Dinner @ Shinji by Kanesaka (Carlton Hotel)

November 5, 2017 in Japanese

Craving for good sushi, I decided to join my IGGF (InstaGram GirlFriend) in one of her (super) regular visits to 1 Michelin star Shinji where she gets her dosage of head chef Oshino san’s sushi. And with this visit, it was also my first to dine at Shinji’s new space after their relocation to Carlton Hotel from Raffles Hotel.

My IGGF always assist with the reservation at Shinji. And what seem to be a first, I was told there’s 2 seatings for head chef Oshino san. Gasp. We were only able to secure the 1st seating at 12pm. Of which, we were required to vacate by 1.20pm for the second seating. So even before our actual lunch date, I had made up my mind to go for their sushi course once knowing that we had less than 1.5 hours. And it’s pretty seldom of me since I normally opt for omakase cause I like to have variety. Ie, not just sushi. Keke.

And at Shinji’s new space, head chef Oshino san now stood separately from the other chefs. Upon arrival, the staff clad in kimono led me down a long passage, walking by what seemed to be the main dining area where most customers were attended by the other chefs, to finally reach a room that’s small but big enough to contain a L-shaped counter for 8 and a table for 4. And yes, it’s in this room that head chef Oshino san stood alone behind the counter.

And from the menu (pages 1, 2), we ordered:-

1) Setsugetsuka sushi course set (yuki), $180 comprised of:-

(A) Appetiser (above)

(B) Sushi #1 (above) – Striped jack (shima aji) sushi.

(C) Sushi #2 (above) – Spanish macakarel (sawara) sushi.

(D) Sushi #3 (above) – Medium fatty tuna (chutoro) sushi.

(E) Sushi #4 (above) – Ōtoro 大トロ : Premium fatty tuna (otoro) sushi. Shimofuri cut.

(F) Sushi #5 (above) – Jack mackerel (aji) sushi.

(G) Sushi #6 (above) – Lean tuna (akami) sushi.

(H) Sushi #7 (above) – Sea urchin sushi.

(I) Sushi #8 (above) – Tiger prawn (kuruma-ebi) sushi.

(J) Sushi #9 (above) – Needlefish (sayori) sushi.

(K) Sushi #10 (above) – Bonito (katsuo) sushi.

(L) Sushi #11 (above) – Leather jacket fish (kawahagi) sushi.

(M) Sushi #12 (above) – Mackerel (saba) sushi.

(N) Sushi #13 (above) – Slightly torched Japanese barracuda (kamasu) sushi.

(O) Sushi #14 (above) – Black throat sea perch (nodoguro) sushi.

(P) Sushi #15 (above) – Sea eel (anago) sushi.

(Q) Soup (above) – Clear soup with minced tuna ball.

(R) Rolled sushi (above) – Rolled sushi with filling of minced tuna and spring onion (negitoro), rolled omelette (tamago) and pickled radish.

(S) Dessert (above) – Japanese rice cake (mochi) in yam pudding. It’s almost like the Japanese version of our Chinese dessert yam paste (orh nee/芋泥).


2) Sea urchin rice, $50 (above) – It was of much coincidence that my IGGF’s colleagues were lunching at Shinji too. They were getting the sea urchin rice as an additional a-la carte order and I decided to get 1 for myself too. Keke. And it was so good. I didn’t notice but my IGGF said 2 types of sea urchin was used. And we agreed the portion seemed bigger than usual. It was almost to the brim of the bowl.

Honestly and seriously… Shinji doesn’t disappoint. It’s one of the restaurants that’s consistently good. In my (humblest) opinion, Shinji serves the best nigiri sushi in Singapore. I especially love the sushi rice (shari) which is perfect. One could taste the vinegar yet it’s not too overpowering such that it outshine the sushi topping (neta).

Do I recommend Shinji? Definitely, without a doubt. It’s crazy how price-friendly the menu is at Shinji too. One could opt for $75 sushi course which comprised of 9-pieces nigiri sushi, maki sushi, soup and dessert. I know some non-Michelin starred sushi-ya don’t even offer any set courses cheaper than Shinji’s!

But be very punctual if one is slotted for the first seating. Else, try to make reservation for the second slot. I would reckon one definitely need to go with the second seating as I personally felt that omakase course require at least 1.5 hour for a comfortably paced meal. My IGGF and I could tell head chef Oshino san was rushing towards the second half of our lunch. And because I was also taking a little longer since I had additional order, we offered to shift to the table so that the staff could prepare for the second seating.

SHINJI BY KANESAKA
76 Bras Basah Rd, Carlton Hotel, Lobby Floor, Singapore
6338 6131, Website
Overall: 8.5
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 9
Mon – Sat : 12:00 – 15:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 8
Mon – Sat : 18:00 – 22:30 (Dinner)
Value: 9
Service: 8
* Closed on Sun

Lunch @ Sushi Arai 鮨 あらい (Tokyo, Japan)

August 30, 2017 in Japanese

With all the ongoing raves about Michelin-starred Sushi Arai by the Japanese instagrammers that I follow on social media, coupled with the fact that Sushi Arai was one of the few sushi-yas which could use Yamayuki (a specialty shop dedicated to tuna located in Tsukiji Market and a time-honored brand in the market)’s top cut, I got really keen in checking out Sushi Arai.

However, the real challenge was making the reservation. With rumours that Sushi Arai don’t accept reservation from hotel concierge, I decided to play it safe by using a reliable external booking agent. And having previously used Tableall’s service for 1 of my booking during my November 2016 trip and seeing that Sushi Arai was a Tableall’s listed restaurant, I contacted Tableall.

But to make reservation for February 2016, I was actually too early with my November 2015′s request since reservation is only taken up to two months ahead. Keke.

Located at basement 1 of RUAN Building, I arrived punctually at 12pm for a weekday lunch. I was fortunate to be given the best seat at the counter where I could watch chef-owner Yuichi Arai up close. And what caught my eye was the ice box refrigerator built into the rear wall. I read it’s an old tradition in the art of sushi-making where the fridge was cooled by ice blocks on the upper level instead of electricity to keep the sashimi at the right temperature. But it was unfortunate that my grasp of Japanese language was zero because the row of handwritten wooden plates hung on the wall wrote the fishes that’s offered for the day.

There’s 3 menus during lunch service; 10 pieces priced at ¥8000, 14 pieces ¥10,000 and dinner menu for ¥15,000. Having pre-selected my menu, I commenced my lunch with:-

1) 14 pieces, ¥10,000 comprised of:-

(A) Sushi #1 (above) – Flounder.

(B) Sushi #2 (above) – Snapper.

(C) Sushi #3 (above) – Big-eye snapper (kinmedai).

(D) Sushi #4 (above) – Squid.

(E) Sushi #5 (above) – Lean tuna (akami).

  

(F) Sushi #6 (above) – Medium fatty tuna (chutoro).

(G) Sushi #7 (above) – Gizzard shad (kohada).

(H) Sushi #8 (above) – Premium fatty tuna (otoro).

(I) Sushi #9 (above) – Kuruma-ebi (tiger prawn).

(J) Sushi #10 (above) – Halfbeak (sayori).

(K) Sushi #11 (above) – Surf claim adductor muscles (kobashira).

(L) Sushi #12 (above) – Saba (mackerel)

(M) Sushi #13 (above) – Saba (mackerel). I was surprised to be served a second sushi with the same topping (neta). Thinking that head chef Arai san might have made a mistake by placing it in front of me instead of the lady on my left, I left this particular sushi sitting on the counter instead of putting it into my mouth within 3 seconds from the time it’s served. Head chef Arai san who was busy talking to the pair of regulars on my right, caught on a bit later and went “Saba.” Oh. Okie. I guessed it was for me afterall Hmm…

(N) Sushi #14 (above) – Sea urchin.

(O) Maki roll (above) – Hand roll with hard clam and cucumber.

(P) Soup (above) – Clam soup.

I have heard read much about head chef Arai san prior to my visit. But to witness head chef Arai san reject a batch of sushi rice (shari) was a seal of confidence that head chef Arai san takes a lot of pride in his food; Red vinegared sushi rice (shari) was prepared in the kitchen and brought out in small batches to head chef Arai san. And at one point, after trying to knead the first ball of sushi rice with a fresh batch, the rice must have felt wrong because he immediately called his sous chef to replace the batch of rice.

With lunch starting at 12pm, my meal lasted 1 hour 15 minutes. Would I recommend Sushi Arai? Well… I honestly loved his sushi which were on the bigger size and with stronger seasoning. It was an interesting observation that head chef Arai san would wet his hands (both sides) before he commenced with each sushi making. But as one know, good food alone doesn’t make a wonderful overall dining experience. Chemistry between the chef and customers is equally important. Especially at sushi-yas when the 2 parties are within close proximity. Unfortunately for me, head chef Arai came across as slightly aloof. And that was made more noticeable cause I was dining alone.

Head chef Arai san focused a lot on his regulars, which I understand from a business point of view. But not too extreme lah. I noticed the Japanese couple, who came in together with me and sat on my far right, was equally neglected as me. Unsure if we came to the end of our meal with the bowl of soup since most sushi-yas would end the sushi course with a rolled egg omelette (tamago), the Japanese couple and I must have waited for almost 15 minutes before they decided to enquire with the staff. So following their cue, I also called for my bill.

So…. Would I still recommend Sushi Arai which was awarded their first Michelin star by Michelin Guide Tokyo 2017? Well… I would. Instead, to make the meal more enjoyable, perhaps come with a partner. =) Or better still, be able to speak some Japanese. Keke. And opt for their dinner menu if one is going during their lunch service. I was very much drooling over what was served to the regulars on my immediate right.

And because I made my reservation through Tableall, I had to pay a middleman fee which included 8% tax, 3.6% handling fee (used for credit card settlement) and ¥3000 booking fee (per head). Of which total figure was further rounded up to every ¥500.

SUSHI ARAI 鮨 あらい
Ruan Building, 8-10-2 Ginza, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 中央区 銀座 8-10-2 ルアンビル B1F)
+81 3 6264 5855, Tablelog
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Thu – Tues : 12:00 – 13:30 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Thu – Tues : 17:00 – 23:00 (Dinner)
Value: 7
Service: 7
* Closed on Wed

Dinner @ Kagurazaka Ishikawa (Tokyo, Japan)

August 26, 2017 in Japanese

Wanting to have at least a kaiseki meal in my February 2017 trip to Japan, I decided to head over to Michelin-starred Ishikawa. And I admit I got really excited knowing I need not rely on hotel concierge to make reservation. And as mentioned on their website, I called at 4pm as it’s after 3pm that they have a English-speaking staff who could take reservation for non-Japanese speaking customers.

With only 1 menu, I started my ¥22,000 dinner with:-

1) Dish #1 (appetiser) (above) – Japanese duck and winter spinach.


2) Dish #2 (deep-fried) (above) – Soft-shelled turtle, shiitake mushroom, lotus root and mitsuba green.


3) Dish #3 (soup) (above) – Hard clam and freshly-harvested bamboo shoot.

4) Dish #4 (sashimi) (above) – Flatfish and fresh sea urchin, garnished with fresh seaweed and Japanese herbs.

5) Dish #5 (sashimi) (above) – Yellowtail mixed with grated white radish.

6) Dish #6 (sashimi) (above) – Seared Spanish mackerel.

7) Dish #7 (charcoal-grilled) (above) – Horsehead snapper and shrimp-shaped taro.

8) Dish #8 (delicacy) (above) – Blowfish milt and snow crab covered with sticky crab sauce.


9) Dish #9 (hot pot) (above) – Kinme snapper with seasonal vegetables.



  

10) Dish #10 (steamed rice) (above) – Steamed rice with scallop. Miso soup and pickled vegetables. It was nice that chef-owner Hideki Ishikawa would present the claypot rice personally to every group of customers. Even to the extent of mixing the ingredients up. One may or may not be able to tell from the photographs chef Ishikawa san was a loud person with big actions. If I could, I may even use the word ‘eccentric’ to describe him. Haha. It was a side of him which I wasn’t aware of and that made my dining experience somewhat new and fresh too. I was very entertained by his gestures. And he speaks good English too; Communicating really well with locals and tourists.

11) Dish #11 (dessert) (above) – Fresh strawberry, molasses agar and crushed rum jelly on coconut soup.

The fact that I was presented with a claypot fully filled with rice, it isn’t difficult to guess that I didn’t finish my dish. At the end of my dinner, the staff passed me a paper bag containing a rice ball (onigiri) as they handed me my outerwear.

  

And it’s to note that preparation of the dishes were done by the kitchen staff rather than chef Ishikawa san. Although chef Ishikawa san do regularly head into the kitchen to check. How do I know? Being seated at the counter, I saw a kitchen staff handing him a bowl for chef Ishikawa san to try for his nod of approval.

Would I recommend Kagurazaka Ishikawa? Well… In all honesty, I was expecting more since it’s after all a restaurant with 3 Michelin stars. But stars aside, I do acknowledge it’s a restaurant worth checking out although it doesn’t rank high on my list of top-restaurants-to-visit in Tokyo.

KAGURAZAKA ISHIKAWA 神楽坂 石かわ
5-37 Kagurazaka Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 新宿区 神楽坂 5-37 高村ビル 1F)
+81 3 5225 0173, Website, Tablelog
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Mon – Sat : 17:30 – 00:00
Ambience: 7
Value: 7
Service: 7
* Closed on Sun