Behind a heavy wooden pocket door find hand-cut terra-cotta tiles in a weathered blue glaze, sourced from Morocco and meant to conjure images of the Sea of Japan. Polished wooden handrails were inspired by a restroom in Kyoto that had a tree branch growing out of the wall, and the Toto Neorest toilet, imported from Japan, has a heated seat and panel of buttons that rivals a Tesla’s dashboard.
And then there’s the hand soap. While Aesop has become the go-to brand for high-end restaurants, signifying a rarefied attention to detail, Hiroki is the first restaurant the Australian beauty company worked with to create a whole line of items: The brass oil burner in the vestibule, the fragrant oshibori (warm hand towels) guests are given upon seating, and the finely milled pumice-infused soap and lotion all come in coordinating woody, smoky scents that evoke a Japanese forest. This attention to detail extends to the rest of the Hiroki experience—each element, from the design and decor to the menu, is approached with equally meticulous care.
Walk through the doors of the restaurant, tucked away on a side street across from a small swath of grassy park, and the first thing you notice is the absence of windows. It doesn’t feel cold or cavernous but as if you’re somewhere else. “It’s a different space and time,” says restaurant co-owner Randall Cook. “And everything is on purpose.”
Inspiration for the concept was taken, in part, from chef Hiroki Fujiyama’s home: Kyoto, Japan. The restaurant’s 10-foot circular wooden entryway was created by local father and son woodworking team Workerman Studios and finished with yakisugi, a Japanese technique of heating the wood to preserve it. The pebbled sidewalk in front of the building flows through the entrance and into the vestibule, effectively bringing nature into the building—another Japanese influence. Inside, the height of warm wood-paneled ceilings varies, and that’s by design, too. “We spent three hours discussing what the height of that ceiling should be,” Cook says, pointing over the sushi bar.
Cook, along with with Daniel Olsovsky and David Grasso, runs Method Co., a Philly-based design, real estate, and hospitality firm with projects that include Roost, a mini-chain of apartment hotels peppered around the city. Hiroki came about on the heels of the team’s successful first restaurant, Wm. Mulherin’s Sons. This stylish Italian spot serving rustic homemade pastas and wood-fired pizzas helped transform the neighborhood into a dining destination when it opened in 2016. Method Co. owned the building that housed Mulherin’s, and an extra 1,000-square-foot space behind the restaurant seemed perfect for an intimate Japanese concept. The firm recruited Fujiyama, who had spent over a decade working with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, to run the show in his first solo project.
Though the team originally imagined a menu focused on nigiri, the chef had another vision. “In general, I did not want to serve only sushi,” Fujiyama says. “I hope that our guests are more enlightened by a diverse omakase menu focused on seasonality.”
The dramatic lighting, designed by Copenhagen-based firm Menu, spotlights the chef and his colleagues as if they were onstage. Wearing a crisp white button-down, Fujiyama deftly slices Japanese sea bass, delicately brushes each piece with soy and wasabi, and generally orchestrates the meal’s production.
The 20-course omakase will evolve with the seasons but currently kicks off with a tiny Japanese river crab, fried and salted. The sawagani is part of the appetizer selection, alongside equally tiny bites of pickled seaweed and cucumber, mustard-tinged bamboo shoots, and a delicately poached quail egg topped with caviar. This four-bite zensai sets the tone for what’s to come: a painstakingly prepared feast that’s as delicious as it is surprising. The 12-piece nigiri procession includes three different cuts of tuna, ranging from the leanest to the fattiest center-cut. There’s a plump little sea urchin on a bed of rice and seaweed; thin, tender slices of Wagyu short rib; and a bite of butterfish, artfully plated with a touch of yuzu chili paste. The beautiful handmade pottery plates and bowls are from Brooklyn-based ceramics studio Mondays.
“If this dish is served on a different plate, it’s not the same thing,” Olsovsky says. “It’s not that [the plates are] any more expensive. It just took longer [to find them], and we want [the dish] to be one of a kind.”
Each night, staggered reservations start with a 5:30 p.m. seating at the sushi bar. Before the second seating at 8 p.m., a server rearranges bar stools, measuring the distance between them with a single chopstick. At Hiroki, not even the chair composition is left to chance.
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