The certification program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas

Interview of Supporter Stores Sushi Sei Restaurant

Known for its authentic cuisine, this Budapest fixture aims to be Hungary’s best Japanese restaurant

Budapest / Hungary

An elegant transformation

Sushi Sei Restaurant is in an area of Budapest called Óbuda (old Buda), where cobblestone streets wind their way between quaint buildings. The neighborhood is a little off-track from the city center, but this accounts in part for the restaurant’s spacious and relaxed ambiance. Sushi Sei has indoor seating capacity for 85 guests, and a terrace for seating 25 more in good weather. For special occasions, such as business meetings or family events, guests can book a private dining space that can be walled off with sliding panels. Guests can also choose from a large selection of alcoholic drinks, including sake and craft gin, at the restaurant’s Japanese-style bar.

Originally opened in 2000, Sushi Sei is one of Budapest’s most long-established Japanese restaurants. With a change of owners, the restaurant moved to its current location in 2015. The new owner, Irma Héder, has transformed Sushi Sei into a modern and elegant dining establishment through large investment in the restaurant’s interior design.

‘Good’ isn’t good enough

Despite these changes, Sushi Sei’s new ownership remains committed to offering traditional Japanese cuisine. The current menu includes a selection of sushi and sashimi, as well as tempura, shiitake-tsukudani (Japanese mushrooms boiled in soy sauce), Agedashi-dofu (Deep-fried tofu in Japanese-style broth), soba and udon (Japanese-style noodles).

“We’re not doing fusion food. And we don’t try to add strong flavors to our dishes. “We would like our guests to discover and enjoy the delights of authentic Japanese cuisine.”

Héder’s goal is to be the ‘best Japanese restaurant’ in Hungary. “There are a lot of ‘good’ restaurants in town,” she says. “But being a good restaurant is not enough. We have to be ‘the best.’”

About 95% of Sushi Sei’s customers are Japanese, Hungarian and expat‘locals’. Other business comes from Japanese companies and governmental organizations who bring their guests to the restaurant or request catering for events. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, foreign tourists accounted only about 5% of the restaurant’s customers, and Sushi Sei has managed to weather the crisis thus far because of its loyal locals. “We’re lucky in that sense,” says Héder, while acknowledging that her restaurant is not exempt from a number of difficulties that the virus has brought to the restaurant industry as a whole.

Sushi Sei owner Irma Héder

An investment in effort and achievement

The head of Sushi Sei’s kitchen is Seiichi Kusumoto, a veteran Japanese chef who grew up in the famous port town of Himeji and acquired professional knowledge and skills in neighboring Osaka. On board with Sushi Sei since it opened 20 years ago, he currently manages a team of eight chefs – one Japanese and seven Hungarians – and monitors their progress in honing and polishing Japanese culinary skills.

Héder, in turn, supports Kusumoto’s efforts to improve outside of the restaurant. She provides an opportunity for him to travel to Japan every year so he can get new recipe ideas. She also accompanies one or two of her employees during an annual visit to Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto so they can all deepen their knowledge and experience of Japanese food culture.

These tireless efforts have borne fruit. Zsolt Kurkó, one of the chefs, took first place in European qualifying tournament: the Washoku World Challenge, a Japanese cuisine contest organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan for non-Japanese chefs. The event took place in Paris in 2018. Kurkó advanced to the final stage of the following year’s contest, held in Tokyo in January 2019. Though he did not finish in the top three - he placed fourth - Héder is very proud of her chef’s achievement and says his success greatly helped in boosting the confidence of the entire Sushi Sei team. Their next objective is to claim a ‘top three’ prize.

Chief chef Seiichi Kusumoto

Popular dishes and future plans

The most popular menu item is ‘bento’, a variety of common Japanese dishes in a single box. Each bento includes sashimi, tempura, maki-sushi, miso-soup, salad, and white rice, with an option to add one main dish - grilled salmon, kara-age (fried chicken), tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) or grilled eel, for example. There is also a bento box for vegans. ‘Nabe (a hot-pot dish) and kimchi miso ramen noodle soups are also popular. Dining groups of more than four or five people often order platter menus, such as sushi and tempura and some other side dishes, to share and enjoy together.

In addition to fixed menus, Sushi Sei offers seasonal recommendations from the chef as a sort of testing menu. This is exciting for customers and a helpful opportunity for the kitchen staff to obtain feedback. For example, raw oysters with a special sauce and monkfish livers were an unexpected hit with customers, and especially popular plates have a good chance of being added later to the standard menu.

Sushi Sei buys most of its Japanese food ingredients from the JFC Group in Vienna. Japanese alcoholic drinks, including sake, are from the Hungarian distributor Intercooperation. Fresh fish and shellfish come from several suppliers, but the biggest one is The Fishmarket Ltd, a well-known Hungarian wholesaler and retailer. According to the Japanese trade-promotion organization JETRO, Sushi Sei is a “certified Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter,” meaning it uses safe and high-quality food products and/or alcoholic beverages from Japan. This is an important factor in obtaining customer confidence, Héder says.

Drawing from her deep well of experience and ideas - and, of course, the best available ingredients - Héder’s next goal is to open a kaiseki restaurant in the city center that offers traditional Japanese multi-course, beautifully plated dishes. Once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, she plans to resume preparations to make her next dream come true.

(Interviewed in 2020)

Sushi Sei Étterem
1036 Budapest, Bécsi út 58
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