Category Archives: Japanese

Bario Ramen @ Bugis+

So I’ve been slowly working my way through the six “Ramen Champions” at Bugis+. Second on the list (after Aoyama) was Bario Ramen from Tokyo, which serves Jiro style ramen. The Guardian UK recently listed Jiro in its “50 best things to eat in the world” list. “Ramen of the man, by the man, for the man.”

And I think it absolutely delivers on that promise.

The first thing you notice from Jiro-style ramen that differentiates it from other ramen is the noodle. It’s thick and chewy. Piled on top is a mountain of bean sprouts. And the chasu is also not the traditional round thin slices. It’s chunky and meaty slices of tender pork belly. And the tonkotsu stock is rich and flavoursome.

There’s a lot in to the bowl to eat, and Bario offers an almost ridiculous choice to double your noodles.

It’s a go-to favourite of my hubby’s for all the reasons above. For me, the first slurp/spoonful was delicious, but by the third or fourth, I was pretty much done. Perhaps the richness of the stock, or the stodginess of the noodle – it lived up to its infamous resistance to digestion.

And so I continue my quest to try all six chefs’ ramen and make my decision as who would be my ramen champion. Stay tuned for more…and the final verdict.

Aoyama Ramen @ Bugis+

Want to be spoiled for choice when it comes to ramen ? Then head over to Ramen Champion on the fourth floor of Bugis+ (formerly Illuma) on Victoria Street, where famous ramen chains from Japan battle it out under one roof for your tastebuds.

Each has a unique strength – one has the best flavoured egg, the other the best flavoured tonkotsu (pork bone) stock etc.

Rather than inducing a ramen-coma, D and I plan to make many regular visits, working our way through the various chefs/restaurants, to decide who is our ramen champion !!

First visit we went to Aoyama Ramen, where chef Hideaki Aoyama is famous for his flavoured egg. We chose it specifically because they also grilled their slices of chasu (thinly sliced pork belly), thinking it would add a lovely smoky intensity to the flavour.

I ordered the tsukamen, where the noodles are cold and served on a plate with the sliced chasu, egg and nori, accompanied with a rich dipping broth.

The noodles had a wonderful chewiness about it and the stock was rich enough to coat each strand of noodle that was dipped, without being too cloying. The pork slices were delicious too – tender enough to melt in your mouth with that additional sear from being grilled. The famous egg ? Nothing to write home about – a little too soft boiled for my liking (but that could just be a personal preference).

One down, five to go !

Aoyama Ramen
Ramen Champion
201 Victoria Street
#04-10 Bugis+
Tel: 62381011

Open daily 11.30am – 10.30pm

Menya Musashi @ Raffles City

Menya Musashi – one of the most popular ramen chains in Japan – has recently hit our sunny shores, opening up at Raffles City.

As with most new things in Singapore, there’s a ridiculously long queue to get a seat, but we were lucky enough to get a seat for lunch one Saturday and ordered from the limited menu, which I always love because it makes me think if they are that popular with so few items, then they’re going to be really very good.

How you select your ramen (Subway sandwich style):

1) soup or dipping sauce (tsukemen) ?

2) white, red or black ? (white = white miso, red miso, explained to me as “spicy”, black = with garlic)

3) 1/2/3 servings of noodles ?

4) type of pork – standard or chashu

I absolutely love tsukemen, which is traditionally cold noodles with a rich dipping sauce – eaten during the steaming hot summers in Japan. At Menya Musashi, the noodles (which are wonderfully chewy) are hot, as is the dipping sauce, but in airconditioning, it’s all good.

The stock for the standard ramen is miso-based, yet has the thickness that I associate with the much richer tonkotsubased soups. Tonkotsu is pork based, where pork hocks are stewed for hours on end, giving a stock rich in flavour and thick consistency from the bones (including the gelatinous marrow). Menya Musashi’s stock was understandably much lighter in flavour than a tonkotsu-based one. I have tried the white, red and black, though, and while I expect a milder flavour from the white miso stock, the red and black were to me, just different coloured. I didn’t taste any spice in the red, and only a mild flavour of garlic in the black. (Perhaps it’s because one of our favourite ramen joints in Singapore is Nansuttei which has pretty full-on fragrant garlic oil).

I’m hoping that that eagerness to try the new kid on the block will die down. Then again, I just saw a billboard for Ramen Champion, a place where you can try several different types of ramen, so Menya has more competition than Ippudo or Nansuttei

Menya Musashi Ramen
252 North Bridge Road
#01-16 Raffles City Shopping Centre
Tel: 6336 6500

Open: Mon-Sun 11.30am – 9.30pm

Waku Ghin’s signature sea urchin with botan shrimp and Oscietre caviar

Tetsuya Wakuda is one of my favourite chefs from my visits to Tetsuya’s in Sydney – back in Rozelle and also when it moved to Kent Street. I have always admired his ability to pair pure and distinct flavours so beautifully. I finally got to go to Waku Ghin at Marina Bay Sands this week, and what a treat it was.

Your meal is served primarily in small 8-seater rooms in front of a teppanyaki grill and with your personal chef for the evening. Counter seating is always my preference – it gives you an opportunity to talk to the chef, see the produce, watch him cook, and also sneakily take a peek at what others are ordering to inspire you to try new things.

With a set 10-course degustation menu, you don’t get the chance to do the latter, but we did get a preview of the first course from the other couple who were seated in our room and who had arrived before us. By the third course, the team at Tetsuya had deftly managed to catch the four of us up so we were all served the remaining savoury courses at the same time.

Chilled white asparagus soup with white miso and Oscietre caviar

We started with a chilled cream of white asparagus soup with white miso cream and Oscietre caviar. What a way to start a meal. The soup was so silky and so full of flavour of the delicate white asparagus you really wished there was more (that was the common theme for all the dishes during the evening, actually).

Second was Waku Ghin’s signature dish – marinated botan shrimp with sea urchin and Oscietre caviar, stunningly presented in a half shell of sea urchin. To be eaten with a mother-of-pearl spoon, you are recommended to eat every mouthful with a bit of all three, and with each you get the sweetness of the prawn and sea urchin and the explosion of saltiness from the caviar. This has got to be up there as one of my favourite dishes ever.

Slow-cooked John Dory with roasted eggplant

Third course was slow-cooked John Dory with roasted eggplant and a chicken stock reduction. Our chef explained to us how they made the chicken stock and the laborious and complex processes to ensure only the clean flavour of the chicken was extracted and reduced. An odd pairing with fish and eggplant, and I think the chicken stock reduction tied the dish together well.

Australian abalone with fregola, rocket, seaweed and tomato

Next up was fresh Australian abalone, simply seared on the teppan and served with fregola, tomato, rocket and seaweed. This was about as rare as I have ever had abalone, miles away from the more chewy abalone you usually get at Chinese banquets. This was fresh and succulent and sweet and presented in this way almost was like eating it straight from the sea.

Braised Canadian lobster with tarragon

Braised Canadian lobster came next, quintessentially French-style, in a stock made from the lobster shells, finished with butter and tarragon. Again, the lobster was cooked so that it was just to the point past being raw, allowing the sweetness and the tenderness of the lobster to shine.

The beautifully marbled Japanese Ohmi wagyu roll

Two beef dishes followed. The first was charcoal grilled fillet of Tasmanian grass-fed  beef with Tetsuya’s own-brand wasabi mustard. The chef seared these in front of us on the teppan before slicing them into bite-sized pieces of beef so tender you felt that you could cut it with a butter knife. Nothing fancy here, just a fillet of beef on your plate and tasted great with or without the wasabi mustard.

Japanese Ohmi wagyu roll with wasabi and citrus soy

Japanese Ohmi wagyu roll from Shiga Prefecture came next. Just looking at the gorgeous marbling on the raw beef filled the room with oohs and aahs. I think it was because we knew that that marbling would be melt-in-the-mouth flavour once cooked. It was served with freshly-grated wasabi, fried garlic slices, thinly sliced Japanese negi and a citrus soy dipping sauce. Similar to the fillet, I tried the beef on its own and then with a little bit of all the condiments and in this instance, the inclusion of everything made the marvelous wagyu sing in your mouth.

Consommé with rice and snapper

Final savoury dish was a consommé with rice and snapper followed with a palate-cleansing cup of gyokuro, tea made from green tea that has been grown in the shade. A touch of yuzu zest to the consommé lifted the dish making it a clean and refreshing end to the meal. And the tea, which was brewed with water at just 40C had a distinct savoury, seaweed flavour. Absolutely perfect example of umami.

Selection of exquisite petit fours to end a perfect meal

We were almost sad to be moved out of our private dining area to a more traditional dining area to eat have our final two courses of dessert – mostly because it was an indication that the meal was coming to its end. I have to be totally honest and say that Tetsuya’s desserts have never wowed me the same way his savoury dishes do, and this was no different. We were served a cold soup of strawberry with lychee and coconut and what turned out to be my birthday cake, a milk chocolate cake with caramel and citrus. Both were delicious – as were the petit fours, but my memory of Waku Ghin is firmly, and happily, within the walls of the private dining room.

Waku Ghin
Casino Level 2
Access lifts located:
B1 & Opposite ArtBox at Level 1
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
Tel: +65 6688 8507

Open for lunch on Fridays 11.30am – 1.30pm
Dinner two seatings 6pm and 8.30pm

Sokyo, Sydney

Grain fed Rangers Valley sirloin with hon shimeji mushrooms and a lime black pepper jus

Chef Chase Kojima helms the counter at this slick new restaurant in Pyrmont, Sydney. It’s clear that his time working at Nobu restaurants around the world have been a strong influence on him as he brings modern Japanese cuisine to Sydney

The staff in this buzzy restaurant are attentive and knowledgeable and they selected dishes for us to be shared at the table. Our waiter explained that the dishes would follow the order of the menu – starting with sashimi, then tempura, grilled dishes from the robata, and finally sushi (we skipped soup and salad).

Hokkaido scallop sashimi with yuzu honey dressing and crunchy miso

Our waiter either clearly knew what we wanted from chatting with us, or all the food served there is outstanding. I like to think a bit of both.

Kingfish ceviche with green chilli and crispy potato

We started with Kingfish miso ceviche and scallops. I guess with great access to superbly fresh seafood, both of these were going to be great anyway, with the Kingfish a classic ceviche, marinated in lemon and green chilli and topped with crispy potato strips. The scallops came thinly sliced, dressed with yuzu honey and topped with crunchy miso. The citrusy yuzu dressing and the saltiness of the miso brought out the sweetness of the beautiful Hokkaido scallops.

Snapper tempura with black pepper and green chilli vinegar

Next up was the tempura. One of my favourites of the evening was lightly tempura’d snapper fillets that came with an insanely good black pepper and green chilli vinegar dipping sauce. We also had asparagus with a truffle poke sauce and edamame dip.

Beef short ribs with caramalised eschallots and kurubota pork belly with spicy shirodashi and yuzukosho

From the robata, beef short ribs with caramised eschallots and a BBQ terriyaki sauce, tsukune chicken with shallots and a pineapple ginger sauce, octopus with a Peruvian glaze and sirloin with foie gras, fig and a plum wine soy. To be honest, the sauces here I think overpowered the dishes, but each of the meats was so perfectly cooked. I particularly remember the melt in your mouth texture of the short ribs and how tender the octopus was. We also had kurubota pork belly, with spicy shirodashi and yuzukosho (a paste from chilli peppers, yuzu peel and salt), grain fed Rangers Valley sirloin with hon shimeji mushrooms and lime black pepper jus and a classic, miso cod. Yes, we may have ordered too much.

“Queensland roll” – spanner crab, spicy avocado sushi wrapped in soy paper

We then moved to the sushi course of “Queensland roll” – a roll made with spanner crab, spicy avocado, and soy paper, and spicy tuna with crispy rice, truffle salt and a spicy mayo. Maybe I am partial to seafood but I love that the food ended on something lighter. Both these again let the seafood shine, especially the crab in the Queensland roll.

The meal finished with a selection of desserts all of which were great (my favourite was the fondant). I think desserts deserve a separate post, each a little piece of delicious art. And a wonderfully sweet way to end a fantastic meal.

Ground floor, the Darling
The Star
80 Pyrmont Street
Pyrmont NSW 2009
Tel: 61 2 9777 9000

Lunch: Fri-Sat 12pm – 2.30pm
Dinner: Mon-Thu 6pm – 10:15pm
Fri & Sat 6pm – 11:15pm
Sunday closed

Takumi Tokyo

Sashimi plate at Takumi Tokyo

A friend of mine lives at Keppel Marina and one evening we decided to go local and have dinner at Takumi Tokyo. It’s a lovely space, with a great view of the marina, and I was surprised there was so few people dining on a Friday night (we later found out people around the area like to drink vs eat, and Privé, the bar downstairs was absolutely mobbed).

There are three areas to sit, matching types of Japanese cuisine – teppanyaki, robotayaki and à la carte. I always love to sit at the counter, so we chose the teppanyaki counter and ordered from that menu, along with a few from the à la carte menu.

The quality of the seafood at Takumi is fantastic, and overall the food is great but I’d stick to the basics – sashimi, momotaro – fresh fruit tomato, although we also had fried conga eel bones which were a deliciously crunchy snack that went well with the Hakata sake we were drinking.

Uni and scallops with a paprika sauce cooked on the teppan

We ordered two dishes from the teppan – butter salmon which was good – simply prepared teppan fried salmon in butter, and then we made an error and got fancy – scallops with sea urchin and paprika sauce. Not sure what I was really expecting but sea urchin disintegrates when cooked and I think the scallops on their own would have been better. I am so used to fresh sea urchin and that fresh sweet flavour of the uni was completely lost.  The paprika sauce seemed to overpower the delicate flavour of the scallops as well.

I am not complaining – I don’t have access to fabulous sashimi a stone’s throw away from me and I’d be keen to try their robotayaki counter next time. Or perhaps relive my Kyoto teppanyaki experience with wagyu steak.

Takumi Tokyo
2 Keppel Bay Vista, #02-01
Marina at Keppel Bay
Singapore 098382
Tel: +65 6271 7414

Monday – Sunday
12:00pm – 2:30pm
6:00pm – 10:30pm

A quick weekend in New York

Doesn’t look anything like the picture on the cart – but it was yummy nonetheless 🙂

I was recently in New York for work, and I was lucky enough to squeeze a weekend of eating and drinking in that fabulous city.

I ate the whole gamut of food – from pizzas and hot dogs from street vendors and at a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden, to  black miso cod at the divine Nobu, with Pastis and Balthazars in between. I was in heaven.

Fresh Fluke sashimi with dried miso

My first meal was at Balthazar where I was reacquainted with exceptional service – having lived in Asia for the last five years, it’s apparent that my standards have been lowered…attentive but never intrusive, our waitress knew what we wanted before we did. Awesome. And it didn’t hurt that the food there was delicious as well. It was far too dim to even bother taking photos but their chicken liver and foie gras mousse (which I have to say it did look a little scarily on the red side) and their lobster with black truffle risotto that I had were both super smooth and rich, and utterly delicious.

One of Nobu’s signature dishes – black miso cod

Nobu was my next dinner. Marrying his training in Tokyo with influences from his time spent in Peru, the chef served up yellowtail sashimi with jalapenos, fluke sashimi with dried miso, rock shrimp tempura and black miso cod, all of which were the ultimate in Japanese cuisine – using only the best produce with a perfect balance of flavours and textures.

French onion soup at Pastis

Pastis was my last lunch before I had to head to the airport. The brasserie is full with people squeezed into tables so close together they may as well join in your conversation, but once you settle in, it all becomes a nice buzzy blur and you can just enjoy your food with your friends. I had a random meal there starting with French onion soup and followed by pancakes. Don’t know really why, it’s just two dishes on the menu that I felt like that day (it might have been a left over from a few too many champagnes at Beauty and Essex bar in the Lower East Side the night before !). It all worked to close off a very busy week in the Big Apple.  Love it.

HY California

The very dramatically presented soft shelled crab maki at HY California

Wanting to catch a light bite while at the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) Conference Centre, I went in search of Hide Yamamoto’s HY California sushi bar.  The mall is absolutely enormous, and very poorly signaged (it didn’t help that the interactive shopping guides were all out of order) so it took us a while to find the sushi bar, which is outside the mall, facing the marina.

Tuna and squid sashimi

HY California really functions as a bar, that happens to serve sushi for you to snack on while you drink.  Kind of cool, reminds me of a rainy day my friends and I spent holed up in a robotayaki in Tokyo, where we basically sat and drank sake all day, with food ordered and served from the grill as and when we wanted.

The very friendly sushi chef behind the counter who took our order had just arrived from Japan, didn’t speak very much English, nor was he familiar with the menu. We ordered with another chef and shortly after, our dishes started arriving.

California roll

The menu is limited, but as I always say, a short menu usually means that what they offer, they do well. Nothing fancy, and we ordered our “standard” sushi – soft shelled crab maki, tuna sashimi, spicy tuna rolls. Everything was fresh and delicious, although the rolls could have had a bit more firmness so the journey from plate to mouth wasn’t as messy (and my chopstick skills are pretty good!).

Tuna and avocado maki

I know this isn’t Yamamoto’s flagship restaurant – it’s casual dining, but it’s not at all what I expected, and the whole American rock feel of the place seemed to clash rather than complement the traditional sushi counter.  Would I go back again ? Not really sure. There are certainly other places I would much rather go to, but around the Marina area, I guess if I wanted a fresh and quick sushi hit.

HY California
Bay Level, L1-86
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
Tel: 6688 7426

Open Daily 5.30pm – 11pm (last order 10.30pm)

Standing Sushi

Shiro maguro (white tuna) and sake (salmon) sashimi

Standing Sushi is one of the best places to eat super good sushi in Singapore.  Their shiny new premises at Marina Bay Link Mall are a bit more difficult to get to than their now-closed outlet at OUB Centre, but I quite liked eating somewhere that wasn’t 2 feet away from the crazy hustle and bustle of lunchtime at OUB Centre/Raffles Place MRT.

The menu was very simple – sushi, sashimi, donburi, salads and maki – I don’t recall any cooked food.  One of the recommendations from the friendly waitress was shiro maguro –white tuna – something that I have not ever heard of before.

The chef served this sashimi style, marinated for 5 hours in his secret blend of sauces before slicing and serving on a plate with equally generous slices of salmon.

The texture is smooth with the same softness of fresh salmon sashimi and has a slightly salty taste (presumably from the marinade).  It was absolutely delicious and I wonder how different the texture and taste would be when the fish is served unadulterated and fresh.

Sashimi platter with prawn, squid, octopus, salmon, tuna and white tuna

We also had the sashimi plate and the sashimi salad.  Every piece of seafood, from the usual salmon and tuna, to the more unusual prawns and squid and scallops was wonderfully firm and sweet, needing just a little dip into our soya sauce with wasabi.

If you are looking for somewhere to eat fantasticly fresh seafood, this is the place to go.  It’s not situated in the main corridors so looks out for it – it’s behind the Four Seasons Gourmet Market.

Standing Sushi Bar
Marina Bay Link Mall
8A Marina Boulevard
B2-51 Marina Bay Link Mall
Tel: (65) 6634 7068

Opening Hours – Mon-Sat 11.30am – 9.00pm
Closed on public holidays and Saturdays following public holidays on a Friday

Oooh…Kinki…@ Customs House

Snapper carpaccio with truffle oil 

Having a drink at Oyster Bar on a Monday night, a friend and I decided to try our luck at Kinki without a reservation.

It’s at Customs House with entry via an elevator at street level. A hostess greeted us, asking us if we had a reservation and then escorted us up to the second floor where another waiter asked if we had a reservation.  A bit of overkill ?  Perhaps, but then Kinki isn’t the sort of establishment that is understated, starting from the crazy Japanese graffiti on the floor and walls as you enter, to the grand view of Marina Bay Sands as you walk to your table.

We had prime position at the counter, and the friendly chefs recommended what was a stunning dish – thinly sliced snapper carpaccio with ponzu sauce and drizzled with truffle oil.  He actually asked “do you like truffle oil” – is there anyone that doesn’t ??? 🙂

The snapper came sliced so thin you could see the glass plate it was served on.  Wonderfully fragranced with the truffle oil, the fish was sweet and delicious.

As for the rest of the meal…I have to say that they do try hard in terms of presentation, but for the price that you are paying, I have come to expect a much higher standard.

Sashimi plate – kingfish, sea urchin, salmon, swordfish and tuna

We started with a selection of sashimi – what sort of fish we left to the chef, which usually means you get the best of what they have that day. There was kingfish, uni (sea urchin), salmon, swordfish and tuna (which was hidden behind the shiso leaf) and whilst the uni, salmon and kingfish were freshly firm and sweet, the swordfish and tuna, which I expect to taste rich and almost creamy, had a disappointingly watery texture.

Perhaps then the dish we had after was poorly ordered but we ordered a dragon roll and a spicy tuna roll, and I almost felt like I could have ordered the same thing from a sushi chain like Sushi Tei.  Nothing special at all about it, and the rolls were very loosely rolled so everything fell as you tried to navigate it from plate to mouth.

The place is buzzy and fun, and the chefs behind the counter are all friendly and chatty but I got a feeling that this place lacked authenticity – perhaps I am more accustomed to Japanese sushi chefs who are almost sombre when they are preparing their food – their concentration is so great.  Add that with the sashimi dish, I am glad I finally went, but think it will be a once off for me.