an aperitif savoured as the first dishes are divvied up before you.

How was the service?

Typical of the omakase experience, there’s as much focus on service as food here and chef Tamaoki is a consummate pro – we watched with interest as he joined in on a Japanese pair’s nostalgia, left a happy couple largely to their own devices, and cheerily indulged a solo diner’s enthusiastic enquiries throughout the night. His manner with his customers is much the same as with his fish - every one calls for its own tailored treatment. A pair of kimono-clad servers are quick on the offing with any empty water glass and happy to help you pick out a sake.

What was the damage?

It’s €90 a head here for the full omakase menu, which puts Matsukawa more in the special occasion category than the casual midweek catchup one – particularly once you factor in a glass or two of sake. For the quality of cooking here though, not to mention its novelty among Dublin restaurants and that all-important free water, it’s a reasonable price. With the whole experience lasting two and a half hours and Tamaoki’s technique turning heads throughout, food lovers should think of this as a two-for-one ticket: dinner and a show.

And the verdict?

Ireland at large, and Dublin in particular, has long been bizarrely starved of genuinely top-tier Japanese food. Now, following the envy induced by Galway’s Wa Sushi and Cork’s Miyazaki and Ichigo Ichie, the capital finally has its own answer. To see such practiced perfectionism up close and personal is a rare treat; to have it at last on our doorstep is a cause for celebration.

There is room for improvement here, no question – sourcing all fish from Spain seems designed to keep costs down but costs quality in some cases – but it’s clear Tamaoki is keenly aware of its limits and intent on overcoming them. Seats here will not be easy to come by, and rightly so (at time of writing, we could find just two available through to the end of the year, even with a second weekend sitting newly-added) but that may be no bad thing. By the time you make it in, we’d bet on Matsukawa being even better again.

New Openings & Discoveries

bottom of page