Arts restaurant review

Omakase Rock-N-Roll

Colin Lynch’s Lighthearted Omakase Packs a Serious Punch

No Relation

Sushi, $$$$

11 William E. Mullins Way

Boston, MA 02118

Tuesday – Saturday 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

If it weren’t for the menu plastered onto the glass inside beside the door, I would have thought I’d taken a wrong turn. The exposed HVAC, service elevator, and concrete steps suggested I was in a parking garage, but the ocean-themed wall art snaking down the stairs and the music wafting up from several stories below told me I was in the right place.

I followed the music down several flights and emerged into a lively tropical bar complete with string lights, a disco ball, and a full slate of tropical drinks. Patrons chatted over cocktails like Tomb of the Merfolk (wakame-infused rum, Midori, blue Curaçao, Aperol) and the Maelstrom (bespoke Barrel of Plantation Peru Rum, cognac, banana liqueur, coconut cream). The bar teemed with convivial thirtysomethings, many of whom probably lived only a couple blocks away in trendy South End townhomes.

I was led further into the depths of the building, past the bathrooms and around a corner to a nondescript door. I emerged into a small room with nine seats and a sushi counter filled with boxes of pre-cut sashimi and garnishes. The space felt both relaxed and intimate; everyone sat within a few arms’ length of each other and made quiet conversation.

No Relation is Boston restaurateur Colin Lynch’s passion project. Lynch trained under Boston culinary icon Barbara Lynch—the restaurant’s name pays cheeky homage to their coincidentally shared last name—at restaurants like No. 9 Park and Menton, steering Menton to a James Beard nomination for “Best New Restaurant.” In 2016, he opened Bar Mezzana with his wife Heather and former colleague Jefferson Macklin in the burgeoning South End.

“[When] we opened Bar Mezzana seven years ago, [we] weren’t looking to open another restaurant at the time,” says Lynch. A developer tried to pitch him on a vacant space across the street from Bar Mezzana, but he didn’t like the idea of opening another street-facing restaurant that would compete with his already successful flagship. But once he heard that the adjacent basement was available, he became intrigued by the idea of opening a subterranean bar. “They had this built-out basement that was so long and so big… I was joking with my wife that it’s almost where you put a restaurant within a restaurant.” That bar became Shore Leave, a tropical-themed oasis two floors below William Mullins Way. But what would go in the smaller, more intimate space in the back of the bar? “Sushi.”

Lynch drew inspiration from an experience at one particular restaurant. “It all kind of stemmed from being in the Upper East Side in New York at a place called Tenoshi,” says Lynch. “There were moments where everyone was talking to each other, and moments where everyone was in their own little bubble. And that’s what I wanted to emulate.” In a category of restaurants dominated by wildly expensive, humorless experiences, Colin was guided by one question: “How are we going to make this feel a little more rock-n-roll?”

Colin’s answer is unexpected: emphasizing hospitality, hip-hop, and lots of sake. Outkast, 50 Cent, and Nelly played as I selected a junmai daiginjo from the extensive selection. As the first course was being prepared, I got to know my neighbors. East Coast transplants Julia and Sam told me about their upcoming travel plans to Japan. Bostonians Rachel and Justin went to college at nearby Stonehill and just had their first child. We discuss music, sports, and even my classwork. In this small, underground room, making friends was easy.

No Relation isn’t trying to emulate the omakase counters of Tokyo or New York. Many of those are austere (Lynch describes them as “temple-like”), and the most traditional—the edomae-style counters—strictly abide by three rules: sugar-free sushi rice, exclusive use of Akazu red vinegar (as compared to normal rice vinegar), and fish sourced only from Tokyo Bay. Even wearing perfume is frowned upon for its interference with the meticulously prepared flavors.

No Relation forgoes many of these traditional guidelines. A map plastered with magnetic numbers, each indicating where the fish for the corresponding course originates, sits center stage behind the chefs; Lynch is proud that his ingredients come from all over the world. He describes his lack of Japanese heritage as both a challenge and an advantage. “I have a real reverence for the history of sushi specifically, but I don’t feel like I need to adhere to traditions as much as somebody else might—and that’s very liberating.” 

Every piece told its own story. The lubina was clean and let the shiso and ume garnishes shine. The madai was smoky and sweet with a well-executed bit of spice. Shima aji with uni and onion exploded with umami. Secondary flavors play an extensive role—many bites showcase yuzu or soy onion as much as toro or hiramasa. The masa exploded with Thai spices, and the kamasu was smoky and acidic. It became clear that the fish was not only the main event, but a canvas to be explored. This wasn’t just omakase; it was a meal full of flavors you wouldn’t ordinarily find at a nine-person fish counter.

The meal ended with a delicate chawanmushi, a traditional Japanese egg custard typically served towards the end of set-menu meals. This rendition was delectably light and embroidered with small chunks of crab. As I leave, Only a couple of people linger at the bar as the bartenders close up. I walk back up the stairs and prepare to emerge into the cold evening. I’m sad my meal is over, but simply knowing this place exists, 40 feet below the monotony of daily life, makes me smile.