“My nigiri tells a story”, says Yoshimi Hayakawa, the chef-proprietor of Wa Sushi, in Galway’s Docklands.
In fact, Ms Hayakawa’s sushi tells many stories, not least the tale of how her restaurant has crafted something unique in the creation of Galway-Mae sushi, which means that Wa Sushi only uses fish and shellfish from Galway Bay.
This sounds simple and straightforward, yet when Ms Hayakawa deftly and studiously fashions a piece of Galway shimesaba mackerel, and then presents it to you across the counter, and you pop it into your mouth, the impact is not just organoleptic, it is also emotional.
The emotion stems from the fact that a meal in Wa Sushi is, in a quiet, modest way, a spiritual journey, a journey that tries to reveal the greatness of small things – a tiny piece of fish, some grains of rice, a swab of wasabi.
Ms Hayakawa has been on a journey of her own, ever since she arrived in Galway in 2002 to study English. Soon, she was making sushi to sell at the Sheridan Brother’s cheese stall at the Saturday market. She then moved on to Kappa-Ya restaurant, then opened Wa Café. But before making the transition to Wa Sushi, she returned to Japan for three months to study sushi making, and before that she worked with Jess Murphy in Kai Restaurant, as well as studying culinary arts at GMIT.
The result of this journey is a cuisine of emotional power, and aesthetic purity. The finesse of a sushi creation like squid noodle, or john dory kobujime, is artfulness incarnate. But Ms Hayakawa can also finesse a western-style creation like scallop with sake, miso, butter, and ribbons of artichoke, and she has great fun reimagining a Japanese grab-and-go staple like takoyaki octopus ball. This is serious cooking, but it’s also fun.
Wa Sushi extends the template of the traditional sushi bar by offering a weekend omakase menu served to the eight seats at the ash wood counter, with a hot dish – those scallops – a tempura dish – the octopus – and perhaps rock oyster with ponzu to start, as well as a dessert.
Working behind the counter, Ms Hayakawa shapes and serves, narrating the dishes, telling her story, and the story of her Galway-Mae cooking.