Freshness and presentation.

Hi, who are you?
My name is Guan Xin, and I’ve been in Finland for eleven years. My background is in industrial management. I came as an exchange student, and I liked it. I like the way they do business here, so I wanted to stay. I also like to fish (many restaurant owners like fishing, by the way) so I go to the beaches at Vuosaari or Munkkiniemi for the hauki (pike) or the kuha (pike-perch).

Whose idea was to open the restaurant?
Both my wife’s and mine. It was in June 2010. We were looking for options, and we found through Helsingin Sanomat a place called Koto, a Japanese-food restaurant that was about to sell. We came to check it out, we thought it’s a good place. We then got a Japanese chef and we re-opened as Domo Restaurant.

A smart move, as I imagine many previous customers have kept coming here?
Yes, yes. Starting up is difficult for every business. Customers need to find you, and our location, even though we are technically in Kamppi, is a bit out of the way. So, since many customers knew Japanese food was available here previously, it was easier to transition.

Did you know a lot about sushi before starting?
Actually, no. But our first chef did. He worked previously at YUME, the asian restaurant at Kamp hotel, and was the one who designed the original menus. But he is American-Japanese, and never worked in Japan. Our current chef has actually worked in Japan for twenty years, and he has redesigned everything more closely to the real Japanese style. More minimalistic, more simple in taste. Whenever Japanese customers come, they go “ah! this is genuine Japanese sushi!”

Have you yourself learned to cook by now?
Yes, I have. That’s why I feel confident now to discuss food-making. The chefs taught me, and I also learned by myself, little by little. First the basic stuff: how to wash the rice… Even though I am the owner, I wanted to learn and understand everything, every little thing.

What’s your business strategy?
The key to good Japanese food is freshness and presentation. We pay more money to get the fish and the vegetables delivered fresh every day. There’s a huge difference if the ingredients have been stored for days, or if they’re fresh. And the other key element is the presentation. We keep it simple, we don’t want to include too many elements.

I know a few places that receive fresh fish every day, but their prices are way higher than ours. What we want is to focus on family customers, so when they come, it’s a family meeting. They can have something like fine-dining, but not as expensive, something in the middle: very high quality at a reasonable price.

Let’s talk food. What makes Domo different?
The quality. For example, do you know what surimi is?

Yes, but please explain.
Surimi is a paste, made out of wheat and fish, mostly, but it can contain other stuff as well. It’s used a lot in the food industry because it’s very cheap, and you can make it look and taste like more expensive food, like crab or lobster, for example. And what many food places do is to stuff their rolls with surimi and fat rice. We, on the other hand, put real crab meat in our California rolls, which is very expensive. Then we use good mayonnaise and avocado. We use less rice too, and put more meat. We also wash the rice in a traditional way, so it comes out super-clean, not sticky and clumped. When you cut one of our rolls you can clearly see the individual grains of rice. And we use professional rice cookers.

Timing is very important as well. When you make nigiri and you prepare the salmon, after five minutes the surface becomes too dry. Lay out a piece of salmon meat on the table at room temperature for a moment, and you will see the difference. Or take avocado, for instance. Perfectly ripe avocado, ready to eat, is delicious, and almost sweet to the taste. But cheap avocado is hard, it smells, and it’s bitter. Not good.

How can you prepare food like this in 15’?
It’s a delicate balance. Because sushi of this quality takes a long time to prepare, we need to balance how much time customers will wait for their orders, how much time is needed for them to eat in comfort before they go and we can serve other customers… We could have things pre-cooked beforehand to shorten the waiting time, but the quality would not be the same, you could taste the difference. So it’s a constant juggle.

What are your plans for the future?
If everything goes well, I would like to open another restaurant, and offer Japanese hot meals different from sushi. And I’m also planning to export Finnish products, which are excellent, to Asia. The Finnish market is small, the Chinese one is huge. I always keep my eyes open for opportunities because, you know, success belongs to those who are prepared. I don’t intend to be a restaurant owner for life, that is not my goal. That’s why we close on Sundays, and from 14:30 to 17, because I want all the crew -and myself- to rest, and have more energy to work. I want everybody to be in a good, light mood. If they are heavy, the food also becomes heavy. But when you prepare food with love, the customers can feel it.

Domo Restaurant’s is in Kalevankatu 21, or visit their website to make a reservation.