From the craze for instant temaki rolls sold all over town to some of the most imaginative combinations of anemone and oyster fresh from the high seas, Rio's sushi scene is thriving. Anyony used to nit-picking their way through pricey menus elsewhere in the world will find much to love in the rodizio all-you-can-eat buffets (where, thankfully, the greedy get fined for leaving food behind), but the more subtle, imaginative end of the delicate Japanese speciality is also well catered for. We pick out five of the best.
If there is one universal truth in Japanese restaurants, its that if there is no effort put into the decoration of the place and it is still packed (even better with a Japanese clientele) then the focus is all on the food. Or it is unbelievably cheap. Fortunately, Azumi is the former. As unassuming inside as it is outside, this Copacabana institution is the polar opposite of the likes of Yumê and proudly so. You’ll be asked to remove your shoes before entering the screened-off private dining rooms, and once inside presented with wildly flavousome udon soup, exceptional squid and succulent slices of salmon sashimi in the mysterious house sauce. Rua Ministro Viveiros de Castro 127, Copacabana (21 2541 4294). Open Tue-Thu & Sun 7pm-midnight; Fri-Sat 7pm-1am.
Undoubtedly one of the hottest spots on Rua Dias Fereira, the queues outside Sushi Leblon every night speak for themselves. Loved and loathed almost in equal measure, the sleek design of the restaurant would be right at home in West London or New York’s hippest districts and so would the prices. Start off with some sea-salted edamame and a cup of ice-cold sake and take your time to peruse the menu and your surroundings. The simple salmon sashimi is a delight, or for those seeking some stronger flavours the tuna and foie gras combination is pure indulgence. Don’t be afraid to try the tuna tartare with raw egg either - once fork-whipped together it becomes a treat of taste and texture. Rua Dias Fereira 256, Leblon (21 2512 7830/sushileblon.com.br). Open Mon-Wed noon-4pm & 7pm-1.30am; Thu-Sat noon-1.30am; Sun 1pm-midnight.
The theory runs that if somewhere is good enough for Madonna to ask to take it over so she can dine in peace then it must be worth a look. The atmosphere at Yumê is actually perfect for couples as well as cowering celebrites, so ask for a table in the candle-lit rear dining room with its floor-seating and koi carp swimming merrily underfoot. The moriwasse platter is a decent starting point with its crunchy shrimp, chicken, kanidama and harumaki, and elsewhere the crab and octopus temaki rolls are standouts. As you would expect, the quality of the sashimi in the enormous combinados is exceptional. Rua Pacheco Leão 758, Jardim Botânico (21 3205 7321/yumekin.com). Open Mon-Thu 6pm-1am; Fri-Sat noon-2am; Sun noon-midnight.
The 'rodízio' specialist
All-you-can-eat sushi seems like a pretty outlandish idea to anyone who enjoys occasionally dipping in to their raw fish protein hit rather than gorging upon it, but for the bold of belly it is a thing of wonder. Hidden away on a side alley next to the Legislative Assembly, Hachiko is as hard to find as it is to forget. Head up the impressive staircase and allow the first impressions to wash over you while heading to your table. Second impressions will be all about the food, and R$65.90 grants you entry into a never-ending treasure chest of sushi and sashimi delights as well as more unusual combos like the fried balls of duck with mango chutney and the spicy salmon. The former lunchtime-only gem now opens in the evenings too. Travessa do Paço 10, Centro (21 2533 6366/restaurantehachiko.com.br). Open Mon-Fri noon-4pm & 6-11pm; Sat noon-4pm.
The popular choice
Probably the most widely known Japanese restaurant in Rio, Manekineko's six restaurants are spread across the city from Botafogo to Barra, all with their signature design that has the unfortunate whiff of a low-class lapdancing club. The all-you-can-eat option (R$64 at lunchtime and R$70 at dinner and the weekends) covers most bases, but the menu has much to offer too. Try the pirulito de lula defumada com castanha (smoked squid ‘lollies’ with cashew) or the Monte Fuji au citron, an impressive tower of salmon, tuna and shrimp rolls with layers of lemon, orange and lime. Rounding off with the nutella and strawberry temaki and a frozen cocktail is definitely to be encouraged. Rua Voluntários da Pátria 446, Cobal do Humaitá (21 2537 1510/manekineko.com.br). Open daily noon-last customer.