The city of Sandnes just took one big culinary step in the right direction. Sabi Enzo by Alekseyi opened without much fuss on September 9th, 2017. To my knowledge, it hasn’t received any reviews yet. Perhaps, due to the fact that this is not really a brand new restaurant, but rather an addition to Sabi Sushi Sandnes – one of the many take-away branches of the Stavanger-based mothership. As much as I love the town where I was born and raised, sadly, it has never been much of a foodie destination. Luckily, though, Norway’s 7th largest city has gotten some interesting new restaurants and cafés in recent years. Coffeeberry is the best coffee shop in the region – an adventure that started in Sandnes back in 2009. Mondo opened in 2016, with the talented chef Christian Andre Pettersen running the kitchen, and Hekkan Burger serves one of the country’s best burgers. Now, with Sabi Enzo open, we can also say that we have one of the very best sushi omakase restaurants in Norway! Notice how quickly I’m a citizen and patriot of Sandnes again? Well, this kind of stuff makes me proud of the region where I spent my childhood and teenage years.
Omakase Chef Alekseyi Shegai
Vladimir Pak is the one responsible for bringing Alekseyi Shegai to Norway. In case you have missed out on who Mr. Pak is, he just won the Sushi World Cup in Japan with gold in both categories. That makes him the world’s best sushi chef outside of Japan (since Japanese chefs are not allowed to compete). Both Vladimir and Alekseyi were born to Korean parents, but raised in the old Soviet Union (Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan respectively). Mr. Shegai started his sushi career in Moscow in the year 2000, and advanced his skills further as the head chef in a Lithuanian restaurant in 2007, before Vladimir brought him to Bergen and Norway in 2011. To make a long story short, Alekseyi is now the head chef of a restaurant bearing his own name as a part of the Sabi Sushi franchise. Sabi Sushi has proven to be an incredible training ground for young sushi chefs, with Roger Joya and the flagship restaurant Sabi Omakase in Stavanger being awarded a Michelin star for their efforts last year.
Sabi Enzo – a Shop-in-Shop Restaurant
Sabi Enzo is the more high-end and creative omakase part of Sabi Sushi Sandnes – and currently only open Fridays and Saturdays from 6 PM. When you enter the restaurant, you can clearly see that the area to the left has been made into a private dining area, separated by a Japanese-style wooden wall with a sliding door. Since I dined early on a quiet day, I actually started with the sashimi- and crustacean-servings in the main dining room, but then moved over to the bar counter in the other room for the nigiri-part of the meal. At the time of my visit, there was only one menu priced at NOK 900 with the full omakase experience. I was told there might also be a shorter menu available at some point, but I’m not sure what it will cost and how it will differ from the one I had.
Topic No. 1 – Sashimi
The meal at Sabi Enzo moved through different topics from start to finish. After an introductory snack of panco-fried scallops, sashimi was topic number one. Halibut from Hjelmeland came with an acidic ponzu sauce and salty salmon roe. Followed by a sashimi of the fattier fish hamachi with a rich, almost caramelized, onion sauce to balance off the mouthfeel. A wonderful tataki of Norwegian tuna was drizzled with the same sauce and topped with aromatic shavings of Gotland truffle. Finally, the leftovers of the tuna were made into a sort of taco-dish, where you filled crispy nori wraps (the seaweed flakes used to make maki-rolls) with tuna and avocado. A great way to use all parts of the fish, in addition to being a fun and tasty dish.
Topic No. 2 – Crustaceans
Delicate oysters with a ponzu sauce and salmon roe were tasty, but the garnish felt a bit repetitive from the sashimi-servings. The sliced scallops with yuzu mayo, ponzu sauce, goma wakame (Japanese seaweed) and Gotland truffle sort of reminded me of the current scallops serving at Maaemo in Oslo, but more refreshing and not as rich in the flavor. A funny presentation of the grilled langoustine was followed by yet another scallop dish – this time as nigiris with a soy glaze. Tasty, but it begs the question if that many servings of scallops were necessary? It did mark the transition to the next topic, however. Rice …
Topic No. 3 – Rice
The third topic was rice, or nigiri to be more precise. This is the part where chef Alekseyi really shines! Since the seats were available, I was offered to sit at the bar counter in the other room and watch the master at work. Although this counter doesn’t have the exclusive look and feel of the one at Sabi Omakase, it still gives you the unique experience of seeing all the action that is happening. Every piece of rice that is shaped, meticulously, in the hands of the chef. Each sauce that is applied, or belly fat that is torched. Not to speak of the dance – that rhythmic dance-like move of the omakase chef as he performs his art.
All my favorite pieces of the meal came from this third round (except, perhaps, the tuna leftover-taco from earlier). Starting with two quite plain pieces of salmon and hamachi with a soy-dashi. Moving on to the fattier and even tastier Norwegian tuna with soy and truffle, and salmon belly with kimchi and teriyaki – both great combos. Then, the grand finale, in the form of torched hamachi belly, then halibut fat, and, lastly, foie gras. All of these, but in particular the final one, was so good I had to close my eyes to feel all the different flavors, textures, and aromas at play. Wonderful balance all the way. Naturally, I had to ask for a second serving of the pan-fried foie gras nigiri with pickled kumquat and teriyaki sauce. By now, it’s not a secret that it made it to no. 6 on my top list of best dishes in 2017. That’s how good it was!
I’m gonna skip the fourth topic, which consisted of one single meat serving, because the light was too bad at this point to take any photos. To be honest, if it was up to me, the meal might as well have ended after the nigiri-part. Alekseyi Shegai is truly a king of rice – I would dare to say at the level of Roger Joya. Each piece is so carefully shaped, that you can see every grain of rice. The temperature is just right, and the balance is perfect between sweet and sour, as well as creamy and sticky. Combine that with toppings and flavors that linger in the mouth and brings forth happy memories, and you have one of the finest sushi restaurants in Norway.
Are you a sushi-lover from Sandnes? Let me know in a comment if you tried Sabi Enzo yet.