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A Japanese Culinary Odyssey

As Matsuhisa opens on the island of Paros, Japanese flavours are crafted using locally sourced delicacies.

In times when over-tourism raises increasing environmental concerns, the opening of the Nobu-style Matsuhisa restaurant on the Cycladic Island of Paros came to me as a surprise. Installed in newly opened 5-star hotel Avant-Mar - which stands out like an Asian-inspired oversized design lantern - the gastronomic hotspot is set in a vast open garden overlooking the bay of Naoussa.

A traditional fishing village installed on Paros’ Northern coast since the Komnenos dynasty - a Byzantine Greek noble family who ruled the Byzantine Empire in the 11th and 12th centuries - Naoussa is home to the biggest fleet of fishing boats in the Cyclades, making the port’s connection to the sea not only obvious but long-lasting.

A new addition to the Cyclades’ dining scene, Matsuhisa Paros had no other way than to embrace the island’s fishing legacy. While ordering dinner, we asked the restaurant manager and sushi chef to focus only on locally caught fish. If one agrees not to order the famous Alaskan black cod, Chilean seabass, and Wagyu beef - three signature dishes that have made the Matsuhisa brand’s success worldwide - the result can be quite surprising.

We started with a handful of small raw Mediterranean tuna tacos spiced up with freshly harvested sea salt; then came a local seabass tiradito with citrus and dried miso; followed by a locally harvested baby spinach salad with dried miso and secret dressing plus a plate full of seasonal vegetable tempura. The sushi-maki platter then presented to us came as the final tour de force: seared Greek eel, sliced Mediterranean octopus, spicy local tuna, island urchin and shrimp, it was a feast for the senses. And a way to indulge without a high carbon footprint.

Even if superlative bottles are available at a premium, the Matsuhisa Paros wine list also puts Greek wine labels, indigenous grape varieties and talented producers forward: a Monemvasia from Moraitis Estate, set only 2km away on Paros, a malagouzia from Gerovassiliou in Epanomi, near Thessaloniki, a Tesseris Limnes (a blend of chardonnay and gewürztraminer) from Kir-Yanni in Naoussa (that in Macedonia), an assyrtiko from Argyros estate in Santorini and Ammonite (old vineyards of assyrtiko) from Gaía wines, also in Santorini.

It seems obvious when one thinks about it that the very philosophy behind Matsuhisa and chef Nobu’s ethos is to bring to the table the best and freshest produce from the sea with a creative twist. If Japanese cuisine has made a name for itself worldwide thanks to incredible produce – whether from the sea, the land, or the garden - Greece is no small contender when it comes to fishing, growing, and harvesting the best produce in season.

Imagining a world in which international chefs systematically team up with the best local producers – saving on the (environmental and human) cost that relying on distributors and intermediates implies - makes more sense than ever.